Our Celiac college student blogger Julie Bourne shares her favorite Denver-area grocery stores for shopping for GF staples -- and what she likes to stock in her kitchen for quick, easy meals.
With cafes and restaurants continually coming up with more and more gluten free offerings, it's getting much easier for us gluten free eaters to dine out. However, there's still no substitute for a safe, homemade meal! If you're a college student like me, it can be difficult deciding what foods to keep around, as meals need to be prepared quickly and easily. With our limited living (and cooking) space -- and limited funds -- I've found that it's best to enter the grocery store with at least a rough game plan. My strategy is to keep a regular collection of basic foods around so that I can make a variety of meals. I also make sure to frequent the most "gluten free friendly" grocery stores and markets that stock the majority of my favorite gluten free staples.
As we know, the average student doesn't have a ton of time to be making extensive meals on a daily basis. (That's why many non-GF students rely on ramen noodles as their life sustenance!) However, those of us who are gluten free (or lean towards more health-friendly options!) need to consider ways to keep preparation time low while eating nutrient-rich, gluten free meals.
So what's my advice for keeping healthy foods in the kitchen and junky foods out? Just don't buy any junk food that you'll be tempted to eat in hungry desperation. Instead, keep quick snack foods within easy reach...things like popcorn, healthy snack chips with fresh salsa, and hummus with veggies. These are easy snacks for after-class munchies or for sharing with other health-conscious friends while relaxing with a movie or doing some late-night studying.
But let's talk about full meals, since that's often the bigger challenge...
The old adage is true: It's important to eat breakfast every day. Unfortunately, many college students tend to skip this meal since they are hurried in the morning. But even if you're rushed, there's a healthy favorite of mine that's just about the easiest breakfast option around...any brand of gluten free yogurt, topped with gluten free granola (I like Udi's). Yogurt and fruit works well, too, if you're in a big hurry. So there's really no excuse to forgo the morning meal.
Lunch usually gets squeezed in sometime between classes, making it yet another meal that too often gets skipped or replaced with unhealthy junk food. I try to take just 5 minutes at night and pack a lunch for the next day. (Try this, and you'll thank yourself the next day!) Even though a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on gluten free bread will do the trick some days, something more sustaining like quinoa with veggies and hummus or a rice noodle salad is worth making every so often. Make a batch on a Sunday and pack it in several tupperware containers for "to-go" meals throughout the week.
For quick dinners I'll be cooking, I like stocking basic food items like canned beans, pre-cut veggies, bread, rice tortillas, cheese, noodles, spices, and protein like turkey or chicken. With these staples, I can make easy meals such as tacos, noodle salad, stir-fry, quesadillas, veggie sandwiches, and anything else I dream up. When in doubt, canned gluten free soup like some of Wolfgang Puck's or Amy's soups (they even have low-sodium varieties) are as quick as turning on the stove or microwave.
When food shopping, you'll do your health a huge favor if you reserve about 75% of your time perusing the edges of the store (where the fresh foods and many naturally gluten free foods are), rather than the middle of the store, where you'll find too many processed (and many gluten-containing) products lining the shelves. Use the remaining 25% of your time getting stocked up on starches, spices, and canned or frozen foods.
As a gluten free college student, I've become a loyal shopper at my local Safeway and Whole Foods Market (click the links to read more detailed reviews of these stores, which I've shared on GlutenFreeTravelSite). I typically divide my time and grocery list between the two. For fresh foods like vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meats, I go to Safeway, where I can find the more affordable, "non-organic" options. I try to be cost-conscious with these things, since they make up a large part of my overall food budget. For specialty items that need to be labeled "gluten free," like bread, canned goods, or desserts, I head to Whole Foods. Even though stores like this have a reputation of being expensive, I've found that some gluten free foods tend to be more affordable here than at Safeway since they aren't necessarily considered "specialty" food items.
So for stretching my dollar and getting the brands and products I want, dividing my grocery list among these stores is a good way to go. Plus, now that I'm familiar with the markets that carry the products I like to have on hand, it makes it easier to throw together delicious and healthy meals within minutes...leaving plenty of time to hit the homework or hang out with friends after a long day of classes.
Read more "Thriving GF @ College" posts by Julie here on our Blog, where she shares what she eats at college and where she eats when she travels off campus and around the world!