It’s that time of year, where everyone is off to university again. I really miss my uni days, however, in my final year, I got diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, and had to go gluten free for life! With my student budget being spent on printer credits, my vitamin levels being extremely low, and cross contamination being a HUGE source of my food anxiety, it was very difficult. Not to mention the temptation of old fast food favourites after a night out.
But fear not, this little blog of mine contains my favourite tips on how to handle gluten free life at university.
Talk to your housemates, and have your own space for your food.
So, living away at university usually means student halls and shared accommodation. Shared fridges and freezers, cupboards, ovens, grills, and possibly shared toasters. The average student kitchen is a minefield for pesky gluten crumbs to contaminate your food. What can you do about this? Well, explain to your housemates about what being a person with coeliac disease means if you can, and try to have your own shelf or drawer in the refrigerator. Open bags of food, can spill into a shared drawer and we all know about cross-contamination. If possible, try to get the TOP shelves, drawers or cupboards for your food. That way, nothing can spill, drip, or crumble down to contaminate your food. It pays to be selfish sometimes. I find having your own chopping board, utensils, and oven trays is a very great way of being in control of preventing contamination from occurring. Oh, and make sure if somebody washes your utensils up, that they do it properly, some housemates I’ve lived with in the past have been gross, and sucked at washing up. But don’t be rude to them about it, you want to get on with them, of course. You can also purchase stickers that say ‘gluten free’, to label your food with, so as others know that something like jam or a spread is yours.
With things like shared toasters, you can get reusable toaster bags from pound shops, or if your bring your own toaster, make sure that nobody uses it. The same goes for if you have your own spreads. I lost count of the amount of times my housemates in first year used to use my food! On a side note, if you’re buying cheaper breads, some brands that I used to buy, used to create a bit of smoke whilst toasting, before the bread had even gone yellow. Try to keep an eye on it, nobody wants to be rushed out of halls in the morning because of a fire alarm.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself. (I mean, research your booze for student nights out)
Well I will tell you what alcohol ISN’T gluten free. Beers, lagers and stouts. As obvious as that is, the amount of pre-drinks games before my diagnosis where I would have to down the ‘dirty pint’ is insane. That stuff contained anything. Wines, spirits, cider and liqueur are gluten free. If you need to check, however, you can google if the beverage of your choice is gluten free, or tweet the manufacturer. If you have the Coeliac UK membership, you can search in their directory, and there are some useful blogs out there, listing gluten free alcohol.
If you’re going out, be careful of the mixers which are used, some lemonades and cola brands aren’t gluten free, and sometimes shot glasses are just placed on a surface that may be covered in beer if you’re not drinking in a place with those automatic measuring things on them. Because of this, I relied heavily on pre-drinking before a night out, or wine. Wine is good.
Research your drunk post-night out fast food places, or plan your 3am feast.
My university campus had SO MANY fast food joints so after a night out, I was spoilt for choice before my diagnois. You can’t help fatty cravings after a night on the razz. If possible, go into those places when you’re sober, and ask about gluten free. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed, I’m sure they’ve head much more embarrassing things from drunk freshers at 3am. And it is the law for premises to have a list of which allergens are in their food. If none of them do serve gluten free food, then do what I loved to do. DOMINOS PIZZA. Now, they pushed leaflets through our door a lot, and I found out on Twitter from a friend that they did gluten free pizza. (Note, not everybody has had a great experience with them, but I haven’t been ill from them) Ordering when you have a discount code, getting your housemates to push the bill up to the amount where the discount works, is a great idea.
You can save your GF pizza for after your night out. GENIUS. Or you can get an oven pizza in, and save some for when you stumble back in. If you have to pass a McDonalds, make sure you know if their fries are gluten free, (again, some people have reported being glutened by their fries) and have those.
Batch cook, read labels, and nourish your body.
Fruits and vegetables are gluten free, and if you live near a market or Aldi, you can get some great deals on food that is in season. Aldi super 6 is a great way to eat nutritious food, and save money. I used to love planning my meals around what vegetables I was buying, and batch cooking them to freeze or have later. You could even buy frozen or tinned veggies too! In terms of cooking sauces, microwave meals etc…I used to just pick up the cheapest, read the labels, and keep going until there was one with no gluten containing ingredients in, and then buy it.
If you’re a meat eater, Farmfoods usually have things like frozen chicken breasts on offer, if you make the most of their microwave rice offer too, this makes the perfect combination for a fake cheeky Nandos. Gluten free pasta isn’t that expensive either, so keep some handy, it will be the perfect convenience food alongside your gluten free sauces.What I also found really useful, was putting veggies and chicken in a pot with water, herbs and a gluten free stock cube. It’s a great way to help fight freshers flu, let me tell you that!
Ask your parents to help.
I used to have a student shopper card from Asda, it came in 2 parts. One card, my parents had, which they topped up with money for me, and the other one I had, and swiped at the till to use on my shop. It was a good way for them to know that I wasn’t spending all of my money on useless things. I’m sure if you are stuck for money and your student loan hasn’t yet come in, they would help you with the cost of groceries.
Take advantage of reduced stock.
For your gluten free bread, DO try and see if there is any reduced. Supermarkets do have their reduced to clear section, and they keep reducing the price as the day goes on. My friend spotted gluten free bread in Sainsbury’s for me one day, and so every week, at around 7pm, I used to buy it and freeze it. It does pay off. One day I got a whole fresh chicken for half of the price of a gluten free loaf of bread with the reduced policy! It was still absolutely fine to eat, and I did enjoy it.
Use your NUS or Student Card, and make the most of it.
Your student or NUS card will get you some amazing deals on food, such as the Co-op’s 10% discount. Find out what restaurants or places that are near you offer Student or NUS discount, and see if they have a dedicated gluten free menu.
For the long days in the Library, and long lectures take snacks.
You will have to spend time in the Library at some point during your student life. Face it now.
Check up on cheap snacks like crisps to see if they are gluten free, for times where you need that snack, sweets and chocolate for your energy, or even take some of your Super 6 fruit along with you. Hummus and cheap tortilla chips were my favourites! I even used to make soup with my veggies and family hand blender that nobody used any more, and take the soup in a flask with me. My mother bought me a lunchbox that you can plug in and heat your food up, so for those long cold days in the University Library, or on film shoots for my media degree, I could enjoy a hot meal. Some lectures go on forever too, and the student shops and cafe’s don’t always have gluten free options when you’re on your break. So take a snack with you, because you never know when you’ll be a bit peckish.
Try and see if you can get help with the cost of prescriptions.
I had to pay a lot for my prescriptions, vitamin b12 injections, ferrous sulphate, and all that jazz. That stuff just adds up to so much money (that you need for the uni library printers). My vitamin B12 booster shots were three times a week for a while! A few of my friends were able to get their prescriptions free or refunded through a form they had. I forgot what it was called, but I’m sure there’s something about it on the internet, or your student reps may know. It really helps, I don’t know if it would help with the cost of prescription gluten free bread, because I can’t get it, but it’s worth looking into.
Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
Those three years whizz by, and you will meet some great people, and have some amazing times, so cherish it. I really would love to do it all over again!