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I Went Vegetarian For A Week At Illinois State And Survived

Actually, thanks to ISU Campus Dining, I thrived.

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So, I'm an omnivore.

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I love all the main food groups. You know, vegetables, fruits, grains, Pub II Cheese Balls...

* Pause for tribute to cheese balls *

Instagram: @yellow_byrd

But I especially love meat.

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What can I say? There's just something about a nice burger at a Redbird tailgate or a Reggie Zone from D.P. Dough.

I also love challenges almost as much as I love bacon.

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So I decided to go vegetarian for a week because...well, I wanted to prove that I could. Besides, Illinois State has the highest rated campus dining of any public school in the state, so how hard could it be?

After a little bit of planning and one "last meal" of chicken nachos, I said goodbye to meat for the week.

Here's what I ate, how I felt, and how I survived the week:

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Meal #1: Lunch at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

I was super worried about not eating meat. I was afraid I was going to walk away hungry, and I wasn't sure if I could fill up on vegetables.

My first on-campus meal of the week was at one of Illinois State's two dining centers, Watterson Dining Commons. My meal included:

* Vegetable pullao (an Indian, pilaf based dish; this is the first time I tried it, and I'd go for it again)

* Naan bread (because you cannot go wrong with bread, am I right?)

* Blueberry edamame salad and lemon dressing (which is possibly the best salad I've had this year)

Meal #2: Dinner at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

That night, I headed back to the dining center after class. I went to The Wok station for my main course, then headed over to Fresh Bites for some fresh fruit. Dinner included:

* Chow mein noodles

* General tsao's veggie stir fry (who is General Tsao and why does his food taste so good?)

* Fresh strawberries

After the first day, I was actually feeling pretty OK

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I had tried a new food, eaten a pretty baller salad, and indulged in some General Tsao's. Not bad for a Monday!

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Meal #3: Lunch at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

After eating some overnight oatmeal for breakfast (which, by the way, is a perfectly mini-fridge-friendly meal for residential hall life), I headed back to Watterson Dining between classes. Today, I hit up the Homestyle line:

* Pesto primavera pasta with pine nuts (try to say that five times fast)

* Steamed broccoli florets + ginger rice

* Five herb oven browned potatoes (always down for a good potato)

* Fresh honeydew

Meal #4: Dinner at McAlister's Deli

Dillon Maher

McAlister's Deli is one of the dining options in the Bone Student Center that serves things like sandwiches, soups, salads, and potatoes. I opted for a Choose Two with:

* A cup of broccoli cheddar soup

* Half of a cheese spud (Yes, this is half of the Giant Spuds you can order. Dreams do come true.)

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Meal #5: Breakfast at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

Folks. Breakfast food is my favorite thing and I want to eat it for every meal. This morning, I feasted on:

* Scrambled eggs with hot sauce

* Fresh strawberries

* Hash browns

* Oatmeal with peanut butter and brown sugar

Meal #6: Lunch at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

I had big plans to eat lunch at Marketplace at Linkins, the other dining center on campus, but it started raining so I decided to go to Watterson because it was closer to work. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I hit up the Burritos, Etc. station for the first time since going veggie, and I was not disappointed. Lunch consisted of:

* A quesadilla with pinto beans, tomatoes, jalapeños, sour cream, and of course guacamole (which, might I add, doesn't cost extra when you're eating at campus dining)

* Mediterranean bulgur salad (a grain-based salad with garbanzo beans; this wasn't my favorite thing in the world, but you can't love everything, right?)

* Fresh watermelon

After meal #6, I felt like I had this whole vegetarian thing down.

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I knew where to find vegetarian options (which wasn't super hard, because there are a lot of different options), and I was really enjoying trying new things.

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Meal #7: Lunch at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

It was a chilly morning today, so by the time I got to lunch I wanted something to warm me up. I landed on the Olive Garden Special (i.e. soup, salad, and bread sticks). I lunched on:

* A salad from the salad bar with cucumber, egg, tomato, and raspberry vinaigrette

* Aztec black bean soup

* Fresh pineapple

* Bread sticks (not pictured: the 7 other bread sticks I wanted to eat but decided it was best not to)

Meal #8: Dinner at Watterson Dining Commons

Dillon Maher

Today, I learned I do not enjoy tofu. It's a consistency thing for me. Anyway, for dinner I ate:

* Sweet and sour tofu (I ate around the tofu and survived)

* Steamed rice

* Mediterranean chopped salad with balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing

* Fresh honeydew

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Meal #9: Einstein Bros. Bagels

Dillon Maher

I don't have classes on Fridays (life is good, folks), so I met a friend for a late breakfast/early lunch at Einstein Bros. Bagels, another one of the dining options in the Bone Student Center. I usually just get a regular bagel (which I guess is also vegetarian), but I decided to branch out. I ate:

* A spinach, mushroom, and swiss egg sandwich on a 9-grain bagel

Meal #10: Dinner in Uptown Normal

Dillon Maher

After a full week, a couple friends and I headed to one of my favorite restaurants in Uptown Normal, Anand India. Although I was sad to pass up my go-to chicken shahi korma, I survived with:

* Aloo choley (a dish made with potatoes and chickpeas)

* Not pictured: Rice and naan (How fitting that I ate naan at both my first and last vegetarian meals?)

After five days of no meat, I survived.

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Although by the end of the week I was in desperate need of some meat, it was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. Although I'll probably never cut meat totally out of my diet, I learned a lot and grew to appreciate the food options I have on campus more than I used to.

What I learned:

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* Breakfast is the best and always will be, meat or no meat

* Campus dining has a lot of options to accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences

* Life doesn't revolve around cheeseburgers and chicken nachos

Got questions about food at Illinois State, #FutureRedbird?

Check out Campus Dining's website to learn more, or tweet us your questions at @ISUAdmissions!

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