Whole grains are huge. Salad means more than vegetables. Vegetarianism is popular among the class of 2019. And everyone is eating more vegan food.

That’s the word from college dining directors as the new academic year gets underway.

At Colby College in Waterville, associate dining director Joseph Klaus said 15 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen report they follow a vegetarian diet. A much higher percentage of students opt for the vegetarian dishes served on campus each day.

“As a whole, all students have grasped a more plant-based diet and are eating less meat and more vegetables and grains,” Klaus said.

While Bowdoin College dining director Mary Lou Kennedy doesn’t have precise statistics, she does “know the volume of vegetarian entrees and salads we go through keeps getting higher.…”

The Brunswick college, which topped this year’s Princeton Review list for the best college food, features two dining halls that always serve vegetarian and vegan meals, including six varieties of housemade veggie burgers.

Lise Desrochers, who serves as co-director of food services at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, has noticed more vegetarians this year among the incoming freshman than last. College of the Atlantic earned its No. 5 spot on Princeton Review’s best college food list this year by, among other things, devoting one-third of its menu to vegetarian food.

And Bates College in Lewiston reports its vegetarian and vegan dishes also have crossover appeal, said Cheryl Lacey, director of dining there. When the vegan bar serves pad thai, “the line stretches around the corner” of the dining hall, she said.

In an annual March Madness-style competition run by animal advocacy group PETA, Bates College in 2014 took home the win for the most vegan-friendly small school in the country. Both Bates and Bowdoin made it into PETA’s online contest this spring, but neither advanced beyond the first round.

The Norfolk, Virginia-based organization also issues a Vegan Report Card for more than 1,400 colleges and universities. Bowdoin, Colby and the University of Maine at Presque Isle each earned an A. Bates, College of the Atlantic, University of Maine at Orono, University of Southern Maine, Maine College of Art, Unity College, Maine Maritime Academy, Thomas College and Saint Joseph’s College all earned a B.

At the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the dining hall is offering more vegan and vegetarian entrees this year.

“The other night they did vegan chicken fajitas,” media relations director Rachel Rice said. “It’s gotten some non-vegetarians trying vegan and vegetarian options.”

For the past 18 years, Colby’s Foss Dining Hall (one of three on campus) has emphasized vegetarian and vegan dishes, with a handful of poultry and fish entrees. Klaus said 70 percent of the hall’s meals are vegetarian, while 20 percent of the meals at the other two halls are vegetarian.

Foss serves housemade vegan cheese and seitan, organic condiments and sparkling water instead of soda.

“We started with a large focus on vegetarian and some on vegan,” Klaus said. “Now 18 years later, it is predominately vegan with some vegetarian.”

A similar evolution has occurred at Bowdoin.

“Around 2000, when vegetarian first became popular, it was heavy in cheese and dairy,” Kennedy said. “That has changed to incorporate more grains, beans and ethnic recipes.”

Like the students, faculty and staff are eating more vegetables and whole grains. Lacey reports that when she recently surveyed customers of the Bobcat Den, a small cafe on the Bates campus, the faculty and staff asked for more plant-based choices on the salad bar, such as quinoa, edamame and tofu.

Kennedy at Bowdoin said the communal nature of college meals means trends in eating tend to spread. “When you see other people around you are eating a lot of fruits and vegetables,” Kennedy said, “you start making more choices like that.”

Student choices also reflect, no surprise, what’s going on beyond the campus. As in the larger society, one choice more students are making is to eat more whole grains.

“There’s a big call for things like quinoa,” said Lacey at Bates. “It’s not something we would have had on our menu five or 10 years ago.”

Desrochers at the College of the Atlantic also keeps her students happy by stocking the dining halls with whole grains, noting “five or six years ago, a lot of people wouldn’t have known what red quinoa or millet is.”

The place where many of these grains show up has also undergone a makeover. Salad bars on these vegetarian-friendly campuses have expanded.

“Our salad bar is not just green salads and veggies,” said Terry Landry, who manages Foss Hall at Colby. “I offer a variety of dips and hummus – a beet-almond hummus, a muhammara, a tzatziki, a baba ganoush. I offer a variety of grains.”

Bowdoin, too, has bulked up its daily salad bars to include many grain-based dishes, such as a wheat berry and cranberry salad and a blueberry, corn and cucumber salad. Veg staples always on the Bowdoin salad bars include edamame, chia seeds, flax seeds, nutritional yeast and liquid aminos.

A study published last year in the journal Climate Change found that meat-based diets have almost double the carbon emissions of a vegetarian diet and more than two times the emissions produced by a vegan diet. Because of this, including more plant-based dishes in dining hall menus can help campuses achieve greater sustainability.

For example, the dining hall at Bates College is certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

“We’re the only 3-star certified collegiate dining service in Maine,” Lacey said, and added the stars reflect a number of factors, including food miles, water conservation and “how much of the menu is vegetarian.”

Kennedy at Bowdoin said the dining halls’ vegetarian food “absolutely plays into the college’s sustainability role.”

“There are a lot of students who are interested in eating (vegetable-based diets),” she continued, “for environmental and sustainable reasons.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

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Twitter: AveryYaleKamila