Gluten-Free on a Budget

 If you think being a college student with limited income is hard, try being a college student who is gluten-free.

Junior and Middle School Education major, Rachel Hale, is doing just that.

While most college students save money by buying cheap staples like Ramen and Macaroni and Cheese, Hale has to carefully plan out what she will eat and where she will find the ingredients.

Hale has been gluten-free since May 2011. She started to notice that she was getting really sick after she had eaten certain foods.

“I’ve never really been diagnosed with any disease,” she says, “but I know that eating gluten affects my body more than it does for other people.”

What is gluten anyway? says that gluten is “the tough…substance remaining when the flour of wheat or other grain is washed to remove the starch.”

University of Toledo Senior Kaitlin Krakowiak says, “gluten is evil,” she laughs, “But seriously, evil. It is the thing I had every day of my life until one day it decided to not like my body. It is anything and everything wheat, bread, bread products, pasta, cereals, fillers, and can contaminate otherwise gluten free foods.”

People going gluten free like Rachel Hale have to be especially careful about what they buy and where.

“I usually like to shop at Martin’s because it has a great selection unlike some other stores,” says Hale. “Sometimes regular grocery stores don’t have what I need, so I’ll go to a specialty shop like Kate’s Natural Products or The Friendly City Co-op.”

Hale says that eating on campus at J-M-U is especially difficult.

“They like to say that they have gluten-free options, but they suck,” she says, “There’s a gluten-free option at the Nacho Bar in Dukes, but I can’t eat nachos every day.”

Hale also worries about cross-contamination from the different foods, so she doesn’t eat anything on campus.

Besides some specialty food stores, there are very few places in Harrisonburg that cater to those who are gluten-free.

Vito’s pizza has gluten-free crust and it’s delicious,” says Rachel Hale, “And Chick-fil-A has come out with bread-less chicken nuggets that are pretty good.”

Hale also mentioned that Five Guys has the option to order burgers without the bun and Jimmy Johns has the option to get the “Unwich”, one of their sandwiches without the bread.

Rachel Hale misses some of the foods that she used to eat before she was gluten-free.

“Chinese food,” she says, “and doughnuts. They haven’t done too well making those things gluten-free.”

Owner of local Kate’s Natural Products store, Ralph Magri, says that people have been becoming more and more gluten-intolerant in the recent years. He says that Kate’s specializes in alternatives for those people.

“We have things here that people can tolerate or things that people are lacking in,” says Magri.

He made the point that most of the time when people are sick, they go to the doctor and get pills for whatever is wrong. He says that the problem with food intolerance is in the gut.

“Gut health is important and leads to the healing of other seemingly unrelated symptoms,” He says.

Magri encourages anyone to be gluten-free as gluten is not a necessary thing. The problem with being gluten-free, however, is that the price of an otherwise normal product is twice as expensive without the gluten.

One example is that a regular box of Betty Crocker cake mix is $1.35 at the grocery store versus the gluten-free kind which is $3.99.

Betty Crocker Gluten Free Comparison

“My parents help me pay for a lot more than the average student because the food I get is so expensive,” says Rachel Hale, “Gluten-free stuff is never on sale.”

Another gluten-free woman is wife and mother, Corrin Mirch. She says that she finds deals on gluten-free food in a magazine called “Living Without”.

“Even with the savings I can find, I spend about $1000 a month on food alone,” says Mirch who is gluten-free with her husband Steve.

Although prices are high now as awareness rises the future of gluten-free food looks to become less of a hassle which gives hope to college students going gluten-free. 


Life without a meal plan

With JMU’s food being ranked the 5th best in the country, it’s hard to come by students who don’t have a meal plan. But that’s not the case for Ame Wood, a junior SMAD major who chooses to cook all her food on her own.

It all started when Ame had a summer job lined up after her freshman year at the JMU Help Desk. Since she was staying in Harrisonburg for the summer, she needed to learn how to do her own cooking because no meal plans are offered at JMU during the summer months.

“Rather than have easy mac and PB&J sandwiches every day, I decided to start cooking by recipes and just see where it went. I ended up finding I was pretty good at it,” said Wood.

Her first successful recipe that she made was a simple spaghetti dish. But through experimentation, Ame’s perfected this dish so that it’s a step above bland pasta and marinara sauce.

“Spaghetti with Italian sausage and green pepper has become my favorite food in the entire world. It is always going to make me smile and I could eat it every single day.”

Ame’s come far from spaghetti. By trying out new recipes, Ame says that she’s seen her cooking improve since she started. She’s now able to figure out what works and what doesn’t and knows how to get creative with different ingredients.

One time, Ame’s roommate had a giant tub of leftover spaghetti sauce but no pasta noodles. Ame decided to experiment and make a soup from the spaghetti sauce by adding a bunch of extra vegetables and some broth. She said the soup turned out being very good and was a big hit with her roommates.

“Sometimes weird food combinations surprise you and turn out to be quite delicious. You just have to be adventurous and be able to take risks with your food,” said Wood.

But not all of Ame’s cooking experiments have been a success.

“The worst thing I ever made was when I tried to make garlic knots, which you’d think is one of the easiest things ever to make. But I really screwed them up and they tasted like really bad biscuits. I couldn’t understand how I could mess up dough with garlic and parmesan!”

Ame seems to be her toughest critic though, because the people who eat Ame’s cooking never seem to complain. Morgan Galea, a freshman SCOM major and one of Ame’s friends, always knows she’s in for a treat whenever she eats over at Ame’s house.

“Ame’s food is delicious! Since I’m a freshman, I’m always eating on campus so it’s so nice to have a home cooked meal every now and then,” said Galea.

Morgan isn’t the only person Ame cooks for. Whether it be for her boyfriend, roommates, co-workers, or friends, Ame loves making meals for others.

“I really like to have people over and cook for them. I prefer that over sitting and eating alone,” said Wood. “When I grew up with my family you all ate dinner together, so it’s always been a very family or friend oriented thing, not just a get-food-in-my-mouth type of situation.”

By cooking her own meals, Ame’s also been able to save money. She said that she calculated the cost of JMU’s dining plans, and in order to get your money’s worth, you’d have to eat every meal at either E-hall or D-hall, the all-you-can-eat dining buffets on campus.

Ame says it’s easy to save money as long as you can be a smart shopper. For example, doing simple things like buying a head of lettuce instead of buying bagged salad. Ame says she spends about $1.50 less on a head of lettuce compared to a bagged salad and you get about three times as much lettuce for half the price.

“Anybody who tells you that you have to either keep to a budget or eat healthy is not looking in the right place because grocery stores have weekly specials and you can buy produce that’s in season and not from far away tropical places,” said Wood. “You can easily eat healthy foods and stay on your budget; I have a very tight budget and I keep to it.”

On top of constantly improving her cooking skills, Ame has recently started writing her own food blog, where she posts about the different recipes that she makes.

“My food blog surprisingly started out of boredom; I created it this past summer when I didn’t have much to do,” said Wood. “I’ve always been a decent writer, I’d like to think, and I thought that starting up a food blog would be fun.”

Friends of Ame are avid readers of her food blog, like Megan Burks, a junior Kinesiology major.

“I love checking out Ame’s blog and reading about the different recipes that she makes,” said Burks. “She even inspired me to start writing my own blog which focuses on having a healthy lifestyle.”

Once she leaves JMU, Ame’s not quite sure if any culinary plans will be part of her future. But she does say that it is her dream to open up a small restaurant or bakery at some point in her life.

For now, Ame’s more than content with making her own healthy meals while saving money and blogging about her cooking experiments.

“I love the variety I have by making my own food and knowing what goes into it. I’m able to know what goes into my body and know that I’m eating healthy.”

Living the Life- Gluten free

James Madison senior Liz Wall was told that freshman year of college would be the beginning of a 4-year rollercoaster, a trial and error period of adjusting to life on her own.  But no one told her how to adjust to living the college life with celiac’s disease.

“When I first found out I had celiac’s, it was literally the worst two months of my life,” said Liz Wall.

With being a division one lacrosse player at Davidson College, her athletic stature was maintained by eating bread and carbs to refuel after a long practice.  After months of unexplained stomach pains she had thought were stress induced, her doctor diagnosed her as gluten-intolerant, causing her to essentially give up all her favorite foods.

“All I ate was cereal, chicken nuggets, and pasta.  Even the tiny bit of breading on chicken can be upsetting so now I stick to mainly salads and rice chex,” said Wall.

Beyond having to forfeit her favorite foods, Wall had to adjust to the costs of living a gluten-free life.  Having to buy products with a gluten free label were harder to find, and fresher foods were more expensive then what Wall was used to buying.

Upon transferring to James Madison in the fall of her sophomore year, her gluten-free obstacles were made that much easier due to the availability of eating gluten free on campus.

“I was definitely pleased.  The main dining hall’s D-hall and E-hall have their own gluten free stations with something new everyday,” said Wall.

Even when rushed between classes, Wall finds it easy to grab a gluten-free wrap from Market One, or order a gluten free pizza from Dukes to share with her roommates.

“It’s our obligation to incorporate options in the meal plan that fits into the diet these students have to follow due to their medical need,” said Michele Cavoto, James Madison’s licensed campus nutritionist.

On a daily basis she meets with a number of students, who like Wall, cannot physically process the wheat gluten.  Her goal is to educate those students on menu’s, recipes, and product labels so they can find alternatives for the foods they love.  For Cavoto, its about showing the students that they don’t have to restrict themselves to just one line on campus as long as they know what options there are.

And that’s where Dwight Campbell, director of D-Hall, comes in.  Campbell has instituted the gluten free sections at both E-hall and D-hall as of last year.

After students are referred to him by Cavoto, he sits down with each student on the special gluten free diet to get a feel for what foods they like to see if he can order a gluten free alternative.  Campbell works closely with and trains each chef at the station in order to follow strict preparation guideline

“We’ve built a program based on trust.  Many of the students have never eaten on the diet outside of their home and their parents rely on us to make this learning experience that much easier,” said Campbell.

Matt Clancey, head chef at D-hall, makes it his main goal to ease students into the life-style adjustment and give the students a sense of comfort.  Clancey said that for students who are so used to eating something their whole life and then having it taken away can cause more stress in an already stressful environment,

So Matt designs the programs menu according to the requests.  Clancey in particular can remember one student who was in love with pancakes.  Clancey personally went out and bought a bag of gluten-free pancake mix, and each day made the student pancakes for breakfast at D-hall.

“It may have been extra work but it’s such a big change we want to make them happy,” said Clancey.

Mari Kent, a junior at James Madison University, developed a gluten-sensitivity this past summer.  What she thought meant only avoiding bread was actually a way more complicated diet.

“Eating on campus has made it a lot better then I expected,” said Kent, who goes to the on campus grocery store Mr. Chips for her breakfast cereals and snacks, and then visits the dining hall for variety she needed to make her change to gluten-free as easy as possible.

Having a meal plan allows Kent to try new things, with no added costs.  Her advice to those beginning their gluten-free diet on campus is to look at it as an opportunity to adapt and find what you like and don’t like.

Wall stated that she too has taken steps to trying new things, but it is still hard to give up everything.

“Last night I had pasta. It’s hard to give up all foods I love, but it’s a learning experience,” said Wall.


International Cuisine

Everyone can get in a food rut where they eat the same old, same old every night and don’t experience different cuisine. You may think that it is hard to find tasty, international cuisine in Harrisonburg, but it isn’t. There are pleanty of restaurants in the Harrisonburg community that cater to international foods.

Take Tutti Gusti, located right off of campus, they feature delicious Italian food that won’t put a major dent in your wallet. Throughout the year they have lots of different deals like buy one get one half off of pizza. An attractive bonus for any college student- they also deliver! Being half Italian myself, I can say this food is up to par. One of my favorites is the classic spaghetti and meatballs. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, maybe try their calamari.

If you’re in the mood for Mexican, try El Charro. With a large selection on their menu, you can’t go wrong. If you go, you have to get the queso dip for an appetizer, it is amazing. And anything with guacamole on the menu is a great choice. When I went with a group of friends, the general consensus was that the chimichanga was the best.

There are a lot of differnt Chineese food restaurants in Harrisonburg and I’ve tried a lot of them. My preference is for Great Wok. Their dumblings are amazing.

As you can see, there are pleanty of places in the Harrisonburg community that feature international cuisine and are not terribly expensive. You just have to venture out and try them!

Picnic For Two

Dating on a budget can be hard because you are limited in the restaurants that you go to. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go to an expensive restaurant to have a good date. Lucky for us, spring is in full bloom and it’s the perfect time to be outside. Why not have a picnic for two?

You don’t need to spend much to have a great picnic; all you need is a basket of your favorite, inexpensive foods.

A good picnic should have drinks, a side, a main dish, and a dessert.

For drinks, one inexpensive choice is water. Just fill up a reusable water bottle from the sink and you are good to go! If you want something more than water, you can always make lemonade.

To make lemonade, you need five cups of water, one cup of sugar, and 3 freshly squeezed lemons mixed together in a pitcher.

For your side, pack a salad. To make a simple salad, chop up iceburg lettuce ($1.12 at Walmart), some tomatoes (88 cents per pount at Walmart), and cucmber (50 cents each at Walmart). If you don’t want to make one yourself, you can buy premade salads at Walmart for as little as $3.50.

For your main dish, try the favorite classic: peanut butter and jelly. Spread some peanut butter on one slice of bread and some jelly on another and then stick them together!

For dessert, try some jello. You can pick up a box to make some for under a dollar!

The whole meal shouldn’t cost you much and your date will be very impressed that you took the time to pack something for the two of you and thought it through. So on the next nice, sunny day, grab someone special and have a picnic!

FLOW- Free Lunch On Wednesdays

At the sound of the words “free food”, people’s ears tend to perk up. Especially college students who usually don’t have that much cash on hand or can’t afford one of JMU’s expensive meal plans. Well right next to JMU’s campus, there’s a place where you can get a free lunch every Wednesday during the school year!

Located at the corner of South Main Street and Cantrell Avenue, you’ll find the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) House. The students of BCM started an outreach event at the beginning of this semester called “FLOW” (Free Lunch On Wednesdays) and offer students who come to the house free lunch every Wednesday, between 11am and 1pm. There’s no catch, it’s just a time for free food and hanging out with some awesome people!

This past week, I went to the BCM house for FLOW for my first time this semester and was pleasantly surprised. As soon as I walked into the house, I saw a table full of people sitting together having great conversation, and then next to them was another table full of food. From seeing the different kinds of sandwiches, chips, vegetables, cookies, and cupcakes, I knew I would be getting a substantial lunch that day. And I couldn’t believe it was all free!

After I piled my plate high with food, I sat down to talk with Jay Stanley, a junior Psychology major who was the mastermind behind starting up FLOW. She said that since starting FLOW at the beginning of the semester, the outreach event has been successful, with around 30 people coming out to it every week.

“I think the one ways to connect to college students is through food, because we definitely all need to eat, and us broke college students sometimes can’t afford meal plans”, said Stanley.

The students at BCM make the food for FLOW at the BCM house each week. The food each week is different, with the main courses varying from either grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, or deli sandwiches. They also serve many different sides and desserts to go along with the meal.

After my first experience at FLOW, with the welcoming people and the free, delicious food, I know I’ll be making a trip back there next semester! Go ahead and check it out with a friend–you can never go wrong with free food!

Raising the Bar on Breakfast

As kids we wanted chocolate for breakfast, but mom always said no. She’d say that chocolate was for dessert and would just get us hyper and let us down in the school day. But what if I told you that you could have chocolate for breakfast and it wouldn’t ruin your whole day? It’s true!

There is a great blog with a delicious recipe for double banana chocolate chip breakfast bars that are simply to die for.

I first heard about these bars from my friend Lauren who loves to bake. She makes these for her friends a lot because they’re super easy. She sent me the link to the blog she got the recipe from and I can’t wait to make them!

So let’s make them together shall we?

*Disclaimer: I didn’t get the banana chips 😦 so my bars aren’t complete…but they’re still really yummy!*

For these treats you’ll need the following:

  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup chopped banana chips
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups quick cooking oats

now, a lot of these things I already had in my kitchen, and for the remaining ingredients I spent about $10 so this is an inexpensive baking adventure!

Here’s how we make them…

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork and then add the canola oil and brown sugar. Mix well until there are no sugar lumps left.
  3. In another (smaller) bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and oats. Mix into wet ingredients and add banana chips and chocolate chips.
  4. Pat batter down into a greased square 8-inch pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges are golden. Let cool before cutting into squares.

I made you all a little video to show how everything comes together…enjoy!

See? Look how easy that was… Twenty minutes of prep-time and 25 minutes of baking. So little time and effort for something super yummy!

The Healthy Hangover

So this past weekend was my roommate 21st birthday. To put it lightly she’s had better Sunday mornings.

In an effort to make her feel like a human once again, I asked her if I could get her anything.  Her answer? A large order of McDonalds French fries.

Now of course I wanted my friend to feel better, but I was buying.  And she said fries and then my other roommates wanted some. And so did our friends visiting, and admittedly then I did to. The bill started racking up, and being a bit of a health freak myself, so did the calories.

When most people think fast food, they would call me crazy for saying it could get expensive.  But when a crowd of hung-over people walks into a McDonalds, there’s always potential to leave with lighter wallets.

Here’s my solution: a bag of potatoes.

I got this whole bag from a local produce store when I went home last weekend for a mere $2.00. I’ve checked out the local scene at Food Lion and Wal-Mart and the both have similar options for no more then $2.99.


But how this plain old bag of potatoes really be transformed into mouth watering fries aka the cure for my roommates pounding headache?

  • As mentioned before, her extra pocket cash kind of ran away last night at the bar, so this is a very cost effective option. For $2.00 I can make some hangover food for all of us at the same price of a just 1 order of a large McDonalds Fry.
  • It’s healthy! My roommate is a bit of a workout-aholic and believe me she’s not moving from the couch anytime soon. Its better to ditch the fast food fat and snack on this treat which is full of dietary fiber (you can even leave the skin on!), makes you feel fuller longer, and saves on the calories.

So here’s my simple recipe that will be sure to win over your hearts, you just have to trust me.

  • Cut up all the potatoes into the size of your choice.

  • Gently wet them and stick ‘em in the microwave for about two minutes.  This may sound weird but this saves you from having to coat them in oil to get the crispy golden fry effect!
  • Lay down some tin foil on a baking pan, and throw the fries on top!
  • This is the fun part: season the fries to your liking. I personally love throwing on some oregano and basil leaves, maybe even some Cajun seasoning if I’m feeling daring. This is your chance to experiment!

  • Place them in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees. The time will vary depending on how crunchy you prefer your fries!

**  With about 5 minutes left, I melt a piece of Kraft’s Fat free American cheese because, well because I love cheese.

The whole recipe for one piece of cheese, one medium red potato, plus seasonings is only 170 calories and get this- NO FAT!  A large McDonalds fry comes in around 500 calories and 25% of your daily fat intake.  And out of just one potato I got this many to munch on!  Chop up a couple more potatoes if you have some extra guests to feed like I do, you have a whole bag!

With all these potatoes you can even pre-cut them and freeze them to have your hangover cure readily available.  So get creative (sweet potatoes anyone?), enjoy the great taste, and feel wonderful knowing you saved money and saved on calories!

Homemade Eats at O’Neill’s Grill

If you’re looking for a great local place to eat where you don’t have to worry about getting a hefty bill at the end of the night, then head on over to O’Neill’s Grill!

Just like it says on the front of their menu, O’Neill’s food is “freshly homemade…so it’s delicious every day!” And I couldn’t agree more.

My boyfriend and I decided on checking out O’Neill’s Grill for one of our date nights since we had never been before. And since we both have the budget of a typical college student, we loved that we both had a wide variety of sandwiches and wraps to choose from for under 8 bucks! And the meal also comes with one of their delicious, homemade sides. Some of the sides include homemade mac & cheese, seasoned sweet potato fries, cajun rice, and homemade coleslaw.

For my meal, I got the Kickin’ Chicken sandwich with fries and absolutely loved it! The sandwich included a fresh hand-breaded chicken breast, fried golden brown and dipped in their original barbecue sauce. You can choose from a variety of their sauces, ranging from mild to very hot, but since I’m not a fan of really spicy things, I went with one of the more mild sauces. The chicken was served on a warm ciabatta roll with ranch dressing.

For dessert, my boyfriend and I decided on splitting a cookie skillet. Now if you’ve never had a cookie skillet before, you’re truly missing out. My friends have raved to me about the cookie skillets at O’Neill’s multiple times so I knew that I had to get one before we left.

Now if you don’t know what a cookie skillet is, let me paint a picture for you. It’s freshly baked chocolate chip cookie dough served hot and gooey topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. When I was eating it, it was like heaven in my mouth. And for under $5, it’d be a sin not to get one!

So with O’Neill’s Grill being only about a mile from JMU’s campus at 221 University Boulevard, you should definitely stop by because their food is not something to pass up! And don’t just take my word for it, check out these reviews from other O’Neill’s customers!

It’s All in the Bag

In a hurry? Need a snack? Before you you grab something unhealthy, let’s think of something delicious and healthy to eat first.

It’s so easy just to grab that little bag of chips or cookies and run, right? But what if there was a way to grab something fast and not feel bad about it later?

There is! And it’s as simple as a box of Ziploc bags…

Since we’re all on busy schedules going from place to place, no time to make ourselves a tidy salad, might I suggest getting some of your favorite healthy food and keeping some in separate bags in the fridge so you can grab one and get to that meeting on time and with a happy stomach.

All it takes is a box of plastic bags and your favorite fruit and/or veggies, I suggest grapes, carrots, and celery just because those are low calorie options that won’t make a big mess in case you’re eating these while you’re driving.

Let’s compare the nutritional value of a bag of potato chips to our homemade veggie bags…

small bag of potato chips  has 115 calories and 10.6 grams of  total fat  versus our little bag of carrots  at 4 calories and NO FAT!

Eating these tasty snacks on the go instead of potato chips will help you get through whatever you’re going to–whether it’s a business meeting or a college class or even a road trip, this is a great way to tide you over until your next meal!

Another healthy alternative would be those fun 100 Calories snack packs. They have just enough goodies in each bag to satisfy your appetite without giving you the added calories! The bags might make you feel like you’re not getting much, but it’s really just enough to tide you over in the afternoon.

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