This one goes out to all my fellow vegans with the dreaded meal plan. If you’re an omnivore, or even a vegetarian, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to relate to most of the struggles we face each time we find ourselves in Suwannee, surrounded by mysterious deli meats, questionably prepared cheeseburgers, and endless slices of pizza.
Florida State isn’t exactly known for its plethora of veg-friendly choices. “But there’s a salad bar…” is typically the answer I receive when inquiring about offering more vegan options to those of us who simply aren’t into all the meat and dairy stuff.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not spend the entire semester filling up on piles of lettuce and carrots. While salad is awesome semi-regularly (eat your veggies, kids), I’m not a damn rabbit, and there is a better way to get the most out of your meal plan.
Enter: dining hall hacks. Vegan edition.
The To-Go Box is Your New Bestie
If you’re not aware of the to-go box’s existence, you should be. Basically, the dining hall takes five dollars off your card and gives you a plastic to-go box. You fill it up and bring it back when you’re done, and whoever is working the Suwannee register (I always hope it’s Mrs. Killings) will either give you a new box or return your five dollars. It’s a pretty cool system.
The to-go box will be an essential component of the majority of the following hacks, so do yourself a favor and get one ASAP. Like, A$AP Rocky.
Exploit the Salad Bar
That’s right. Make the salad bar your b*tch. There’s no sign that says all provided salad ingredients must be used for salad, so take advantage of fresh, pre-cut veggies. Think of them like a blank canvas. You can transform them later. This is also where you can find those oh-so-important vegan proteins like black beans, green peas, mushrooms, and chickpeas.
The Stir Fry Station
While the stir fry station is probably Suwannee’s most exciting vegan option on its own, you can get a lot more use out of it than you might think. Here’s where the to-go box comes in handy once again. Load up on fresh veggies like zucchini, yellow squash, and broccoli, and even tofu if you’re feelin’ fancy.
In addition to veggies, the stir fry station offers three starch options. They usually provide brown rice, some kind of pasta, and rice noodles, all of which can be easily incorporated into a much more sophisticated dish of your choice.
Spice it Up
Once you’ve filled your to-go box with your preferred selection of veggies, tofu, and maybe a starch or two for good measure (carbs for days, am I right?), it’s time to bring your ingredients to life. Luckily, the pizza station conveniently provides Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper, with which I guiltlessly drown everything in my box. Hot sauce is another great option, (if you can handle the heat).
It also doesn’t hurt to pick up some extra spices at the store. I’ve found that seasonings like garlic powder and cayenne pepper are always good to have on hand.
In one of my favorite dining hall spin-offs, I marinate some tofu in Italian seasoning and hot sauce, and then roast it on a baking sheet with some vegetables in my dining hall kitchen. I add some salt and pepper, serve the combo over brown rice, and, voila! It could almost pass for a home cooked meal. Dinner is served.
Other options include:
• Invest in some marinara sauce and mix in a spoonful or two with some roasted veggies and pasta from the stir fry station.
• Rent a pot from your building’s front desk and steam your favorite veggies. Serve them over rice noodles with teriyaki sauce and/or sriracha from the stir fry station.
• Roasted vegetables are guaranteed to make your typical salad a more interesting experience. Add some raisins for a fun contrasting sweetness if you’re adventurous enough.
• Take brown rice and black beans to go, warm them up in the microwave, and finish the dish with hot sauce and fresh veggies like lettuce, tomato, jalapeños, and black olives. BAM. Homemade dining hall Chipotle. Close enough, anyway.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Kitchen
Yes, there’s a kitchen on just about every floor in just about every dorm building on campus. Stop pretending it’s not there and admit that you know how to use an oven. If you really don’t know how to use an oven, well, there’s no better time than the present to learn. It’s totally okay if you’re not Bobby Flay or the next Food Network Star. We’ve all been there.
Believe it or not, cooking is a pretty useful skill, especially as a vegan. You also start to feel pretty #baller once you get the hang of it.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that is certainly not designed for vegans. It’s a carnivorous world out there, guys, both literally and figuratively. However, it’s nothing you can’t handle. Try browsing Pinterest for easy vegan recipes with ingredients you can find in the dining hall. Think of Suwannee as your pantry/fridge. The possibilities are endless with a little imagination.
Get Your Money’s Worth
I’m sure you’re aware that meal plans can be pretty pricey. That being said, don’t let your compassionate and health conscious eating habits prevent you from getting your money’s worth at Suwannee (or Fresh Foods, for all you folks in Smith and Salley). Remember, you’re paying for the dining hall to feed you, so work with what you’ve got and go make vegan culinary magic.