While a handful of universities provide students with vegan-friendly meal plans, not every cafeteria offer vegans more than iceburg lettuce and a few chickpeas here and there. Why should you pay thousands of dollars for room and board only to hear the words “can’t you just have a salad?” That’s unfair and not very tasty. While not an ideal long-term arrangement for someone who loves to cook and bake, it is possible to survive as a vegan in a dorm room without a full kitchen.
My school’s cafeteria offered absolutely nothing appropriate for a vegan diet, so I opted out of the meal plan while living on campus for a year with only a questionable basement kitchen to work with. I baked cookies maybe three or four times while living there, but attempting any sort of moderately elaborate cooking was asking too much out of this unfortunate workspace. Petitioning for college cafeterias to offer vegan options can be a long and onerous process, so if your college won’t budge or they start thinking about it by the time you’re moving out to your own apartment that comes with the most important room of any living space, here’s how to cope.
Appliances for easy meals
Most residence halls do not allow any portable cooking devices or electric griddles, so you may be stuck with a mini fridge, microwave, and your outlawed appliance of choice if you choose to bend the rules a little. With a microwave, you can make spaghetti or couscous, steam vegetables, cook microwave dinners, heat up soup, boil water for tea or a French press, and so much more. Avoid unitaskers such as hot air poppers, unless you really like popcorn or have plans to start a creative dorm room popcorn blog (do it now before someone else takes this fabulous idea!). Even so, you can make popcorn in your microwave by putting the kernels in a brown bag and securing it with one staple, then popping. If you plan on bringing a toaster oven, it will perform some microwave functions, and you can also treat it as a mini-oven and do some baking. Bringing your entire spice collection and lots of baking supplies to school will clutter up your half of the dorm room and you will barely use them (not speaking from experience or anything…). Organizing a small collection of staple cooking items and adding creativity is the best way to maximize your small space and avoiding eating cereal every night.
If you’re into caffeine (what student isn’t?), make your tea or coffee at home. Getting into the $4 double shot espresso vanilla soy latte habit is dangerous, so save that for meeting friends or studying at a coffee shop to get away from your horrible roommate. Or your delightful roommate. Fingers crossed!
Grocery shopping without a kitchen
Shopping at a combination of natural foods stores, co-ops, and regular grocery stores is the most effective and economical way to do it when you don’t have a kitchen. Buying boatloads of vegan ready-to-eat meals and expensive snacks is a great way to break the bank, but attempting to stock up on mini fridge essentials at a plain supermarket is not the most vegan friendly option.
If your mini fridge has a freezer, keep a stash of frozen burritos or leftovers. Get a nice loaf of bread or some tortillas, condiments, and some sandwich fillings to keep in the fridge like vegetables, hummus, olives, pickles, artichoke hearts, and Tofurkey slices. Sandwiches require no cooking (unless you have a toaster) and there are so many options beyond PB&J. Hummus, guacamole, or any kind of dip is easy to have around and eat with veggies, crackers, or bread. Cans of soup and beans are always great for a quick meal. Make microwave pasta, throw in some store-bought baked tofu, a can of beans, and some fresh veggies and you have a quick weeknight dinner. Delis or hot food bars are a good option every once in a while as well.
In the community
Getting involved in your local community is an answer to yet another integral part of surviving as a young vegan. Attending on-campus or community potlucks with your covert crockpot chili is a great way to meet people and eat a variety of foods without spending money. You may even meet new friends who have kitchens you can use in the future. Volunteering at a co-op or other food organization in the community can result in delicious, warm, free vegan meals.
Eating at restaurants or getting takeout is the right thing to do sometimes. Microwave cooking and cold meals can get tedious and monotonous, so takeout can be a lifesaver. While spur of the moment late night pizza delivery tends to happen at dorms, there are better and more frugal ways to eat the rest of the time. Don’t opt for delivery. Walk or hop on a bus to pick up your food. It’s important to not shelter yourself within the campus. You’ll learn how to get around the area you live in, randomly meet people, and not get into the habit of excessive convenience. Chinese food is usually inexpensive and you’ll have dinner and lunch the next day (or breakfast). Cheap falafel is easy to come by. Look out for restaurant coupons or meal deals and buy food that will last a few days. Order from deli cases or get takeout from co-ops and bring your own reusable containers. Even if your college is not in a bigger city, most colleges are near something that caters to vegans and vegetarians. If there are restaurants with vegan options in your area, don’t deprive yourself! What’s the point of living somewhere that has vegan-friendly restaurants if you don’t eat there somewhat regularly?
See, you don’t have to eat peanut butter ramen noodles every night. Varying your meals based on what’s available and cheap is the tastiest, most economical way to survive dorm living.