Most college students see summer as a break for their brains; I view summer as a vacation for my stomach. Home-cooked meals replace the seemingly never-ending cycle of chicken, rice and salad from Leo’s. However, eventually all things must come to an end, even summer and good food. Now that I’m back on the Hilltop and living on campus again, maintaining my gluten-free diet has become even more difficult and less delicious.
Upon entering Leo’s, you are greeted by the sandwich station, bread loaves and desserts galore. For the average Joe or Jane Hoya, you’re probably already satisfied with these options, filled with their carbohydrate goodness. If you’re someone like me with a gluten allergy, then you are in cafeteria hell. However, there is a small glimmer of hope in the lower level of Leo’s. Tucked away between the cereal and pizza is a small gluten-free section.
On a good day, the small refrigerator is almost overflowing with gluten-free chicken nuggets, breads, burritos and — if you’re lucky — waffles and mac and cheese. On an off-day, the frozen burritos are the only thing that remains. Unfortunately, there seems to be an uneven ratio of off days to good days. So even though this is the most obvious place to go in search of food, I usually prefer to look elsewhere for hidden gluten-free options.
The keys to eating gluten-free in Leo’s are a little extra time, effort and creativity, but the results are worth the wait. Think about it: Do you want to eat an overly processed, leftover frozen burrito or a semi-homemade chicken quesadilla? I think the answer is pretty clear. Here’s my quick and easy semi-homemade chicken quesadilla recipe: Grab tortillas from the gluten-free refrigerator, chicken from either the home station or the salad bar, cheese from the salad bar or deli and sour cream, guacamole and salsa from the burrito station. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it and, on the plus side, walking around Leo’s in search of food will work up an appetite. Compile all of your ingredients in your tortillas and grill the quesadilla on the panini press. (There is one in the gluten-free section for no cross-contamination.)
Unfortunately, school and work tend to interrupt my culinary genius, so all of my Leo’s trips don’t involve such careful planning. When I’m in a time crunch, my go-to is always the salad bar. I can fill my plate with almost everything on the salad bar line and have a pretty satisfying meal — just watch out for the couscous and pasta salad. It’s basically make-your-own-Sweetgreen in Leo’s, without the walk to M Street.
Because humankind cannot live on “bunny food” alone, there are even more options as you walk around upstairs. On all of the signs, there will be information on what possible allergies the food contains (wheat, dairy, egg, etc.). You can almost always go with rice, an absolute staple in my Asian and gluten-free diet. For protein, there is normally always chicken available as well.
If you have time or are feeling lazy (or you just feel like standing in line waiting for someone else to make your food) then I highly recommend the new burrito station or the old faithful wok line. The burrito station is a Chipotle-esque knockoff, but it will satisfy any Mexican craving with the added corn chips and guacamole. However, my personal favorite is wok. Just make sure that you tell them if you need the gluten-free pan and you’re golden. The workers there are typically the friendliest Leo’s employees, so even though the lines move very slowly, it’s well worth the wait.
All of this talk about food is making me hungry, even if it is just for Leo’s. But if you know where to look and have some time to spare, you can leave satisfied and happy.
Christna Wing is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. GLUTEN FREEDOM appears every other Friday in the guide.