A vegan fresher’s guide to surviving university

Read Time:   |  4th September 2017

Take your first steps into an independent vegan life at uni with Charlotte Willis’ invaluable guide! 

A vegan fresher's guide to surviving university

A Fresh Look at Fresher’s

Leaving the comfort of home behind; stepping up your studies to an advanced academic level; becoming independent, perhaps for the first time; learning to provide and cook for yourself. All familiar challenges faced by students across the world, taking their first tentative steps into the big, bad and ever-so-challenging adult world. And that’s all before you throw veganism into the mix.

University can pose some intimidating challenges for newly independent vegans. What will my flatmates think of me? Will I be able to cook myself good, nutritious vegan food? I know when I went to university for the first time, the idea of being the only vegan in an omnivorous flat caused a real sense of foreboding. I was terrified at the thought of sharing a kitchen with meat-eating friends and thought that no one would understand my desire to drink kombucha (let alone know what it was!) I was daunted. But I had no reason to feel this way.

It turns out, university proved itself to be an amazing opportunity for me to grow and thrive as a student and vegan. By surrounding yourself with like-minded friends and getting involved with a whole range of new and exciting hobbies and societies alongside your core studies, moving to university needn’t fill you with dread. Allow me to prime you, my fellow vegan students and soon-to-be-academics, with the right tools, tips, recipes and hacks you’ll need to thrive in your new life and independence.

Rule One: Budgeting. Really!

With the risk of sounding like your Dad, one of the most important things you have to learn in these times of new-found independence is why we need to show our dough some respect. And take it from me, underestimating your budget is where the majority of students go wrong.

They wait for the day that the all-important student loan comes into the account, but two days (and a whole load of alcoholic beverages, takeaways, clothes, shoes and Amazon orders) later, they’re already in the red and questioning whether a food shop or a textbook is more of a priority. Many of my university friends lived like this; from loan day to loan day, tapping up an ever-increasing overdraft, creeping further and further into debt. Don’t be one of them.

A vegan fresher's guide to surviving university

Buck the trend. Become closely acquainted with a spreadsheet. Work out how much student income you will be receiving into your account every month, including your government loans and everything you may earn from part-time jobs and/or from your parents. Then work out how much money you require for the fundamentals, such as rent, food shopping, academic expenses and bills. Input these figures into a spreadsheet. Work out your monthly spending money allowance and stick to it! Honestly, it’s really that simple.

Keep a track of how much you spend by downloading mobile banking apps, even simple things like keeping hold of receipts can make spending seem more realistic in a world of quick contactless payments. You don’t need a degree in accountancy to keep a hold of your finances, just ensure you don’t spend more than you calculate to receive in income each month. Finding it hard to budget? Consider getting yourself a part time job on the side. Simple tricks such as only taking a certain amount of cash (no cards allowed) out on a night out and limiting yourself to one takeaway per week will all add up. Ask yourself this: “Do I really need to buy this?” You’ll thank yourself in three years’ time!

Not-So-Fast-Food

It never ceases to amaze me just how much junk and convenience food your average student will munch their way through during term time. University bins fill up with to-go Panini wrappers at breakfast and overspill with half-eaten takeaways and pizza boxes come dinner. If kale is the fuel of the modern-day yogi, then fast-food is surely the equivalent food of choice for a clueless student population.

Don’t get me wrong, a big portion of fries seems like a great idea at 1am on a stumble home, and a quick grab-and-go meal might appease your pre-exam nerves. But before you go to university, I’d advise anyone (vegan or otherwise) to get yourself acquainted with the basics of your daily nutritional requirements. Buy some simple vegan recipe books or start reading some vegan blogs to get quick meal inspiration.

Being more aware of your food choices will ensure you’re getting enough of everything you require to maintain the functions of your immune system and helping your body recover when burning the midnight oil (for studying purposes only, obviously). So what do you need to know? Base around 70% of your daily calorie intake on healthy wholefoods, including plenty of grains, legumes, fruits and veggies. Include good, wholesome sources of fats including nuts and seeds. Try to limit the amount of processed and pre-packaged foods where possible, and always carry a snack such as an apple or energy bites with you when you’re stuck between lectures. This way, you can afford to balance your diet with 30% of your calories in vegan treats.

A vegan fresher's guide to surviving university

Get Preppy

Prep. Prep. Prep. I can’t stress enough how much I love meal prepping. So much so, I blurt out about my Sunday meal prep in a crazed obsessional manner to just about anyone who passes comment on my mason jar full of protein pasta and marinated tofu (I know, get a life). In all seriousness though, preparing your meals in advance will not only enhance your nutrition, but could also end up saving you serious time and money. You may not think a £3.50 lunchtime meal deal every day is that expensive? Think of it this way, in reality you’ll be spending £70 a month, just on lunch! Prepare a meal ahead of time, or just put leftovers into a container, whichever you prefer. Either way you’re more likely to make healthier decisions, reduce processed food intake and avoid paying through the nose for convenience food.

Show Food a Cold Shoulder

Spinach wilting in the salad box? Made enough pasta bake to feed a small vegan army? Bananas starting to turn the wrong side of mushy? Give them the cold treatment, literally. Your freezer. A space reserved by most students for oven chips, pizzas and the occasional ice cream tub – but not for you my friends. Your freezer draw is your new secret weapon in a fight against food waste that will end up helping you save time and money.

Stash your leftovers in appropriate portion sizes into some budget Tupperware boxes, then simply defrost when you need a quick meal. That slightly-past-it’s-best-fruit you bought from Aldi with the most heartfelt intention of snacking on instead of that chocolate bar? Chop it up and store in freezer bags, ready to throw into a smoothie with some chia seeds and oats for a quick breakfast option when you’re running short on time. Even herbs and spices such as ginger and chilli can be readily frozen and grated into dishes to enhance their flavour. Your freezer can be as versatile as your cooking style, and you’ll rest safe in the knowledge that flatmates won’t steal your frozen food!

A vegan fresher's guide to surviving university

Budget Shopping

Some of the most successful and nutritious student meals are also those that cost very little to produce!

Top tips for savvy meals include:

  • Find your nearest market and utilise it to the full. When I studied at Leeds University, the local market holders allowed me to fill a bag for life with as much fruit and veg as I could carry back to my flat, all for just £5! Building up a rapport with market stall holders will get you far too. Inform them of your student status, and if you go there on a regular basis, they are more than likely going to offer you discounted rates and freebies.
  • Buy dried foods in bulk. Before you even go to university, get yourself some mason jars and fill them full of dried fruit, legumes, pulses and grains. It’ll save you money and time in the long term.
  • Shop late at night in supermarkets. No, that’s not where you pick up a hot date! But, it is where you’ll find discounted fresh fruit and veg with ‘short dates’ that require the supermarkets to sell them at a low price. I’ve picked up organic bananas for 30p a bunch, just because they were starting to go yellow-brown (just how I like them!) Look out for the reduced aisle and keep tabs on when more expensive fresh produce is on sale. Bulk buy, and simply freeze until required.
  • Seasoning can transform a dish from dull to delicious, so ensure you pack a few herbs and spices to help enhance dishes in one easy sprinkle or stir. My favourites include garlic salt, harissa, dukkha, chilli sauce and smoked paprika.
  • Make it yourself. Love jars of pasta sauces? Nutty about nut bars? Or perhaps curry is your kryptonite? When it comes to being a student, my best advice would be to make everything from scratch, and store staples such as sauces in the fridge or freezer. The essential ingredients you require cost about the same as buying a pre-made product, but you’ll be able to make more than two servings from each batch.

Harmonious Living

Now you are more aware of how to afford an array of lovely vegan foods, and you know where to get them from, the idea of storing said items in a kitchen with omnivores seems… unwelcoming. Which brings me to a vital piece of advice: The most important part of living in peace with non-vegans is to talk about that meaty elephant in the room. Make sure your flatmates know what you are comfortable with, but be flexible and accommodating to their needs too. When it comes to moving in your kitchen goods, be open with your flatmates.

A vegan fresher's guide to surviving university

Suggest the following;

  • Take the fridge top shelf to avoid meat or dairy spilling on your food.
  • Designate a couple of cupboards for your own utensils and equipment.
  • Reserve a few shelves in the freezer for storage of bulk-cooked meals.

If you prefer, most universities now offer dietary-specific flats. Selecting a vegetarian-only flat may be a good option and minimise the amount of animal products you come into contact with.

However, I have no doubt that you’ll find everyone will be more curious and positive about your veganism as opposed to critical or condescending. One of the best ways to counteract criticism? Cook your flat a vegan feast or batch of cakes. The way to their hearts is through their stomachs, and once they see how delicious veganism can be, you might end up converting a few naysayers. Just remember, to each their own, and everyone will have an opinion, so be accepting and non-critical of others.

Get Social

One of the best parts about university is the array of different people you will inevitably meet. More often than not, each university will have a vegan and vegetarian society (commonly known as vegsoc) who will organise meet-ups and socials for like-minded people. It’s a great way to get to know the new city you are in and the local vegan eateries. Not only this, but you’re more than likely to find your future flatmates in these societies.

If you’re a vegan connoisseur, why not try hosting a vegan night at your flat? Get your flatmates or friends to chip in a few pounds worth of donations and go all out for a vegan feast! It’s a great way to get people talking and make friends using food as an ice breaker.

Dive in this fresher’s – embrace your veganism! An ever-increasing proportion 16-24 year-olds identify as vegan-curious and certified vegan, so you’re more likely to find us lurking around your university than you may think!

Written by

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis is an Assistant Psychologist at the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and has a MS degree in Clinical Neuropsychiatry from Kings College London. Charlotte is also a marketer for ethical brands, author of Vegan: Do It! A young person’s guide to living a vegan lifestyle, and a regular contributor to sustainability and plant-based publications.

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