10 colleges finding success with vegan dining

Vegan Toast Menu Options

In October, Peta2, the youth division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, released its 2018 Vegan Report Card, which analyzes and grades the vegan options at more than 1,400 colleges and universities across the country. The schools are rated based on criteria such as the number of vegan options served at every meal, whether there are any dedicated vegan dining halls or stations and whether there are dairy alternatives available. Students are also able to rate and share comments on each of the featured schools.

FoodService Director reached out to schools that received an A+ rating and had at least a 75% approval rating from students to share tips for running a successful vegan program as well as some plant-based menu items that are popular on campus. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

Central Connecticut State University

Central Connecticut University

Asian stir-fry and pasta dishes are popular with students at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, so the dining team decided to make vegan stir-fry and vegan penne Alfredo for its plant-based eaters. The two menu items quickly became popular with students. This year, the dining team will also introduce more vegan desserts such as donuts, cookies, pie and pudding.

Serving innovative vegan options, such as vegan jackfruit jambalaya, sparks curiosity around those dishes, even amongst non-plant-based eaters, says Mikayla Melaas, marketing coordinator.

“We noticed that non-vegan eaters were venturing over to the [vegan] station more and more, finding items that they enjoyed,” she says. “It seems to be a destination for most students on this campus. … Even if they don’t put something on their plate, they’re still browsing the line!”

Photograph: Mikayla Melaas

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Fresh Vegan Food

To better understand what plant-based eaters experience when eating in the dining hall, Kevin Gibbons, executive chef for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, decided to personally switch to a mostly plant-based diet for a year. During this time, he set up a table each week in the dining hall where students could discuss what vegan options they would like to see offered.

In response to the feedback, the dining team revamped its vegetarian station into a vegan station that serves breakfast as well as five hot menu items every day for lunch and dinner, as well as two cold menu items. One of the most popular components of the station is the rotisserie, says Kirby Roberts, dining services marketing coordinator.

“Our vegan station also features a rotisserie, slowly roasting mouthwatering eggplants, heads of cauliflower and whole carrots,” she says. “The succulent vegetables are then sliced in front of the students. Delectable slices of yellow squash, red peppers and broccoli [are] a huge hit.”

Photograph: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth  

The University of Michigan

University of Michigan vegan options

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has introduced more global vegan dishes through its Global Chef Series, which features visiting chefs from around the world.

“We’ve been doing a lot with our global chef series, so we’re starting to explore more of their vegan options that are natural to them,” says Frank Turchan, executive chef. “Those have taken off because there is so much flavor to them.”

One of the most popular vegan items to come out of the series is a vegan Mexican tinga by chef Iliana de la Vega, which includes butternut squash, white beans and salsa verde. “It had a nice heartiness with the butternut as well as sweetness, but it also had the beans that gave you the protein,” Turchan says.

The dining team also invited the National Humane Society to develop recipes with a small group of vegan and vegetarian students, taking feedback from them on how to improve the vegan items on campus.

“We work really hard to turn a complainer into a supporter, so with the students that are unhappy with our offerings or think that we should be doing something differently, we try to reach out to them,” says Steve Mangan, dining director. “We actually follow up with [students] and invite them into a feedback loop with us, whether it’s a comment board or maybe they join one of the different committees we have with sustainability or nutrition.”

Photograph: University of Michigan

Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount Vegan Options

Vegan enchiladas are a popular item for students at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The menu item was inspired by the gluten-free version of the same dish, which is beloved by students.

“Enchiladas are a student favorite, so it seemed natural to offer it at our dedicated vegan and vegetarian station, Harmony,” says Amyna Hale, marketing coordinator. “We have approached the station trying to adapt student favorites and some newer recipes so that students have options when they choose a plant-based diet. By focusing on tasty, nutritious offerings, many nonvegan students choose to dine there as well. In the end, it’s about great dishes mindfully prepared with the student in mind.” 

Photograph: Joan Chang

University of North Texas

North Texas University Vegan Options

Since the 2011 opening of its all-vegan dining hall, Mean Greens Cafe, chefs at the University of North Texas in Denton are continuously coming up with new plant-based recipes.

“Something that we’ve introduced in the last year that’s been popular is our seitan gyros,” says Cris Williams, Mean Greens operations chef. “We make our seitan in-house with a Mediterranean-style marinade with a cucumber tzatziki sauce.”

When coming up with new menu items, Williams and the other chefs try to draw on their past food experiences, leading with the notion that any dish can be made plant-based. “Anything is possible. You have to start there. If you don’t, then you limit yourself,” he says. “Basically, I try to take an aspect of every kitchen I’ve ever been in, every piece of food I’ve ever touched, and try to bring that here.” 

Photograph: Liz Rhoden

Villanova University

Villanova University Vegan Options

Last spring, Chris Wiseley, executive chef of residential dining for Villanova University in Pennsylvania, created a vegan Reuben sandwich using plant-based ingredients that were already popular with students.

“Villanova students like to eat familiar foods like sandwiches, so we created this recipe with healthy ingredients such as spinach, avocado and sauerkraut. It also contains pickles, onions, vegan cheese and a vegan Thousand Island dressing,” says Alicia Farrow, nutrition marketing manager. “The students love the fact that it’s a toasted sandwich with melty cheese and fresh avocado.”

Photograph: Villanova University

Minnesota State University, Mankato

University of Mankato Vegan Options

Vegan tostadas, vegan cheese enchiladas, handmade couscous and garbanzo bean burgers, and fried cauliflower rice with onions, peppers, carrots and baby corn are some of the popular vegan items offered at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The secret to a successful vegan program is allowing students to have many channels of communication to offer suggestions (at Minnesota State, students can voice their opinion via comment cards, residence hall meetings and student union board meetings) and making sure plant-based eaters have a variety of food options, says Jamie Waterbury, interim general manager for university dining services.

“We have a vegan cold bar as part of our dining program with … a variety of proteins to choose from so [students] aren’t stuck with only one or two options to fulfill their dietary needs,” he says.

Photograph: Devyn Rohlk

Salisbury University

Salisbury University Vegan Options

Favorite plant-based dishes for students at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., include made-to-order vegan sushi, sweet potato and black bean enchiladas, and vegan Cobb salad. The dining team also recently came up with a vegan holiday menu to make sure its vegan students could enjoy a holiday meal.

“We didn’t want the students who are vegan to feel like their meal wasn’t as special as the traditional holiday meal for others,” says Megan Baker, public relations specialist for the university. “We prepared the meal with all the wonderful seasonings of the holidays.”

Students could find plant-based holiday options such as tofurkey, vegan mashed potatoes, vegan stuffing, brown rice, Brussels sprouts and vegan gravy. 

Photograph: Salisbury University

University of Florida

University of Florida Vegan Options

The dining team at the University of Florida in Gainesville focuses on comfort food when trying to come up with new vegan dishes. One of its most popular plant-based items is its vegan mac and cheese, which was offered for a limited time before being added to the menu permanently, says Jill Rodriguez, senior district marketing manager.

“Students do really love comfort food, and what better option than mac and cheese to satisfy this craving,” she says. “We received so much positive feedback about this entree that we added it to the vegan menu rotation on a regular basis.”

Photograph: Samantha Schulz

North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University Vegan Options

At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Lesley Schatz, research and development chef, came up with a vegan chana masala that quickly won over vegans and nonvegans alike.  

“We have found the recipe to be a crowd favorite, whether on the dining hall menu as a station or as part of the catering menu,” says Lisa Eberhart, director of nutrition and nutrition wellness. 

Photograph: Olivia Chadwick

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