Tips for a sustainable diet as a student on a budget – Advice Eating


Photo credit: iStock_colnihko.

As a college student, finding healthy and affordable food can be difficult, especially with dietary restrictions. If you live on campus like me, chances are you have limited kitchen or storage space. However, many of us are aware that the choices we make about food can have a major impact on our health and the environment.

For example, the global food system is responsible for about 25% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; Of this 25%, 14.5% of all global greenhouse gases are produced by animal husbandry. But if everyone in the United States went on a plant-based diet just one day a week, the emissions saved would be the equivalent of removing 7.6 million cars. And a plant-based diet can reduce your personal emissions by up to 70%.

In addition, a predominantly or completely plant-based diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Similarly, by increasing your consumption of produce, legumes/legumes and whole grains, your fiber intake and nutrient density will also increase.

Of course, not everyone can go completely plant-based, and that’s okay too. Pre-existing conditions and food are priorities something is more important than eating a plant-based diet every day. Even choosing chicken or fish instead of beef can make a world of difference.

So what’s the best way to use limited resources and reduce your carbon footprint while eating in your dorm or on campus canteens? Let this quick guide serve as a starting point for eco-friendly food choices!

Five planet- and dorm-friendly recipes

Sometimes you need a break from eating in the dining room. Maybe you have an early morning class and would rather eat at home; or maybe you have work right after class and need to pack a lunch. Here are a few staples to count on for those days when you’re short on time.

Overnight Oats.

Overnight oats are an easy, nutritious and delicious recipe. Photo credit: iStock_jenifoto.

Overnight Oats
This low-effort healthy breakfast is easy to slip into your backpack. The process is quick and easy: Mix your ingredients together — the base ratio I use is ½ cup (dairy-free) milk per ⅓ cup oatmeal, plus any additions like nut butters, fruit, or seeds — and let sit in a container for at least four hours, preferably overnight. You’ll wake up to a creamy, pudding-like breakfast packed with protein and nutrients that will keep you full for hours!

Known for their fiber and nutrient content, oats promote digestive and heart health. Growing them produces fewer CO2 emissions and uses less water than producing eggs or other common animal products eaten for breakfast. Best of all, it’s much easier to stay focused in class when you start the day with a healthy, filling breakfast.

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Do you only have access to a microwave? Stuffed sweet potatoes are low effort but very rewarding as they offer high concentrations of vitamins A, B6 and C as well as fiber and potassium. Plus, they’re delicious and easily customizable! Microwaving the sweet potato allows you to make toppings as they soften and have a meal that’s ready to eat in 10 minutes. Combination recommendations:

  • Sweet potato + canned black beans + salsa + other seasonings or toppings for a Mexican-inspired dish
  • Sweet potato + roasted or raw chickpeas + hummus + tahini (optional) + other toppings for a Mediterranean twist
  • For a sweeter but no less tasty or healthy option that I like to have for breakfast, sweet potato + nut butter of your choice (I use almond butter) + banana slices + cinnamon.

Another easy way to reduce food and packaging waste is by preparing meals. If you have access to a mini-fridge to store a few meals, it’s easier to just cook once or twice a week. You save time, money and unnecessary trips to the communal kitchens that suites or floors often share. It’s also an easy way to reduce your environmental impact: food waste is responsible for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Here are some of my go-to meal prep recipes.

Red lentil bolognese
For a non-vegan option, you can swap out cooked ground turkey for the lentils. Turkey instead of beef gives the meal a slightly lighter feel and also lowers the carbon footprint.

Lemon Basil Buddha Bowls
These are easy to customize with seasonal or on sale veggies – I make this 2-3 times a month and it always turns out phenomenal no matter what I put in it.

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Dice everything with seasonal vegetables (e.g. potatoes, broccoli, onions, cherry tomatoes, etc.) and your protein of choice (e.g. chickpeas, chicken, tofu, etc.). Toss with olive oil, your favorite blend of herbs or spices — my favorites are Italian seasoning and balsamic vinegar or paprika and garlic powder, and salt and pepper — then roast on a sheet pan at 225°F for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through cooked to your liking.

If you like, you can serve with cooked rice or quinoa and a simple dressing made with hummus, lemon juice, garlic, and some water to thin it out. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations!

Eating sustainably in the canteens

When you rely on the dining rooms for most meals, it’s difficult to know how to make sustainable, healthy choices. Journalist and author Michael Pollan offers a simple but valuable starting point: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Also, eating plants has many benefits for us and the planet. Try these eco-friendly meals in the dining rooms.

Cafe Ventanas
Steel-cut oatmeal
Black bean burger
Arugula and Avocado Salad

Gorge vista
The new “Fresh” salad bar to build yourself offers many delicious, healthy and sustainable options.

Roots deserves a special mention as everything on the menu is 100% vegan. Here are a few of my favorites:
3-Bean Chili Bowl (it tastes great with Roots’ famous Sweet Potato Waffle Fries!)
Buddha Cereal Garden Bowl
Roots burger

OceanView Terrace
Lentil stew platter at Spice
Veggin’ Bagels at Counter Culture

Restaurants at Sixth College
Lemon Basil Lavash Wrap at Crave
Veggie burrito bowl in Wolftown
Lilo Poke Bowl at Makai

Club Med
Autumn grain salad
Roasted Vegetable Sandwich
Salad with spinach and red rice

Of course, every restaurant has different options every day, but there will always be something sustainable and filling to snack on! For more information, visit the UC San Diego Sustainable Dining and Food and Dining Sustainability pages.

If you’re a student at UC San Diego struggling with food insecurity, resources are available to you. The Triton Food Pantry provides nutritious staples and fresh produce to all students free of charge. Additionally, UC San Diego is part of CalFresh’s California Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps students afford groceries.

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