The college dining landscape across North America is changing rapidly with Gen Z students pushing for more plant-based versions of their favorite late-night dorm meals. 

Last year, foodservice provider Sodexo Campus completed a landmark study at three universities that found that 81 percent of students would choose plant-based meals when they were the default option. 

For its part, Sodexo Campus is working to increase its plant-based offerings to comprise 42 percent of menus at hundreds of colleges by 2025—a move that will reduce Sodexo’s carbon footprint by 34 percent. 

Similarly, the University of Toronto (U of T) and Kent State University are some of the latest institutions integrating more plant-based options into their dining services. 

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This January, under the leadership of Chef Nancy Manotas, La Taula Verde café on campus at the U of T underwent a notable transformation by going entirely plant-based for Veganuary. 

The initiative was supported by The Plant Based Treaty U of T Student Club, an arm of the global initiative to transition the food system away from unsustainable animal agriculture.

“The food at La Taula Verde is amazing and good for the planet,” Yarim Hinojosa, the club’s president said in a statement. “It is delicious, reasonably priced, and it’s good for the students, staff, and faculty at the university.”

Over in Ohio, Kent State University is also working to address student demand for vegan food with a pledge to ensure 30 percent of its meals are plant-based by 2026—an increased commitment from its previous 15 percent. 

This month, together with the Forward Food program at the Humane Society of the United States, Kent State University is launching a plant-based pilot program to explore new options for students, one-third of whom identify with dietary preferences such as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and flexitarian.

“This plant-based pilot will help animals while also cutting Kent State’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Christine Coughlin, HSUS food service innovation coordinator, said in a statement. “We’re excited to help them improve animal welfare and to help calculate the positive environmental impact these menu options will make.”

Vegan fast food on campus

As schools continue to work on their dining hall menus to meet demand, this student-led shift has attracted interest from leading North American vegan fast-food chains, which are opening outposts near or on college campuses to give students the options they desire. 

What can college students order for those long study sessions? These are just four options for late-night dorm snacking. 

1Hart House

Hart House is a concept born from comedian Kevin Hart’s desire to make plant-based food accessible to all.

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Together with Andy Hooper (who serves as CEO), Hart launched the chain in 2022 in Southern California. 

The menu consists of comfort classics remade with a plant-based twist, including burgers, chicken sandwiches, nuggets, fries, and milkshakes (made with oat milk)—all made without animal products, high fructose corn syrup, or preservatives. 

Hart House has since expanded to four locations, including its University Park South—a 10-minute walk from the University of California campus—which opened to much fanfare last summer. 

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At this location, Hooper says delivery is more in demand (as expected for any outpost catering to students), and the affordable food continues to draw in USC students, Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) fans, and neighbors alike. 

“We know that Gen Z is leading the charge for bringing plant-based eating mainstream, so as Hart House continues to grow and expand, college and university locations play a critical role in the Hart House development plan,” Hooper tells VegNews. 

Popular items at Hart House’s University Park location—which has a sprawling outdoor space complete with games and a firepit—are the Deluxe Hot n Crispy Chick’n sandwich (a favorite of Hart’s) and the Twisted Tots (which come from the chain’s secret menu).

2 Plant Power Fast Food

Plant Power Fast Food (PPFF) is a pioneering vegan chain operating 10 locations in California and Nevada, with two outposts catering specifically to students at San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego.

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Here, students can pick up a vegan bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on a croissant, muffin, or bagel for breakfast; burgers such as the Big Zac (a Big Mac copycat) for lunch; and an array of chicken wraps, sandwiches, salads, and milkshakes for any other eating occasion. 

The chain is also working to make its food more affordable, a major concern for college students. 

“One of the core criticisms of plant-based food is that it is expensive,” Zach Vouga, PPFF Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, previously said in a statement. “Our goal is to remove that barrier and make plant-based fast food an easy choice.” 

PPFF is also a standout for its Snow Days, a line of indulgent soft-serve desserts that give students a dairy-free dessert akin to Dairy Queen blizzards and McDonald’s McFlurries—neither of which has yet to deliver anything in the plant-based dessert space.  

3 Slutty Vegan

Last summer, Atlanta’s esteemed vegan burger sensation, Slutty Vegan, opened in the Atlanta University Center (AUC) on-campus at HBCU Spelman College. 

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At the heart of Slutty Vegan’s allure lies its indulgent menu, brimming with indulgent options such as the One Night Stand burger, featuring plant-based bacon, cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and the chain’s signature “Slut Sauce.”

Beyond burgers, the menu boasts vegan chicken sandwiches, loaded hot dogs, chili, fries, drinks, and desserts, all infused with the infectious energy that defines the Slutty Vegan experience.

“As a proud alumna of Clark Atlanta University, the AUC has always held a special place in my heart,” Cole Hayes told VegNews at the time. “This milestone of being able to have a Slutty Vegan location on an HBCU campus is a true full-circle moment for me.”

This is the second on-campus location for the chain, which operates across multiple states including an outpost at Georgia Tech University. 

4 Odd Burger

Odd Burger—the world’s first vegan drive-thru—made history when it opened its Western University location in London, Ontario, becoming the first plant-based chain to operate on campus at any Canadian university. 

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“Universities and college experiences are an incredibly important time for students as they expand their viewpoints and understanding of the world,” James McInnes, founder of Odd Burger, tells VegNews. 

“This is why we feel that it is so important to be part of educational institutions so that students can experience and learn about sustainable food options at a young age and carry those with them for the rest of their life,” McInnes says. 

Odd Burger’s offerings are also similar to what students might order at a traditional fast-food eatery, including an assortment of plant-based chicken sandwiches and burgers such as the “Vopper”—a burger loaded with housemade “bacun” on its smash patty that Odd Burger says is “fit for a king or queen.”  

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Odd Burger also offers dairy-free milkshakes, ice cream, loaded fries, and a full breakfast menu.

Looking ahead, Odd Burger has signed a number of US franchise development agreements with plans to open its first US location in 2024, although no specific location has been selected yet.

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