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What's for Lunch? Finding Vegetarian Fuel in the Dining Halls

Image credit: John Bedard for The Campus Trainer

One of this university’s proudest traditions, second only to rubbing Testudo’s nose, is complaining about the dining halls. It’s nothing new to hear a student bellyache about the supposed lack of options or, even worse, admit they miss home-cooked meals.

While I’m sure the University of Maryland’s dining halls won’t get a Michelin star anytime soon, there are some ingredients native to, say, the North Campus Dining Hall that can create a very fine meal.

This grain salad combines a load of healthy ingredients — for which there are duplicates or close substitutes available in this university’s kitchens — that might be a nice break from the drudgery of your lunch or dinner. Try it out, and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it!

The recipe:

  • Half a bowl of brown rice

  • A handful of nuts

  • Six diced cucumber slices

  • Four diced tomato slices

  • A few clumps of craisins

  • A couple scoops of diced onion

  • A drizzle or two of olive oil

  • Some dashes from the salt and pepper shakers

For this recipe, I first staged my tomatoes and cucumbers on a plate. After chopping them up, I grabbed my other ingredients and tossed everything into a large black bowl. The salt, pepper and olive oil topped the mixture and, voilà, it was ready.

Personally, I like quinoa in my salad, but be aware that the choice isn’t always based on preference. Sometimes the dining hall serves it, but other times, you’re plum out of luck. That’s no big deal, though — you can easily replace the quinoa with some brown rice.

In any case, this meal is packed with nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, making it both a delicious and nutritious way to spice things up.

Edgar Moctezuma, a professor of plant biology at this university, thinks highly of both foods. He encourages students to eat foods that contain a number of healthy nutrients and are low in cholesterol, fat and empty calories.

According to the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, quinoa is an ancient grain with roots in South America. It’s a solid source of fiber and protein, with one cup providing eight grams of protein and five grams of fiber.

Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, too, which makes it a complete protein. It’s rich in phosphorus, which promotes bone health; folate, which helps to metabolize protein, and manganese, which helps chemical reactions in the body.

According to Moctezuma, quinoa is desirable due to “the quantity and quality, and variety, of nutritious elements” contained in it.

Considering that, this recipe may be ideal for vegetarians. Its nutritional profile is a solid alternative to that of animal products, as it incorporates several nutrients many vegetarians can miss out on.

Andrea Troutner likes to mix her quinoa with brown rice. She’s a registered dietitian nutritionist and a certified diabetes educator.

When asked about the benefits of a plant-based diet, Troutner pointed to the upside of consuming less saturated fat and more fiber.

“I agree with incorporating more plant-based protein [and] plant-based milk substitutes as an integral part of a healthy meal plan,” said Troutner, who is also a member of the Maryland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

This is not to say meat doesn’t have a place in a healthy lifestyle. You might even find your grain salad is tastier with some chicken. In any case, the next time you’re in the dining hall, try something different. Your taste buds — and overall health — may thank you.

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