Gluten Free Travel Blog is pleased to present Thriving Gluten Free In College, a periodic column about the trials and tribulations (but mostly the successes!) of a typical gluten free college student living on campus. Julie Bourne of The Campus Celiac blog will be sharing her experiences both at her college's "home" campus...and as she embarks on a semester studying abroad in Italy. Please pass this post along to any current -- or future -- gluten free college students you know, and encourage them to follow Julie both on our Blog (you can sign up for our feed on the top of the left column) and on her own Blog, The Campus Celiac.
It was one week before I was to move halfway across the country to start my first year of college when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. This sudden diagnosis seemed to add an extra weight on top of the already stressful circumstance of leaving for college. However, I entered this new chapter of my life with the confidence that this would pose as a learning experience in which I would come out stronger and healthier than I ever was before.
I am a college student entering into my 3rd year at the University of Denver as a Communications Studies major, and I have been 100% gluten free since August of 2010. I am originally from the Seattle area, but during the school year I call Denver home. When I am not in class, I can be found studying in a coffee shop with friends, cooking up a gluten free meal in the kitchen, or writing for my own blog, The Campus Celiac, a journal of sorts in which I discuss my adventures as a gluten free college student.
I am lucky to find myself going to college in the relatively gluten-free friendly state of Colorado, but it is not always so easy to maintain a 100% gluten free diet while dining on-campus. Gluten free savvy can be limited in the dining halls, and the usual college dinner out consists of pizza and beer. Obviously, another college staple -- instant ramen noodles -- are absolutely out of the question for last minute meals. Upon my quick realization of this after starting my freshman year, I knew that in order to remain gluten free (and therefore healthy), I would have to take matters into my own hands, but I would also have to understand that my dietary restrictions didn’t have to restrict my overall college experience. After all, at the end of the day, my strict inability to eat gluten ended up being a rather unexpectedly good conversation topic when meeting new people on campus.
The University of Denver is a small school, meaning that it is easy to get to know the dining hall staff (good), but it is difficult for the dining hall to justify making accommodations for gluten free eaters, as we make up such a small demographic within the school (not so good). It is for this reason that I chose to go with the smallest and least expensive meal plan on campus so that I could have a larger budget for doing my own grocery shopping. Sweet potatoes, quinoa, and GF oatmeal have been my main staple foods throughout college so far, as they are all inexpensive yet filling and nutritious (more bang for the buck)! Grocery shopping with those standards in mind has helped me save money without compromising a balanced diet, which is key for staying healthy and sane while at college.
As for the occasional times that I eat in the dining hall, a large portion of the main entrees offered there are not suitable for anyone with Celiac Disease, but a meal can be constructed using food found around the perimeter of the dining hall. The salad bar, the rice cooker, and the steamed vegetables have become my best friends. My usual plate will have a large spinach salad topped with boiled egg, chickpeas, olive oil and lemon juice, a heaping spoonful of steamed rice, and a big pile of roasted veggies (which are usually carrots or broccoli). Of course this meal is a bit healthier and more plant-based than most of my self-cooked meals end up being, but I like eating with the ease of knowing that these foods will not make me ill.
The key to successful on-campus dining is being able to improvise a bit with what is offered while maintaining communication with the dining hall staff. It can be assumed that they would like a students’ dining experience to be as positive as possible, so there is a good chance that they will be willing to work with you in some or many ways to make your experience easier. Also, keep in mind that every college is different, and the levels of gluten free awareness varies across different campuses. Doing research about your campus dining ahead of time on sites such as GlutenFreeTravelSite (which is compiling student-submitted GF reviews of colleges all over the country) will help you feel more prepared and confident as you start out. Familiarize yourself with the dining hall staff, be willing to improvise and stay flexible, and most importantly, spend less time worrying about food and more time enjoying all that college has to offer. After all, college should be one of the best experiences of your life…so enjoy it, gluten free!
If YOU'RE a gluten free college student, PLEASE submit a quick review of dining gluten free at your own college to GlutenFreeTravelSite. That's our sister website -- full of thousands of user-submitted gluten free dining and travel reviews -- and it's our goal to get all colleges in the U.S reviewed by current GF students. Your feedback will greatly help tens of thousands of GF high schoolers beginning to evaluate colleges. Simply go to Submit Review on our site, and follow the prompts from there. We'll even be choosing a college review to showcase each month as our Featured College Review, and the winning reviewer will receive a prize!