Dining Hall Dilemmas: The Benefits of a Vegan Diet

vegetarian diet in college

In Part 3 of our blog series, “Dining Hall Dilemmas,” University of Miami alum Tara Milhem shares her story of becoming a vegan her freshman year and how she found healthy food choices that helped her be her healthiest.

Whether it’s vegetarian or vegan, college isn’t an easy place to begin a new diet. Between schoolwork, projects, and eating out, it can be difficult to start or even continue your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle in college. In my own personal experience, being meat-free in college was not only the safest option, but also the most convenient. For many people, however, this may not hold true. Above all, I recommend doing what feels best for your body regardless of what others are doing.

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I attended the University of Miami and lived on campus, which meant eating at the dining hall. When I began school, I was a typical meat-eater; I ate steak on occasion and chicken and fish often. The very first day I saw the meats being served on campus, I was immediately turned off. There was something about it that looked fatty, frozen, and adulterated. I knew there was no way I was going to be consuming it, even if the line for it was down the road. I stayed clear and focused on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.

For breakfast, I would typically go for fruits like bananas and melons with either oatmeal or nuts. This was an easy way to get energy, and I had no pressure to have something meaty. For lunch, I would build a huge and delicious salad. The base of the salad consisted of a tower of greens—usually spinach and arugula. Then I would pile on the veggies: carrots, beets, tomatoes, broccoli, avocado, and more. For protein I added about 1/2 cup of chickpeas, black beans, or kidney beans. I topped off the salad with either olive oil and red wine vinegar or lemon juice.

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The amazing part of this whole process was that I had no cravings for meat or fish, and from then on, I realized that my body functioned so much better without having to digest heavy animal products. Occasionally, I would go out for dinner with my friends, and I would order a vegetable stir-fry with a large salad, a veggie brown-rice sushi roll, or even a whole-wheat pasta dish with grilled vegetables. Wherever you go, there are always plant-based options, so nothing was stopping me!

Nourishing my body always came first, but at times people would question my diet and tell me I needed meat. Contrary to popular belief, my body was functioning better than ever, and I was actually getting more nutrients eating a vegan diet. I had more energy than ever before, a clearer mental capacity, and an awesome body! I believe if I could do it, so can you. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are easy to find sources of plant-based goodness on any college campus.

[Should you stay on the college meal plan when you move off-campus?]

Question and Answer

StudentAdvisor: Were you always  on the college food plan, or did you ever have your own kitchen? 

Tara Milhem: For my first year, I was on the college food plan, but later on when I moved out, it was easier, even more fun, to keep my vegan lifestyle. Being able to cook new foods, like creative salads and vegan desserts, added a new element to being healthy and looking after my body.

SA: If you had a kitchen, what would a weekly grocery list look like? If you did not have a kitchen, were there any foods you kept in your dorm room?

TM: I always begin in the produce department and stock up on kale, spinach, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and any other vegetables that were fresh and in season. For fruit, I purchase bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, apples, sometimes figs, and other in-season fruits. Then, I would buy chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and dried mango in bulk. One of my favorite breakfasts is Vega protein powder with almond milk yogurt. Also, I love Mary’s Gone Crackers, and they’re gluten free!

SA: How did your parents feel about your choice to be vegan?

TM: My parents were very supportive and accepting of my choices. I never shunned meat around family or friends, but I knew what I was doing was best for my body and I stuck with it!

SA: Were there any college groups or clubs based around being a vegetarian or vegan?

TM: Not really, but a number of my friends also took it up, so we made it fun together!

Read more in our “Dining Hall Dilemmas” series: 

Tara Milhem is the founder of SkinnybyTara. She can be reached @SkinnybyTara on Instagram & Twitter. For more guidance on keeping a healthy diet in college, check out her e-book, The College Girl’s Guide to Skinny, or join her community at www.Facebook.com/SkinnybyTara to get inspired to live your healthiest life .


Can you be healthy without eating meat? Share your thoughts and connect with us if you have your own Dining Hall Dilemma to share.




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  1. Preeti Jain Dec 2, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    Totally agree with the Tara. Vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet at any age.