It is back to school season, and for many, the beginning of a university/college career. For most first year university students, the majority are living on campus in residences. Having a gluten free diet while living in residence can sometimes be difficult, challenging and options can be restricted. However, many universities are more aware of the increase in gluten allergies/intolerances and are becoming better accommodating to those who need alternatives.
As I went through my university career I began noticing more and more gluten free alternatives popping up around campus. It was so nice to see, and it got me very excited (I was also very happy for first year students who could eat more freely). However, options were still limited and most days I would just pack my own lunch and snacks.
As I have gone through university with a gluten allergy, I have been able to come up with a list of tips, ideas and suggestions on how to be gluten free on campus.
Living on Campus Gluten Free Tips
– Keep snacks in your residence room (gluten free granola bars, fruit, nuts/seeds, gluten free coolies, popcorn, soup, baby carrots)
– If the campus does not have gluten free bread, keep a loaf in your mini-fridge and bring a couple slices to your favourite sandwich place. *Make sure to ask the staff to have a clean surface for making your sandwich, avoiding cross contamination with knives and toasters and to put a new pair of food handling gloves on. *As GF bread expires quicker than wheat bread, look for half loaves in the freezer section of your grocery store – O’Dough’s carries half loaves.
– Make a call to hospitality services to ask what meals and menu items are gluten free. Some university’s may already be accommodating in listing what is gluten free and what is not, others may become accommodating if you just ask.
– For gluten free breakfast ideas: bacon, eggs, fruit, yogurt, cottage cheese. Bring your own bread to spread some peanut butter/jam/butter on. *Make sure you do not cross contaminate by using the toaster. Some cafeterias may have a separate gluten free safe toaster. Ask the kitchen or hospitality services to look into getting one if they don’t.
– For gluten free dinners: rice, grilled chicken, grilled fish, steak, roast beef, turkey, veggies, protein packed salads, omelettes. Stay clear from any breaded dishes. Scalloped potatoes may contain flour – ask the kitchen staff.
– Be careful of stirfrys – they may contain soy sauce of hoisin/teriyaki sauce which contains gluten
– If the cafeteria doesn’t already have a gluten free pasta option, bring your own uncooked pasta in a baggie and ask the cafeteria to cook it for you. (*Ask to cook in a clean pot with fresh water – not contaminated by previously cooked pasta).
– Chillis may contain flour, double check with chef.
– Make sure soups do not have broth contain gluten (*ask)
– Smoothies make great snacks – many snack bars on campus offer smoothies (beware of boosters/protein powders, they may contain gluten. Double check with staff and ask to review ingredients).
– Bring your own gluten free tamari/soy sauce to the cafeteria to use for bland stirfrys or rice dishes
Living off Campus Gluten Free Tips
Gluten free grocery shopping as a student can be very pricey and hard on your wallet. You will notice when grocery shopping with friends that their bills will be much less than yours if you are stocking up on gluten free bread, gluten free cereals and gluten free cookies. Gluten free bread is usually 4x the amount of wheat bread (especially if compared to no-name or “Wonder” bread). Although it is fun to have gf cookies and cereal on hand, it is not always necessary. You can find ways around to curb your sweet tooth or replace the $6 cookies for a dollar chocolate bar, such as Aero chocolate bars or M&Ms (which are both gluten free). If you want to cut back on buying pricey gluten free loaves, you can use rice cakes to make an open faced sandwich or lettuce leaves to make a healthy sandwich alternative. Sometimes mixes can be cheaper than the pre-packaged items, such as a gluten free cookie mix or gluten free brownie mix. Quinoa, rice and no-name gluten free pastas are the best gluten free carbohydrates to have on hand – all three are versatile and can be made into many different dishes. Most rice crackers are now gluten free, and they are typically the most inexpensive gluten free cracker, ranging from $1.99-$2.99. Certified GF oats can be expensive, but they are worth having for breakfast – eating them every so often and mixing up your breakfast choices can keep them lasting for weeks.
Gluten Free Snacks at School
Gluten free granola bars are always a great snack to have in your school bag or purse, Glutino Breakfast Bars and Enjoy Life Chewy Bars are my two favourite brands, and surprisingly I don’t find too much of a price difference between gluten free granola bars and “regular” granola bars. There are gluten free pretzels (Glutino Pretzel Twists), however they are about 3x the price of wheat pretzels…but, they are totally worth the pretzel treat. Baggies of cut up veggies and fruit are the cheapest snack to have on hand, along with rice crackers and cheese slices. Making a bag of popcorn in the microwave the night before and putting some in a ziplock bag is also a great snack to munch on in a lecture. Yogurt is definitely (or almost always) gluten free, and is a healthy, calcium rich snack (also a great breakfast food).
There are so many gluten free alternatives. Knowing what foods to have on hand is key and a gluten free diet definitely takes more planning and thinking about then a non-gluten free diet. The best advice when living on campus and eating in the cafeterias is to ask the chef’s and kitchen staff what is and what is not gluten free. Luckily being gluten free present day is not as hard as it used to be 5-10 years ago, it is actually starting to become very normal.