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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

GF College Guide: Must Have Products for Gluten Free College Students

Okay, so it's not September. The Back To School commercials aren't bouncing around our television screens and in most places it's downright ass-biting cold. But since it is time for college students to pack up the car for their Spring semester I think now is probably the second best time of the year to start my Gluten Free College Student Guide. Or my Guide to Gluten Free College Living (and Drinking). Or, better yet, my Guide On How Not To Exist On Hummus and Glutino Pretzels for Three and a Half Months. 

In my internet travels I've seen several hopeful posts from parents or students or who are heading back to the school grind with a brand new diagnosis laid across their shoulders. I myself spent the summer before my Junior year of college absolutely unable to eat anything and returned to school with a brand new GF diet and way of life. And MAN. Did things change. There are a whole lot of how-to's and tips and discussions and choices and emotional analysis that I could delve into for my first GF college post. I'm going to leave that for the coming weeks and focus on products that will help get you through this semester without starving. Let's be honest: if you're eating well and having access to that food with relative ease you'll be much more equipt to rationally handle the emotional tilt-o-whirl I'm sure you're probably going through. Never mind the fact that book learnin' doesn't bode well on an empty stomach and deprived brain.

There are all sorts of configurations for college living - you might be in an apartment, school townhouse or sharing a room with a kid who always wears smelly socks. You might have your own kitchen or the dorm oven might be 10 floors below you. You might also be in a 10' by 7' coffin with very little space for sleeping let alone a makeshift kitchen, much like I was. In any case, these are some items that really helped me (or that I wish I had). Hopefully you'll be able to apply some of these suggestions to your own situation and you won't have to live off a jar of peanut butter a week.

Must Have Products for Any Gluten Free College Student
(Please keep in mind that many colleges have restrictions on the size and type of the appliances you may bring. If any rules conflict with your needs I would speak with the housing director at your college to discuss special arrangements. Personally, I harbored several illegal appliances for a year without any repercussions, I would have loved to see the Building Director rip my George Foreman Grill from my arms. In any case, as always, do what works for you. And there is no way that I am encouraging you to break rules. Actually, I am. Live it up. You gotta eat.)

1. A refrigerator with a separate freezer section on top.

Yes, of course, a refrigerator is essential for any college student to store all their vod- er... sodas. However, your refrigerator will be your culinary life-line, it is very important that you choose the right one. I mistakenly bought one of those useless square ones and, later, a tall one with a shelf shoved up near the top that was suppose to be the 'freezer'. Neither of these were acceptable. You must have ample space not only for drinks but for dressings, wraps, leftovers, bread, deli meats and other necessities. The freezer must be separate because those stupid little freezer shelves do not do shit. Seriously. Nothing that is suppose to stay frozen will be frozen. I suggest looking at the Igloo FR834a 3.2-Cu-Ft Refrigeratoror something comparable. At least you see what I mean by the separate freezer.

2. Microwave

This is pretty much a no-brainer. GF breads and wraps will taste and feel better if you sprinkle them with a little water and microwave them for a few seconds. Leftovers from any trips home will make great meals and if you choose to buy any pre-made GF foods you can heat them up in no time. Most college students use their microwave for popcorn - yours will act as your oven. While you're at it, since you'll be bunking with some appliances, why not makes sure they look cool? Hey I wish I had this microwavenow!

3. Rice Cooker

If I had thought to purchase a rice cooker back in the day it would have saved my life. I personally could probably eat rice upwards of, oh, seven times a week so maybe I'm just a little too attached to my cooker. The Oster 6-Cup Rice Cooker with Steaming Tray (which I own) is fantastic because you can not only cook rice with it but STEAM VEGGIES! Instant stir fry. Your culinary world has just exploded. Tip: if you are cooking one cup of rice (which, annoyingly, is measured as 3/4 on the provided measuring cup) you are instructed to fill the bowl with water up to the 1 line. I personally fill just a little above the first line and find that it makes fluffier rice. Personal preference, folks.

4. George Foreman Grill

Paninis, grilled sausage, hot dogs, chicken, STEAK! You'll be eating like a frickin' Commander of the Universe while everyone else chokes down laxative-laced dining hall fare. (Yes, I know this is a widespread rumor, but having observed the - ahem - symptoms of myself and close friends, not to mention the entire student body after scarfing down college food- I find it safe to say that there is something going on with college dining hall food that is less than desirable.) This little number will get the job done, but I like that there's one that has a bun warmer. Because 'bun warmer' is fun to say.

5. Magic Bullet Blender

Okay, yes, insert inuendo here. We're talking about a BLENDER here, people. For SMOOTHIES and the like. Whipping some frozen fruit up into an awesome smoothie is a great breakfast and it's sure to get your suite mates out of bed when you want them. You can also make (among other things) sauces, soups and chicken salad with this bad boy - which - sounds really good right now. And we haven't even talked about the blended drinks! (nudge nudge). There are a whole bunch of Magic Bullet packages (har dee har) with about five thousand cups and blender tops and colored caps and whosie whatsits. Clearly, you don't have the space for that. Leave the extraneous baggage at home or get one of these slimmed downversions.

6. Basic Kitchen Tools

What you include in your collection is really dependent upon how much "cooking" you want to do. If you're going to stick with pre-cooked/pre-cut frozen items or pre-cut chicken and the like the above products will be just about fine. If you feel that you might like to make some pasta, mashed potatoes and so on you may find the following suggestions helpful. Regardless of your cooking plans I would head out to Target and get a couple cheap plates, bowls, cups and silverware. Pick up some plastic containers to house precious leftovers. A Pot with Strainer Lidis handy for when you want to boil anything like pasta - not having to store a colander is a good thing. Other items might include a Chef's Knife (just don't go waving it around the halls) Flexible Cutting Mats, Veggie Peeler and a reliable bag should you feel motivated to haul all your crap down to the dorm kitchen. Reliable being the key word, as I found out the hard way. You'll find that many of your items can do double duty: pour sauce into the same pot with cooked pasta to heat it through, your fork can act as spaghetti stiring spoon, etc. You'll also be doing some dishes so grab dish soap, a sponge and a couple dish towels.

7. Brita or Pur Pitcher

I found this very useful because A. I didn't have room for 20 bottles of water in my fridge or in my room B. I didn't have the money to keep buying plastic water bottles and C. I used water not only to drink but to cook with and there was no way I was going to use the dorm's tap water. I've only ever used Brita so I can't really comment on the Pur pitchers. My pitcher fit right in my fridge door so it was never in the way. I'm not going to go all on about how it's much more environmentally responsible (and cost effective) to use a Brita filter instead of hundreds and hundreds of plastic water bottles no matter how weird and shapely they start making them (I'm looking at you, Poland Springs). But it is. This pitcher is supposedly more slim than its counterparts which could be handy in tight spaces.

8. Effective Storage

One of the hardest things about creating my college GF kitchen was SPACE. I balanced my microwave on top of my fridge and the rest of my appliances on top of my microwave - so I couldn't reach them. I then made the fatal mistake of moving my microwave out into my common lounge where, to my ultimate annoyance, it was stolen. The ONLY person in the whole building who can't eat at the dining hall and my main tool gets boosted. Fucking typical. Anyway, my main organization consisted of two pieces, a large and a small set up like these plastic drawer towers. They held my dishes, pots, cooking tools and non-refrigerated food. (MAJOR note: do NOT leave potatoes in these things for any extended period of time. Worst. Smell. EVER.). If I were to redo my setup today I would probably snag one of these space saver racks or something similar and use bins, shelves, and drawers to store all my supplies.

Stay tuned for future installments of the GF College Guide: Important Choices for GF College Students, Top Food Products for GF College Students, Quick Recipes for GF College Students (and people who just don't like to cook) and more. Have any questions or would like to hear about a particular topic? Email me at GlutenFreeChops{at}gmail{dot}com or leave it in the comments!


  1. Great list! I'm almost looking at universities, so this will no doubt come in handy =D.

  2. Great tips Jessica! Your ideas are also great for newly diagnosed Celiacs who aren't in school - rice cooker, Magic Bullet, George Foreman Grill. When I was in uni (and pre-diagnosis), I probably used my grill 3 or 4 times a week. Another thing I used alot - my Wok. I would make a big stirfry every Sunday with rice, peppers, onions, chicken, etc, and divide it up for a tasty (and economical) hot lunch at school!

  3. Thanks Lauren, I just want the GF college experience of others to be a little more satisfying than my own :)

    Hey Chef! Definitely agreed, tools like this can (hopefully) make anyone's life easier. We have the grill with the interchangeable plates so it gets a lot of action. A wok is also a great idea, thanks for sharing that tip!

  4. Is it weird to tell you I love you?
    I'm going off to school this summer and starting to put together my kitchen appliances. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your college posts!

  5. Chelsea! You just made my night, seriously. You're the reason I write this blog. Well, you know, you and people like you :) Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like to read about/put up for discussion :)

    And no, that's not weird at all :)


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