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A Gluten Free College Student Successfully Navigates Meal Planning During a Full-Time Summer Internship

Gfcollege logoJulie Bourne, our regular Thriving Gluten Free in College columnist and publisher of her own Campus Celiac Blog, checks in this month with an update from her summer in Seattle, where she is employed full-time in an office setting and getting a taste of what life (and meal management!) will be like after college.

Summer is in full swing and while school may be out, college students are keeping busy at their various work and internship opportunities. On top of gaining some “real world” experience for future career pursuits, full-time opportunities in particular can provide some insight into a work-focused schedule as opposed to the more static class-focused schedule we are used to. Personally, I’m spending my summer interning full time at a Seattle-based technology agency. My work days usually run from 10 am to 6 pm, meaning there are some necessary preparations that I must take to ensure that I am able to stay fed, energized, and gluten free (of course) throughout the day.

My previous work was in floral design assistance where I was on my feet for an entire day, with little to no time to stop for a meal. As a celiac, I found that environment to be a bit difficult since healthy on-the-go gluten free food can be hard to find. Most of my energy came from KIND bars, Larabars, a piece of fruit, and some sort of protein like almonds or GF whole grain crackers -- not terribly exciting, but it did the job on the crazy-busy days.

Gluten-free-lunchesThese days, I find myself in an office setting where most of my day is spent at my desk, in meetings, or running brief errands. I have access to a fully stocked kitchen including bottomless coffee and some celiac-friendly snacks. What more do you need in life, really?! In terms of lunch, I have gotten into the habit of preparing my meals ahead of time, usually on the weekend. Making something in bulk, like quinoa, rice, or polenta (a recent favorite), can provide a simple and filling base for a variety of meals. Throw in a variety of veggies or proteins to any of those variations, and you’ve got yourself the perfect tupperware-ready meal. This has kept me from packing hurried and unhealthy lunches for myself. As an intern, I need to be as focused as possible, and a sad lunch just won’t do.

In my experience so far, I’ve found my most valuable resource to be the people around me, both in terms of learning the ropes of the job and for sticking to my strict gluten free diet. Communicating with people in the office about my dietary restrictions has opened up conversations, enabling me to get to know my co-workers, and it has made my life easier when it comes to eating at work. For example, getting to know the Office Manager has made me more comfortable requesting gluten free snacks. Plus, letting my mentor know about my Celiac Disease has made the restaurant choices for out-of-the-office lunches a less awkward decision to make. And I’ve discovered that in most medium to large companies, there is a good chance that there is at least one other person with similar restrictions as you, so it’s a great chance to gain a lunch buddy or simply pick someone else’s brain about recipe ideas or the best places to eat nearby.

Gluten-free-quinoaWorking full time has been a significant shift from last quarter’s class schedule (all day Mondays-Wednesdays and nothing the remainder of the week), but so far it’s proven to be manageable. The key has been plenty of meal preparation ahead of time, confiding in my co-workers, and most importantly...using the resources presented to me. I’ve found my dietary restrictions to be a great conversation starter with my new co-workers, and looking at it this way has made it feel like less of a “restriction” and more of what makes me a unique and multifaceted person. Now, I just need to get used to tuning out the fresh donuts in the office kitchen....