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Gluten Free Student Life

I’m delighted to have a guest post for you today from Saara Aziz, who has many years of experience living a student life whilst having coeliac disease and understands the difficulties many students face trying to live gluten free. It is due to this experience that Saara decided to blog and create her site: The Gluten Free Student Cookbook. The aim of the site is to allow students the chance to try easy and cheap gluten free recipes, especially for those who aren’t yet confident in cooking.

Over to you, Saara!

Being a student at University is one of the most exciting, fun and life changing experience most of us face in our lifetime. It’s during this time that you find yourself growing up, making your own decisions and finding that independence you so longingly craved.

Yet being a student can also prove to be quite stressful with a lot of students finding it difficult to find that right balance between studying hard and playing hard, eating well and socialising too. However, suddenly finding yourself being diagnosed with coeliac disease or having coeliac disease previously, can prove to be quite difficult at first and understandably, very daunting.

I was studying in my first year when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. I was having such a rotten time, that I assumed my stomach problems and pains were a result of stress. If my parents hadn’t dragged me to the doctors, I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to be finally diagnosed with coeliac disease – [I was quite lazy in my student days!]

Understandably, being told I had coeliac disease did make me have a mini breakdown. I had been living my life happily eating pot noodles, pizza and pasta, that the thought of having to finally give these delights up, filled me with absolute sadness. All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind; “how was I going to survive?”, “how was I going to afford gluten free food?”, “how were people going to treat me now?”, “how do you even cook?!!!” . The thing was, I was never gifted in the cooking department, I could just about make a decent slice of toast without setting fire to my halls of residence!

Through this experience I generated a greater understanding of how to deal with University life as well as being a gluten free student. Here I’ve compiled a guide on how to get that support whilst studying at University:

1. Be Open About Your Illness

One of the things I feared most was how people were going to treat me when they knew I had coeliac disease. I foolishly thought, that if I kept it from them they wouldn’t know and in turn, not treat me differently. This was the biggest mistake I could make. Confiding in your house-mates and your new university friends about your coeliac disease does make things so much easier. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it could be a passing comment or discreetly dropped into conversation or it could be a huge house meeting around the dinner table! Whatever way you choose to tell your house-mates, you’ll be surprised at how easy it was to tell them and how interested they suddenly become. When I told my house-mates about my diagnosis they were extremely understanding and supportive. Not only that, but they understood why they shouldn’t use my butter or margarine because of cross contamination.

2. Research Your Accommodation

Many students opt for university halls of residence when studying at university, it’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends. However, there are two types of halls of residence you should keep in mind when arranging your accommodation; self-catered and catered halls.

Catered halls , although quite pricey in rent, will provide food for you which allows you to save money on food shopping. Before opting for catered halls, make sure you research before hand. Find out whether they cater for special dietry needs such as coeliacs and what gluten free food they have on offer. Don’t be disheartened if you find that they only provide a limited amount of food suitable for people with coeliac disease, as self-catered halls can be an advantage. You’re in charge of your own food, is cheaper in rent and it allows you the freedom of learning how to cook and make your own gluten free food.

3. Get Support From University

Living away from home and balancing university life can be quite challenging, yet understandably, finding yourself suddenly diagnosed with coeliac disease can have some affect on your well-being. All university’s have a fantastic counselling service on campus which you can enquire about on freshers week, your university starter pack [if your university provides one] or emailing student services. Alternatively, you can see if there are any support groups set up for people with coeliac disease and if not, why not take this opportunity to start one up yourself? It’d be a fantastic way to make friends, great on your well-being and would glow brilliantly on your CV!

4. Register With A Doctor

Before starting University life, it’d be a great advantage to yourself to register with a doctor at the place you are studying. Usually, application forms are provided within your university starter pack, however if not, doctors can be easily found via the NHS Website; http://www.nhs.uk/servicedirectories/pages/servicesearch.aspx Just enter the postcode and it’ll provide you a list of doctors in your area as well as information on whether or not they are taking on new patients. Registering with a doctor is an easy way of obtaining gluten free food on prescription which would save you a fortune! You may also be able to claim your money back from paying your prescription or claim part of the money by filling out a HC1 form, which can be found at most doctors.

5. Register With Coeliac UK Society

It is vital to anyone who has been diagnosed with coeliac disease to register with the Coeliac UK Society. You are given 6 months free subscription allowing you to view members only areas of the site, as well as a huge bumper pack in the post. It’s within this bumper pack where you receive your Food and Drink Directory or as I aptly name it, ‘The Holy Grail’. Inside is a selection of most major supermarkets; Asda, Tesco, Aldi, Sainsburys and a huge list of food suitable for people with coeliac disease. It’s through this, that I learnt things like Bisto Best Chicken Gravy Granules are gluten free!

6. Gain Confidence To Cook For Yourself

Learning to cook whilst away from home is a daunting prospect. I tried to avoid it like the plague by relying heavily on take-outs and living off pot noodles. I never was a good cook either, my mum said I was capable of burning water for goodness sake! However, when I’d heard tales of how difficult it was to actually cook with gluten free alternatives, I avoided the whole thing all together and it was during this period that I had become dangerously thin and unwell.

You must remember that anyone is capable of cooking and the right way of gaining that confidence is to start with the basics! It’s no good jumping in to the deep end and attempting to make a roast dinner, start as basic as a baked potato and learn that every thing you burn and destroy in the process is all a learning curve. You could also try looking for easy, student friendly recipes on my website: The Gluten Free Student Cookbook.

When I started my new site, The Gluten Free Student Cookbook, I found myself going through plenty of trials and errors, finding the easier and cheaper way to make things. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have tried to attempt to make gluten free Yorkshire puddings! Usually, I would have thrown the towel in and given up but I’m determined to find a way of making them look and taste like their gluten companions!

Going Gluten Free: Sample Menus

Thanks to all those who contacted me after receiving the new Free From newsletter. (If you haven’t signed up yet, why not? See top right and do it today!)

You raised some very interesting questions, some of which I’ve answered by email, but there are some I thought I’d answer here. Here’s the first:

I’ve just discovered I can’t eat wheat or gluten. Can you recommend some websites to help me put together a sample menu for the week?

This must be an issue for a lot of people: where to start? I know what it’s like: you open your cupboard, and everything you see contains gluten. What are you going to eat?

I did a bit of research on this, and there are indeed many great websites to help you get started. Here are just a few I found:

  • The Gluten Free Week gives ideas and recipes for main meals, a week at a time. There are 18 weeks of recipes up there today, so I hope you could find something you’d like.
  • Then there’s the Gluten Free Cooking School, who offers weekly menus:
  • Some time ago, Gluten Free Mommy started a menu swap to provide ideas for dinner each week. Every week, a different gluten free blogger is the host, lots of gluten free bloggers post their menus for the week on their own blog, and the host collates the links to everyone else’s meal plans. Again, this tends to be main meals only, but a bit of digging reveals lots of fab ideas.

    Start here but do follow the links to the other participating gluten free bloggers, all of whom have slightly different slants on living gluten free. For example, here’s the The Celiac Family (menu item of the week: tomatoes), and here’s the Book of Yum on being gluten free and vegetarian (menu item: zucchini – or courgettes, as we call them here in the UK!).

  • The Gluten Free Homemaker has some practical tips on menu planning in general.
  • And here’s Angela’s Kitchen, with a post about gluten free batch cooking, and a breakfast/lunch menu plan for a month.
  • And finally, of course, The Gluten Free Goddess on how to get started with gluten free living. Fabulous.

I must confess I’m not a great menu planner. I like the idea, but never seem to get round to it. How about you? Any suggestions to help this reader get started with sample gluten free menus for a week?

Newly Diagnosed as Gluten Free?

Newly diagnosed? If you have recently been diagnosed here in the UK, then, I strongly recommend that you contact the big manufacturers – the ones that provide prescription goods – and ask them for a sample pack. This means that you get to taste a variety of different items to find out which you prefer, and the manufacturers get to market their goods to you, to try and persuade you to put those on your prescription requests. The benefits are two-way, so don’t be shy to ask.

toad in the holeGlutafin sent us one of their welcome starter hampers recently, and a very generous hamper it is, too, containing flour mix, pasta, biscuits, crackers, a pack of sliced seeded bread and a pack of fresh white bread, several packs of bread rolls of various kinds, including part-baked. The hamper also contained several recipe cards and a storage device to hold them. I must admit to having been completely foxed by the storage thing: I thought it must be a ring-binder, and was struggling to make it work… Lucky we have children in the house, because our eldest sussed it out quite quickly, and turned it into a recipe holder – the sort that stands on your worktop and you can ‘flip’ the recipes over the top.

We haven’t had Glutafin bread on my daughter’s prescription for years, and she was pleasantly surprised, particularly by the fresh bread. You may know that these fresh breads are relatively new to market, and the bread options for coeliacs seem to be getting better all the time.

I made Toad in the Hole with the Glutafin flour mix, using one of the recipes in the file (the recipe is also available on their website), and sausages from The Black Farmer, and it worked very well indeed. All the children enjoyed it. It’s been a long time since I bothered with Toad in the Hole, but I should definitely do it again soon, because it went down very well.

It struck me as an unusual recipe, though, and so I went back to review the standard recipe – as I thought, it is different. No milk, for one thing, though I expect you could use milk instead of water if you wanted. And the method is different, too. However, it was excellent, and – just like my Sainsburys experience – shows how resourceful gluten free cooks can be in experimenting to make recipes work, gluten free.

Live gluten free – because you’re worth it

Diagnosed as coeliac?

Don’t be tempted by people who suggest that ‘a little bit won’t hurt’, urge ‘just this once’, or say ‘go on – I won’t tell anybody’, while offering you a plate of gluten-full food.

Your health is worth more than the moments pleasure that a proper croissant might give. Yes it is! Even if you don’t suffer any symptoms in the next few days, you will have done yourself some internal damage, and it will take much longer for that damage to heal than it did for you to eat that tempting treat.

Not only that, but your self-esteem might drop too. Are you really the sort of person who can’t say no? And if you give in this time, you are setting yourself up to be tempted by these people again, as they won’t understand that gluten free is for life if you don’t explain it to them clearly enough.

So – health, self-esteem and an easier life? I’d say you were worth it!

Not yet diagnosed?

Perhaps you’ve not been diagnosed as coeliac, but do think that gluten is your problem. Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, but you’re not convinced that this is the right diagnosis, or perhaps your symptoms are continuing …

If you still have concerns about your health, go back to the doctor. Or ask for a second opinion. Even change your doctor. You are worth it.

Gluten free, yes – but disabled?

I had dinner at the weekend with a friend who was explaining the shift in culture towards disabled people. My friend is disabled by MS and was explaining a shift from:

Medical (Poor you – there’s something wrong and we can’t ‘fix’ you – you are an unlucky victim)


Personal (You must take responsibility for ensuring that you can participate in society – it is still your responsibility to ask for help when you need it)


Social (Society must take responsibility for ensuring equal access – it is society that has the problem, not you, and should change to accommodate you).

Now, this is very interesting indeed, as it resonated with a conversation I had with one of the teachers at my daughter’s school, following a school trip.

Where does individual responsibility stop?

whitewheat.gifDaughter 1 (our coeliac) went away for 5 days on a school residential. I talked to school about her dietary requirements in advance; both the school and I talked to the hotel. All was under control, and I sent the usual range of gluten free products for her.

It turned out that although the hotel did manage her diet very well – I have no complaints at all about them – my daughter was too shy, aged 11, to ask for her bread to be refreshed. (In case you don’t know, the gluten free bread that we get on prescription usually needs heating to make it edible. I could have sent fresh bread, but after 3 days it would have been blue and furry). She relied on her friends and on the school staff to ask for this to happen.

The teacher who had organised the trip had commented that the hotel, which specialised in hosting school trips, and which advertised that it could handle special diets, should have been more proactive in making sure that my daughter wasn’t singled out as being different by having to ask for help. I replied that my daughter is used to being different and should have been able to ask for this to be done for her. The teacher’s position was that society (represented in this case by the hotel) is moving towards seamless provision for special needs, and my daughter shouldn’t need to feel different.

So here’s a question: Do you think of having to be gluten-free as a disability?

I don’t think of my daughter as disabled, but she clearly does have special needs due to a medical condition, and does have some foodstuffs provided for her by the National Health Service.

And here’s another question: Am I old-fashioned in thinking that individual responsibility is important here, rather than provision by society?

Should my daughter expect society to change so that she isn’t made to feel ‘different’? Am I wrong to think that she should take responsibility for her own needs? Am I being discriminatory?

I know that this is trivial compared to the huge difficulties many people face day to day by virtue of being ‘different’ – but the underlying philosophical question is the same. The answer, of course, may be different depending on the degree of disability.

What do you think?

(And here is a link to the Coeliac UK position on living gluten free and disability discrimination …)