Leaving home and becoming a student can be full of daunting moments and uncertainty about the future, but being vegan at university doesn’t have to be one of them…
I remember my first few days of university. I was more nervous about moving in with a flat full of potentially judgemental meat eaters than I was about budgeting, the academically taxing workload or even the concept of making new friends! In reality, I wish I had known that being vegan at uni is becoming more commonplace now than ever before. Students are six times more likely to be vegan than their parents, whilst statistically speaking, students and young people make up the most rapidly expanding sector of the global vegan demographic. And whilst you might encounter some challenging moments during your time at uni, there’s no need to be concerned about your lifestyle choices impacting upon the incredible experience that lies ahead of you.
Well Read. Well Fed.
First of all, let’s talk budget-friendly vegan meals. There’s only so many times beans on toast will hit the spot, and no matter how hard you try, sustaining yourself on a staple diet of pot noodles and toast will not leave you feeling satisfied, or healthy, for a prolonged period of time. Here are some of Veganuary’s top tips when it comes to cooking and preparing your meals:
- Bulk-Cook: Bulk meals that can be made with ease, such as curries, chillies, hotpots and casseroles, also work well as dishes which can be frozen or refrigerated in Tupperware containers. Simply toss some chopped vegetables alongside tinned or dried legumes into a large pan or pot. Add in some vegetable stock and tinned tomatoes, or a pre-made sauce, and season with herbs and spices. Leave to simmer over a medium heat, stirring occasionally whilst you catch up on a lecture (or watch an episode of The Walking Dead).
- Plan Ahead: Take ten minutes to plan your meals for the upcoming week. This might seem like a time-consuming exercise, but you’ll thank yourself for preparing that hearty lunch the day before, when you’re stuck running from lecture to lab at 10am. Make a plan for your week, including lunch and dinner ideas suited to your daily schedules (make faster meals on busy days and prepare lunches ahead of time when you have back to back lectures). Planning ahead will also allow you to shop weekly for your dishes, preventing expensive mid-week dashes to supermarkets and convenience stores at uni (which are most likely overpriced and unhealthy).
- Make Time for Breakfast: A good day begins with a suitably nourishing breakfast to see you through. Fantastic vegan breakfast ideas include overnight oats, scrambled tofu on toast, granola yogurt parfaits, energy bars and smoothies. Most of these can be made ahead of time for a grab-and-go option, saving you time for an extra 20 minutes in bed.
- Take Snacks: One important piece of advice, which I learnt the hard way with a stomach grumbling through a three hour lab, is to always ensure you carry snacks with you. Snacks such as pouches of peanut butter, rice cakes, energy bars, dried fruit and nuts and coconut chips are perfect to throw into a bag and keep with you for the times when hunger strikes.
- Show Food the Cold Shoulder: Place food that’s going out of date, or turning the slightly wrong shade of brown, in the freezer to preserve for later use. Bananas are one of my favourite fruits to freeze (skin on or skin off), but you can freeze almost anything. Chillies, garlic, spices and herbs fruits (not citrus), vegetables (skin off and prepared), bread, sauces, bulk-cooked dishes, cakes and sweet treats can be kept fresh and well-preserved for a few months.
Bust Your Budget
Buying groceries on a budget is one of the most challenging aspects of living independently for the first time. Budgeting your finance sustainably, allowing for the occasional necessary expenditure such as books and trips, whilst making sure you have enough left over for social activities and meals out can seem like a challenge at first. But with some smart budget hacks, you’ll ease yourself into managing your finances in no time.
- Buy Local: Make yourself a regular customer and you’ll find yourself building up a rapport with your local grocers and market stall holders. The result? Discounted products and special offers! Buying fresh fruit and veg from a local market stall could end up saving you a small fortune. When I was at university in Leeds, I would fill my bag for life with as much fresh produce as possible, all for just ten pounds! It was worth the 20 minute walk just for the amazing, giant boxes of bananas I could buy for five pounds!
- Shop Around: To ensure you get the best price possible for your goods, be sure to shop around at a few supermarkets and websites. Buying dried goods such as legumes, grains and nuts in bulk from websites such as Amazon will help keep costs at bay, whilst Aldi and Lidl offer some fantastic vegan products at a greatly reduced price. Buying wonky or imperfect vegetables can also help reduce the cost of your staple food items, leaving more in the budget for luxury vegan items or a well-deserved take away.
- Choose Your Time to Shop: Sourcing out discounted items and shopping at the reduced isle at the end of the day is a fantastic way to grab a bargain. Check out your local supermarket’s closing hours, and head down with an hour to spare. You’ll discover some of your favourite staples are significantly reduced due to sell-by-date restrictions. These items are perfectly fine for later consumption, and will most likely last in the fridge or freezer for a few more days.
- Keep Track: Download your bank’s online tracking app so you will always be able to keep a close eye on your expenses. Try not to go into your overdraft, as this is often a slippery slope which may result in overspending. Treat your finance as a final budget that can’t be extended, and your overdraft as a pool of money that can’t be dipped into.
- Simple Hacks: Only take a certain amount of cash with you on a night out (no card allowed!), invest in a bike instead of relying on Ubers, and ask yourself “do I really need this?” when you come to purchase luxury items such as clothing, games and new tech. You’ll thank yourself in about three years’ time!
Now… you’ve planned all of your meals meticulously, sourced all of your groceries as affordably as you can, all that’s left to do is to move in. If you have decided to move into halls of residence, the best way to tackle the vegan-shaped elephant in the room is simply to talk about it. From day one, be sure to make your flatmates aware of what you are, and are not, comfortable with. Be open to compromise, and be willingly flexible when it comes to accommodating your fellow flatmate’s needs regardless of dietary requirements:
- Suggest taking the top shelf in the fridge. This will prevent any animal products from contaminating your food accidentally.
- Reserve yourself a few freezer shelves for your bulk-made meals and prepped foods.
- Ask to use a specific chopping board for your food preparation, as to not contaminate your cooking with animal products.
- If you would find it more comfortable, most universities now offer vegetarian-only flats, which will help you minimise your contact with animal products.
If you really want to show off your vegan cooking skills, why not bake your new flatmates a tray of vegan brownies and some muffins, or offer to host a vegan taco or pizza night. After all, the best way to educate others about vegan food is by sharing your own delicious culinary creations.
Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of going to university is the diverse range of exciting people you’ll meet along the way. Why not join your university’s vegan and vegetarian society (commonly known as VegSoc), you’ll meet like-minded individuals who might just become friends for life. By getting in with a vegan and vegetarian society, you’ll also discover your university city’s hidden vegan menus, great café spots and become acquainted with the local vegan community.
There’s so many exciting opportunities awaiting you, so go forth with confidence and begin your adventure into independence with confidence.
Don’t forget to check out our recipe section for some cheap, cheerful and delicious meal ideas!