If You Give This Mouse a Cookie…She Will Check the Label First! – Rocking Education Abroad with Dietary Restrictions

I am the queen of packaged foods. Gotta love those ingredients lists filled with unpronounceable words!

As many people who have met me know, I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts and all nuts. This means I have a tough time eating at new restaurants, and when I’m away from family who are familiar with my allergies I have to act in an abundance of caution. In fact, before this trip I received advice from various places at school not to even study abroad at all!

In the hopes that this post will also reach future students traveling abroad, I have some stories and tips for anyone traveling with a dietary restriction.

During my stay at Oxford University, I’ve chosen to mainly buy and cook my own food rather than going to restaurants (because even pizza could be hiding nuts in it – crust can be made using peanut flour, and peanut sauce is a thing)! The Tesco supermarkets are my new best friend.

Ingredients are labeled differently here than in the U.S. If you’re a vegetarian, food packaging consistently has a nice, clear “Suitable for vegetarians” on it. I’ve also seen gluten-free items labeled better than in the U.S., though it’s not always consistent. The “May Contain” warning for allergens though is often hidden in blocks of text, so be aware!

Cheap supermarket eats I’m loving:

-The fruits and veggies are super tasty and less expensive here! Pretty much the only consistently safe thing for nut allergy sufferers! Fruits my classmates and I have found particularly tasty include the cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and the watermelon.

-Take-and-bake baguettes for 50 pence (to follow the blog theme of some classmates)!

-Store bought pizza! Pretty much as good as in the U.S., and you can get a full, refrigerated fresh pizza for 1 pound!

-Pasta (like any true college student. It only gets tricky when you must cook it in a frying pan and your stove won’t light, so your roommates have to light a paper towel on fire to start it)!

Stuff to Skip:

-Fresh bakery goods and sweets. I know, they’re so hard to resist! The baguette I mentioned above is one of the few safe breads for me. I have a major sweet tooth, but almost any bread or sweet item has a peanut/nut warning on it here. That’s why I’m so happy in the featured image for this post – I just found the first pastry I can safely eat!

-Hamburgers. From what I’ve been hearing, they’re just not measuring up to what we’re used to!

-Cereals. Pretty expensive here, and lots of allergen warnings. Be aware that the same brand as something you eat in the US may actually have different ingredients here in the UK!

Overall, I think I’m doing pretty well. I won’t let my allergies take over my Oxford experience, and it’s really not a big deal once you get used to the supermarkets here. And lately I’ve been loving sampling some British snacks: Scottish baps, scones, “Hula Hoops”…

For anyone with a food intolerance, you really can travel abroad! And for the experience, let yourself have at least one night out at a restaurant: do your research, find one online that’s known for being allergy friendly, and go at a non-peak time.

If you need me, I’ll just be over here stuffing my face with finger pastries…


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