Probably one of the most difficult times of my life with coeliac disease was being a university student.
I started this blog when I was at uni and a lot of my earlier blog posts were comprised of purse-friendly meals which would be fulfilling, healthy, and not make my bank balance cry.
Although my diet has changed a lot since then (back in the day!) I still try to shop as economically as possible.
Being a student and managing your finances and meals for what is probably the first time is tough.
It's also probably, for more people with coeliac disease, the first time you have to actually think about cooking for yourself.
I was diagnosed at the age of 12/13 and so the burden of having to cook gluten free food, read labels and avoid cross contamination largely fell on my mum.
Suddenly I was all alone to fend for myself, with no-one to tell me what I could and couldn't eat.
But with a bit of planning and careful thought, being a gluten free student really can be done on the cheap, without sacrificing anything.
Here are my top tips of how to survive on a gluten free diet as a student - some of these I picked up during my time at uni and others I have realised in hindsight.
Oh, and don't forget to scroll to the bottom for a collection of my favourite budget-friendly, student-friendly gluten free meals!
So whether you're packing for freshers week or returning for another year, here is my survival guide...
Cook in bulk
Cooking for one can feel like a challenge sometimes, and it often seems far easier to opt for a ready meal.
But let me stop you right there - these are usually an expensive option, full of rubbish and will still leave you feeling hungry afterwards.
Instead, take buy yourself some Tupperware tubs and get used to cooking things in batches.
For example, instead of spending £3 on a ready made lasagne - make your own and divide it into portions which you can freeze.
Et voilà, grab one from the freezer, microwave it, and you have your own go-to meal when you're feeling lazy.
There are so many options here - simple and cheap ideas include chilli or bolognese, casseroles, curries, risottos and pasta bakes.
A few student-friendly meal ideas to get you going are...
- Gluten free spaghetti bolognese (freeze the sauce in batches and cook the pasta fresh)
- Chilli con carne
- Coconut chicken curry
- Vegan chickpea curry
Be careful of cross contamination
In general, you can't expect university halls and houses to be immaculate.
While you might be used to having your parents vigilantly wipe down every surface for crumbs, the reality of uni life is nothing close.
Cross contamination is likely to be the biggest issue when it comes to living in shared accommodation.
The best you can do is always clean down any surfaces you use, and ensure all the pans and utensils you use are clean.
If, like I was, you happen to be particularly unlucky with your first year housemates, I found the best option was to keep my own utensils in my room.
Yes, having to wash and dry everything quickly before the grubby, gluten-eaters got hold of it was a bit of a pain.
But that's nothing compared to the pain of getting glutened because your kitchen is filth.
Invest in some chopping boards to work off of instead of the worktops and have a good supply ready of antibacterial spray to clean down surfaces.
Make sure you don't share things like butter and if needed, try to clearly label any food which may get contaminated.
The best you can do is try to explain nicely to your housemates how important it is you don't consume even a crumb of gluten.
And if they are not understanding, I'd recommend getting a mini fridge and slow cooker in your room!
Don't feel pressured
When you're out on your own and finally living independently, it can be really hard not to try and impress your new friends.
Back when I was at uni, I always found having coeliac disease gave me an interesting talking point with people.
At the time coeliac disease wasn't very well known at all and people were always really curious to know more.
Nowadays most people know someone who is gluten free and I've never met anyone who wasn't understanding.
Once you explain to people about coeliac disease, I've always found their overwhelming urge is to help and try to make life easier for you.
Look at it as an interesting part of what makes you you. You don't have to conform with everyone else to fit in.
Your health should come first so when it comes down to it, if you feel pressured to eat something you shouldn't be, those people probably aren't your friends.
Go for yellow!
In Britain we throw away so much food - so it's always worth a look in the bargain aisle of the supermarket!
More and more now I see Free From products with the alluring 'yellow sticker' marking it down in price.
Try and grab bread, cakes and any other staples while they're reduced and bung them in the freezer.
The same goes for meat - get your timing right and you could halve the cost of your food bills by picking up your meat and fish at a reduced cost.
You can then freeze anything you won't cook over the next couple of days.
Soup is your friend
A lot of tinned soup is filled with rubbish (including wheat flour), so why not make your own?
Soup is a fantastic way to use up any food you may normally throw away.
It's also a really cheap and easy way to get lots of good nutrition into your diet - pack it with veg and healthy proteins for a hearty meal on the cheap.
Roasting a chicken? Boil the carcass and bones in water along with any vegetables ends and peelings which you would normally have thrown away, to create a delicious chicken stock.
You can use this as the base of your soup to create nutritious meals and pack in a good portion of veg at the same time.
If you're feeling particularly pinched, try adding beans and chickpeas for a protein hit for a fraction of the cost of meat.
Frozen or tinned veg also works really well in soup and again will keep your costs down.
The same principle also applies to this as cooking in bulk -you can make one big batch of soup and keep portions in the freezer.
Grab yourself a funky Thermos and you've got a tasty lunch on the go too.
Some easy gluten free soup recipe ideas include....
- Easy roast chicken soup
- Carrot, chilli and ginger soup (vegan)
- Lentil and red pepper soup (vegan)
- Tomato soup (pure comfort food!)
Don't just buy 'free from' products
If you want to really save cash, opt for naturally gluten free foods such as rice and potatoes rather than always hunting down 'free from' pastas and noodles which can cost the earth.
It's also a good idea to shop around as a lot of supermarket prices vary.
For example, at the time of writing this, a 60p bag of pasta in Morrisons will cost you £1 in Sainsbury's.
My house mates used to pick up a 5kg bag of pasta for less than the cost of a tiny packet of gluten free fusilli. It's just not worth it.
The occasional treat is fine, but it will soon add up.
The same goes for creating things from scratch.
If you buy gluten free sauces, cakes or bread it can be expensive, but spend a little on the basic ingredients and you can create your own foods for less of the cost.
And baking cakes will win you brownie points from your house mates too...
As for anything free from you do buy, make sure it's things that you can freeze.
For example, freeze sliced gluten free bread so it doesn't go mouldy and you end up losing out of money.
Check out this post for lots of 'accidentally gluten free' products which you can enjoy too.
Invest in a slow cooker
Recent readers of my blog will know I am newly obsessed with my slow cooker - I wish I had one at uni!
They are just so simple. Invest in a Crock Pot (a small one is around £20) and not only can you bulk-cook batches of food, it is also effort free.
Just whack everything in there before you go off to lectures and when you return, dinner will be ready.
What more could you ask for?
Plus if you live with messy housemates, you could even keep this in your room, which means there's less chance of cross contamination.
Another great aspect of the slow cooker means you can buy cheaper cuts of meat which would otherwise be tough or chewy, and turn them into mouth-watering meals.
Instead of buying chicken breasts, cook cheaper thighs or legs in here and they will fall off the bone.
Or opt for cheaper cuts of beef - like this chunky beef chilli made with braising steak - to save ££s.
And the final win? Less washing up too!
Find your tribe
If you really are struggling with coeliac disease as a student, the biggest thing to remember is that you are not alone.
I suffered with my mental health a lot at uni (not related to my coeliac) and never reached out for help.
But actually nowadays there are so many places you can turn to!
Does your university have it's own coeliac disease society? If not, why not try to set one up?
Why not turn to Instagram or Facebook groups and see if there is anyone at your university who has coeliac disease too?
And don't forget Coeliac UK has a huge wealth of tips and their advisors are always on hand to help you out with any questions.
It's very likely there are other people at university feeling similarly to you, and seeking them out will help you both navigate your way through.
Plus, you could end up making friends for life!
Budget friendly meals for students
If you are a student on a gluten free diet, here are a few meal ideas to get you started!
I have hundreds of recipes on the blog but these are some of my favourites...