Sarah (from Scribbles and Scratchings) commented recently on my post about the BBC and the cost of gluten free food.

Her comments – and later emails – are so valuable that she’s agreed I can share them with you. I’m sure this will be useful to anyone out there worrying about leaving home. Over to you, Sarah …

I’m a 20 year old coeliac at Uni and never eat any of the nasty stuff you get on prescription, despite being on a really tight budget. Naturally gf stuff tastes better and is cheap as chips (fruit, rice, potatoes) and except for the occasional gf fish finger during exams, or gf crumpet when I’m stressed, it’s all good.

I’m in my second year so live in a private flat with my 5 flatmates, but last year I chose to go self catering – there was NO way I was going to live on jacket potatoes for the year and pay 40 quid* a week for the privilege!! It turned out to be a wise decision, a friend of mine is also coeliac and was put in halls, and got served the weirdest food – once just fish and broccoli, no sauce no nothing. She also got glutened once a fortnight!

I was really lucky – I was stressing getting ready to move in because I knew within hours I was going to have to sit down with a bunch of strangers and explain being coeliac and kitchen habits to them, but it turned out fine. There was 5 girls including me in my flat, we cooked chilli together on the first night (with a lot of reading stockcube and spice jar labels from them – i think it was all a bit novel!) and have cooked together monday to friday ever since. They’ve only glutened me once in 2 years, we cook everything from scratch because it’s cheaper, and this year one of my flatmates is dairy free so it all worked out great. I always provide my own pasta on the nights they cook pasta because it’s so expensive and hard to get hold of when you don’t have access to big out of town supermarkets, but then my dairy free housemate gives us all the soy products we need if we’re making lasagne for example.

I haven’t read enough to know how old your oldest daughter is, but the biggest thing to be gluten free at Uni is having confidence in the first few weeks as you meet more and more people and go out for more and more coffees/lunches – it’s easier straight off. It’s all been pretty great since then to be honest (still a fair few jacket potatoes though!)

A couple of physical things I learnt were

  • to get your own tiny little fridge – not one of those stupid can coolers but one big enough for one person’s food – mine is about a metre cubed and has a baby freezer in one corner. This makes the difference visually really clear to flatmates, but also means you can really make sure your food stays gluten free (food thievage always happens to some extent in student flats, but all it takes is someone ‘borrowing’ your cheese or jam or butter with a dirty knife and you’re poorly.) In first year I kept my fridge in my room, but now in second year I know and trust my flatmates it’s in the kitchen next to our big fridge
  • colour code. When you’re shopping for uni, if possible pick an uncommon colour or pattern and try to get all your plates, bowls, mugs etc in that pattern (this can acutally be quite cheap, I got all my orange and pink floral stuff from the summer picnic range at Sainsburys for about £15 the lot.) then your flatmates know not to share stuff that’s whatever colour your stuff is – or at least not until you find out how good they are at washing stuff up. Also coloured tupperware makes it easier to find safe leftovers in the freezer.
  • ask for your own drawer in a shared freezer ASAP especially if you get prescription bread – there’s nothing more annoying than getting a fresh batch on prescription and finding out that a flatmate has filled the space in the freezer with ben and jerries or a huge bag of oven chips etc – explain STRAIGHT AWAY why you need the space – my flatmates were pretty understanding of it.
  • make a fabric cover for your toaster- sober flatmates will remember which toaster is theirs and be careful, but drunk flatmates with the munchies are not so considerate- make it obvious which one is theirs by covering yours up when you’re not using it!!
  • If your flatmates like to get food late at night after a club night or something similar, go scout around the local takeaways during the day when they’re not so busy, and find out if you can eat at any – I found that a lot of pizza places sell chips and only fry chips – nothing else in their fryer so are safe. One even let me top the chips with any pizza toppings I fancied then baked them in a foil container so the cheese melted- yummy and nice not to be left out of every food treat!
  • You may be miles away from an out of town supermarket (as I am) and the little ones rarely sell gf stuff – get used to online delivery! but be careful with substitutions – the day I had regular muffins substituted for gf ones ended in a fun phonecall to tescos. I just say in the extra notes bit of the form now ‘no substitutions’.

Remember – Uni is FUN! and being gf shouldn’t get in the way of that, so long as you go in with your head screwed on, being PROUD of who you are, and pretty soon you’ll realise the people who give you a hard time aren’t worth your time anyway. I now live with girls who have got to the stage of calling me at any time of the day or night when they find a new product in the shops or a restaurant which labels its menu, and I’m having an absolute ball!!

Thank you so much Sarah – I think those are invaluable tips. Love the one about the cover for the toaster … it would never have occurred to me

* translation for the non-British: one quid = one pound!