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Gluten-Free at College: My Tips and Tricks

After getting super sick with mono my junior year of high school, I was forced to start a gluten-free diet, as my immune system could no longer handle the common protein found in many cereal grains, but primarily wheat. Although my symptoms greatly resolved with my new lifestyle change, I began to struggle again when I started my freshman year of college. Over the past three years, I have learned a few tips/tricks on how to keep cautious and healthy when it comes to avoiding gluten at school. Hopefully, this helps someone out!

  • Cook For Yourself When Able

One of my biggest struggles when I started my first year of college was the danger of cross-contamination in my dining halls. Even when something appeared to be gluten-free, or even was marked “gluten-free” by the staff, sometimes I still ended up quite ill. Making the transition to a living situation where I had access to a stove and kitchen during my junior year changed my quality of living immensely–I could make sure each surface I used was clean and free from anything that could possibly make me sick. For underclassmen it is also possible to apply for Coburn dorm living, where people with food allergies have access to a private kitchen! Whenever possible, I now try to bring my own lunch when I am on campus and unsure if anything at the dining hall is safe to eat. Plus, it’s been fun to learn how to cook for myself and what feels best for me to eat!

homemade gf dough
Original photo by natalie davidson
  • Check Out Local Gluten-Free Establishments And Inquire About Accommodations

I was quite surprised to learn that my little college town of Waterville was home to a host of restaurants that cater to gluten-free living. However, for some establishments, I had to do a deep dive into the menus or ask the chefs before I was finally able to find something to eat. Personally, I recommend doing a deep google search of your area–it is worth it when you find a gluten-free gem, even if it is a little drive away. Some of my personal favorites near Colby are Portland Pie Co, Wild Oats Bakery, and Sunrise Bagels

wild oats
Original photo by wren stewart
  • Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help From Dining Hall Workers

For some reason, freshman me always thought it was embarrassing to request gluten-free pasta, or inquire about a menu item that looked suspicious at the dining halls. However, I think it is much MORE embarrassing to not ask and make yourself sick when it could have been prevented. From my experience, most dining hall staff, at least at Colby, are happy to accommodate reasonable requests in terms of gluten-free items and totally willing to explain menu items or a risk of cross contamination. As long as you are polite and understanding, there is no reason to worry about how this might come off! 

  • Stock Up On Snacks

While in an ideal world it would not be necessary, keeping a stock of certified gluten free snacks in my dorm room and kitchen have gotten me through days where there are not really enough options available through campus dining. Some of my most-purchased favorites include Udi’s bagels, veggie chips, glutino crackers, and lots and lots of snack bars (I LOVE gomacro and Kind brands for these). Having your snacks available whenever they might be needed helps to keep you energized and full in a pinch, and, in my opinion, are essential to keeping up your gluten-free lifestyle.

Original photo by natalie davidosn
  • Mix/Carry Your Own Alcohol

Because you never know what’s been in someone else’s glass, if you choose to drink, I think it is essential to be very mindful of what you are putting into your body. Beer is full of gluten, as are some other common liquors. Absolutely do not share dirty cups in terms of party games, and maybe inform others of your issue before they can offer you anything from their own glass. 

Hopefully, you gained a little knowledge or tips/tricks if you are just realizing you might need to follow a gluten-free diet while at school. If you live in Waterville, I encourage you to check out some of these restaurants or scour the shelves of Hannaford–you might be surprised to see all of the good gluten-free items you can find!

Natalie is a junior at Colby from Capitol Hill in Washington DC, but is currently abroad in Sweden! She is a Government major and an English minor here at Colby.
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