Tips for Flavorful, Vegan-Friendly Menus for Colleges & Universities

According to website, 2% of Americans 17 and older say they are vegetarians, and a quarter of those say they are vegans.

Surveys of college and university (C&U) foodservice operators indicate that, in an effort to appeal to vegan students, upwards of 65% of their menus now offer vegan items. That’s up from around 30% just four years ago.*

Still, many vegan college students are quite vocal about the lack of options in their cafeterias, bringing focus to the importance of more C&U operators offering flavorful and fun menus to this audience.

Breakthrough operators, like at the University of California at San Diego, offer entire vegan dining stations. Some operators are expanding Meatless Mondays into Try It Tuesdays to promote vegan and vegetarian options on their menus.

Since college students also dine often in restaurants, it’s important to note that among commercial operations, vegan menu items have risen 115% in the past four years, led by fast casual operators, according to Datassential. The leading ingredients in these vegan foods are tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, beans, rice, and garlic.

These and other commercial ingredients like tofu and soy are easily accessible through foodservice distributors to allow C&U operators to serve vegan items like veggie nuggets, soy taco pocket sandwiches, veggie burgers, and veggie chili.

Here are more ideas for offering great taste and nutrition while being attentive to vegan customers:    

• Offer nondairy and alternative beverages at every meal, like water, unsweetened beverages, soy, rice, and almond milk. 

• Use canned tomatoes as a base for vegetable soups, red beans and rice, chili, and other entrées. Another great choice is pasta e fagioli with Italian herbs, white beans, and tomatoes. At, find recipe ideas for dishes like Tomato Minestrone or Tomato Vodka Penne.   

• Try serving falafel, a seasoned chickpea patty in pita bread with a variety of toppings, which is popular among students.

• Add Red Gold’s Nutritionally Enhanced Salsa and veggie chili to a baked potato, or try stir-fry vegetables with tofu or vegan chicken strips over brown rice. Our flavorful salsa is great tasting, 70% lower in sodium, offers mild heat from jalapeños and is enhanced with onion and hints of garlic.

• Use lentils or a meat substitute, such as soy crumbles, to make spaghetti with vegan “meatballs.” And try Redpack’s Nutritionally Enhanced Spaghetti Sauce, that is great tasting, with 70% less sodium, to compliment any spaghetti dish.

• Serve bean burritos filled with beans, soy protein crumbles, rice, and Red Gold Naturally Balanced Salsa.

• Set aside the cheese and pepperoni pizza for a white bean bruschetta flat bread with a hearty amount of beans along with chopped tomatoes and basil.

Much of the success in promoting vegan or vegetarian meals is about marketing these new additions properly to customers. Be creative in the naming of your items. For example, rename boring “Rice & Beans” as “Zesty Bean Bowl.”

Among commercial operators, using hot-button terms, like “antioxidants,” “ancient grains,” “alternative oils,” and “superfoods” in their menu descriptions helps drive success. These terms can work for C&U operators as well.

For more great recipe ideas for vegan and vegetarian menu items, visit:

*peta2/People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals