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A first year's guide for a gluten-free safe campus

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Well, this week marks the last full week of summer holidays for many students before labour day weekend. It's hard to believe that the days of sipping lemonade by the water have come to an end for another year and that school is just around the corner. The good news though is that the return of pumpkin-spiced lattes will be hitting coffee shops very soon!

For those who are beginning a new chapter at university or college, congratulations, it's a very exciting few years! As a first-year student, embarking on a new road and not knowing what to expect can be daunting, but heading somewhere new with a gluten-allergy can be even more stressful. Fortunately there are many ways to experience a gluten-free campus without feeling left out (or hungry).

Research your options: No question is a dumb question when it comes to staying healthy. Call hospitality services at the campus to enquire what gluten-free options they provide. Some important questions to make note of include:
1. Do the cafeterias have gluten-free options?
2. Is hospitality services aware of celiac disease?
3. What precautions do they take to ensure there is no cross-contamination?
4. Do they have gluten-free bread/muffins/cereal available?
5. Do the kitchens use a separate toaster?

Always carry a snack: Although the campus may be stocked with gluten-free meal options, they may not have easy, gluten-free snacks. Even if they do, it's better to spend your meal plan on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Take a trip to the grocery store before heading to school and stock up on some gluten-free granola and/or protein bars. Keeping a couple snacks in your school bag will keep your stomach happy and your mind focused when you need a snack between classes (or during long lectures).

No bread? No problem: After speaking to hospitality services, perhaps you learn that gluten-free bread isn't in their kitchen, budget or near future. No problem, bring your own. Since most gluten-free breads stay fresh longer when kept in the freezer, and no question is a dumb question, ask the closest cafeteria if they could keep your gluten-free bread in their freezer with your name and room number labeled on it.

If the answer is yes, make sure to buy some gluten-free toaster bags to keep bread free from the evil gluten crumbs. If the answer is no, no problem...keep it in your room. There are a few brands that stay fresh for just over a week, such as Udis and Glutino. Better yet, if there is a fridge in your room, keep the bread in it to prolong freshness. Make sure to have some plastic snack bags too so that you can pop a couple slices in your bag before heading to the cafeteria with your friends.

Cider is in!: For first-year students who are heading to school at the legal age for drinking, the great news is that cider is not only gluten-free, but it seems to be the new drink of choice. Many bars now have a few ciders to choose from and most bars have cider on tap.

Liquor stores also have an extensive selection, ranging from dry to sweet, flavoured and craft ciders. If you're not a cider fan, there are a few gluten-free beers to choose from at the liquor store, however, they just may not be available at the bars. Make sure you know what drinks are safe to have on a gluten-free diet, because surprisingly many popular coolers and vodkas are not gluten-free.

Be pot-luck prepared: If most of your friends are in dorm-style rooms without a kitchen, there's a good chance that you won't be going to potlucks in first year, but in the case you are invited to one at a friend's house, make sure you're prepared with food that you are able to eat.

Unless your friends are very aware and accommodating of your allergy, it's best to have a light snack before attending in case there isn't one thing that is gluten-free. If you'd rather not eat before, then bring enough selection to the party that you know you'll be able to eat in order to keep hunger at bay. A few easy gluten-free pot-luck ideas when you don't have access to a kitchen to cook include:
- Corn tortillas and salsa
- Gluten-free packaged cookies
- Prepared fruit and/or vegetable tray (most grocery stores have these)
- Gluten-free packaged brownies

Although there may not be a variety of gluten-free selections on campus, fortunately many school cafeterias and cafes are becoming more aware of gluten-allergies and incorporating gluten-free alternatives. Don't let your gluten-allergy get in the way of social events or fun outings, there are always a couple of options to choose from and ways to stay safe from gluten. Have fun and good luck!

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