As a self-proclaimed foodie and lover of trying new things, I’m always interested in the “food challenges” that I see pop up so often on social media. As someone who lives on campus, a vast majority of the food I eat is naturally found on campus as well – why not make up a challenge of my own that I could do without venturing too far from my dorm room?
Growing up, I was lucky enough to never have any food allergies (although I would always try to convince my mother that I was allergic to eggplant to get out of eating it). Because I’ve never had any dietary restrictions, I really had no idea how accommodating food on campus was for those who did. With this in mind, I challenged myself to try eating exclusively gluten-free on campus for three days. Honestly, I was just curious to see if I could do it!
I woke up late on the first morning of the challenge and had to rush to my 9 am lecture in the UC. Because I was short on time, I decided to kick things off by testing out one of the “on the go” gluten-free options I knew about at Booster Juice.
I like having smoothies in the morning because I’m never all that hungry when I wake up, but still want to start my day with something nutritious. Today I got the Matcha Monsoon, a smoothie consisting of matcha green tea, vanilla yogurt, and vanilla almond milk. My favourite part about Booster Juice is their “super booster” option, which allows you to add whey protein powder, chia seeds, or hemp hearts for an extra kick in your smoothie (Note: not all boosters are gluten free, see the Booster Juice Allergy Guide for specific details.). Booster Juice’s versatile menu has a ton of gluten-free options, but it’s still important to keep a careful eye out – some menu options may still contain gluten. There is some room around this, though: the Carleton Booster Juice staff is very accommodating, and will substitute or remove ingredients if asked.
After having a liquid breakfast, I chose to get something more substantial for lunch! Pasta is one of my favourite meals, so I decided to visit the made-to-order pasta station in the caf. To make this a no-gluten lunch, all I had to do was ask the chef for my meal to be made with no-gluten noodles. I chose zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, onion, bacon, and chicken with both tomato and Alfredo sauce for my pasta toppings. I get this combo whenever I visit the pasta station, and I didn’t notice a difference in taste between my usual order and the no-gluten version. A definite score!
During this challenge, I learned that another DIY pasta station is available elsewhere on campus, meaning you can enjoy this no-gluten meal outside of the caf as well. Located in Loeb Café, Il Forno Tuscano offers a variety of noodles, sauce, and toppings so you can have pasta just the way you like it!
I usually start craving a snack a few hours after lunch, but because of my big lunch, I was full until dinner. I opted for a salad tossed with Italian dressing, and topped with sunflower seeds and hot peppers. For protein, I added honey garlic chicken from the Farmer’s Market station in the caf. I knew this choice was a safe one for the challenge because it was labelled with a yellow no-gluten logo. If you maintain a gluten-free diet, make sure to look out for this icon on the menu cards at various stations in the caf!
It was nice to notice that every meal period offered a variety of no-gluten choices, including meats, vegetables, rice and more. the caf is also home to the Gluten Free Pantry, a designated enclosed area that’s stocked full of gluten-free foods. Access to this area is restricted to those who’ve gained approval from Dining’s Registered Dietitian, making it a quiet, safe space for those with gluten intolerance to enjoy their food worry-free.
My first class began at 2:30 today so I slept in, then caught up on some readings before class. I was near the UC, so I decided to get something from Basil Box. They were an ideal choice because their entire menu is gluten-free, and they also give you the freedom to customize your meal however you like it. Today I got a base of greens, lemongrass corn, sautéed peppers, edamame, and sweet potatoes. I topped my meal with lemongrass chicken, sweet chilli lime sauce, and crushed peanuts. Gluten-free definitely doesn’t have to mean boring!
I was hungry after my lecture but not totally ready for a full meal, so I thought I’d grab a snack from Tunnel Junction. I bought a bottle of orange juice and paired it with an apple I’d picked up from the caf yesterday morning. This was a great pick-me-up, and helped me power through one of my midterm essays.
One thing I found hard about this part of the challenge was finding snacks that had no-gluten. Locations like Tunnel Junction, Starbucks and Loeb Café did not have as many options for no-gluten snacks as I had thought! Although they do offer bites like veggies and dip and yogurt parfaits, that’s about the extent of no-gluten grab-and-go options. I enjoyed this snack but would have enjoyed more options for me to try.
(Dining Services Note: Both Loeb and Starbucks do offer a variety of no-gluten containing snacks, including fruit & veggie cups, chocolate chia coconut pudding, rice krispies, apple chips and a number of other items. We will work to make these options easier to identify as containing no-gluten.)
People who know me know that I love sandwiches. One of my favourite things about the caf is the amazing sandwich station. While I usually opt for a white baguette with roast beef and all the fixings, my usual obviously wasn’t going to cut it. To make it challenge-friendly, I decided to order my classic beef, tomato, onion, hot-pepper sandwich with mayo and chipotle sauce on no-gluten bread.
This turned out to be a great choice, as I found the no-gluten bread to be almost as amazing as my usual baguette. One thing that surprised me was that the no-gluten bread tasted just like whole-wheat bread. If you placed this sandwich in front of me and didn’t tell me it was gluten-free, I never would have known!
This morning I wanted to wake up early and try something new for breakfast, so I decided to head to Roosters to eat and get some readings done before class. I love Roosters because it’s owned and operated by students, so when I purchase their delicious food, I’m also supporting my fellow peers. Today I chose an omelette with cheese, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and got an iced coffee to drink. My meal choice usually comes with a bagel or toast, but in sticking to the gluten-free challenge, I chose to skip the sides. Because I was eating gluten-free, Roosters actually offered me a free meat or guacamole add-in for my omelette in lieu of the bread products. I decided against taking them up on their offer because of my small appetite in the mornings – the omelette and coffee alone were more than enough – but I was so impressed by how accommodating they were!
At lunch I was craving something full of veggies, so I decided to finally check out the Noodle Fix in the UC.
The Noodle Fix, The Kitchen Exchange’s newest concept, offers (you guessed it) a variety of globally-inspired noodle-based dishes. The Kitchen Exchange has a “rotating kitchen concept” that brings in a new dining experience each semester, meaning that there’s always something new to try. What’s more, the Kitchen Exchange is Gluten Free Dedicated, making it a haven for those with gluten intolerance. Apparently Carleton is the first University in Canada with a restaurant to obtain this certification.
The Noodle Fix, which will be available in the Food Court till the end of the Winter 2019 semester, serves a selection of pho, spring rolls and pho salads. For those of you who may not be familiar, pho is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup. It usually consists of a light broth, cilantro, lime, assorted vegetables and a meat option.
Because salad is one of my favourite foods, I decided to try out the beef noodle salad. This dish consists of rice noodles, lemongrass beef, pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, green onions, and sunflower seeds, all arranged on a bed of lettuce. The Noodle Fix then gives you the choice of peanut or fish sauce as a dressing. I chose to have mine topped with the peanut sauce, then added a bit of the chili oil available on their counter for even more flavour.
This was by far my favourite meal of the challenge. Knowing that everything was Gluten Free Dedicated was a huge stress relief because I didn’t have to worry about any “hidden” gluten in the meat or sauce. It was nice that they also had vegetarian options!
By dinner time, because I was still around the UC area, I decided to hit the Food Court one last time to pick up food from one of my favourite spots – Bento Sushi. I’d previously heard about a Bento Sushi “hack” that I wanted to try out. While many of Bento’s pre-made dishes contain gluten, if you ask the chefs behind the counter, they can generally create a no-gluten version of the menu option you want. If you read my article on the food I love outside of the caf, you’ll know that one of my favourite things to munch on is the salmon combo. Using my no-gluten hack, I was able to order my favourite dish and still stay true to the challenge. I shared this meal with a friend (I was full yet again from my filling lunch!), so here’s the portion of the meal I snacked on.
Overall, this challenge taught me a lot about the world of gluten-free eating. I found that Carleton’s on-campus meal offerings have many accommodating options for those with dietary preferences and restrictions. However, I’ve also realized that there isn’t much variety in the gluten-free “quick” food and snack options available. While the gluten-free meals I tried were generally quite filling and delicious, the snacking options left a little to be desired.
I began this challenge with plenty of doubts – from everything I’ve ever heard about gluten-free food options, I was sure that everything was going to taste like rice, or like nothing at all. I thought I was going to hate everything I tried. I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong! It wasn’t as hard to avoid gluten as I had thought – the majority of the food I eat every day is already gluten-free. I was also happy to discover that the gluten-free versions of my favourite dishes were equally as delicious. I will definitely be incorporating my new love for gluten-free options into my everyday diet!
Do you have a favourite gluten-free menu option I didn’t try, or suggestions for a future food challenge I should take on? Let me know on social media – I’m always looking for new and fun things to try. Until next time – keep munching, Ravens!
This article was written by our Student Food Ambassador. Carleton Dining Services works hard to ensure that our food is safe and accommodating for the Carleton community, however we cannot guarantee that any of our products are free from priority allergens due to risk of cross-contamination. If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, please reach out to our Registered Dietitian at AskaDietitian@carleton.ca.
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