How To Manage a Dietary Restriction Abroad

We asked several students who have dietary restrictions to share their experience regarding buying and eating food while studying abroad in Lithuania.

 

What is your diet restriction or diet preference?

Paige: Whey (found in dairy) makes me super nauseous. Back home, I mainly eat clean, vegan food because my body generally just feels better without animal products.

Kristina: I’m gluten free—not by choice but because of Celiac.

Katie: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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Kristina cooking her favorite meal.

Were you concerned about being abroad due to your diet?

Paige: Lithuanians LOVE their dairy: cheese, creamy sweets, sour cream, the whole nine yards. Obviously I wanted to feel like I had “authentic” traditional food while living here, but I also didn’t want to be sick for four months. Meat was less of a concern (I occasionally have chicken at home anyway) since many restaurants can easily accommodate vegetarians.

Kristina: I was definitely concerned about accidentally making myself sick while in Lithuania because I knew things wouldn’t be conveniently labeled and especially because I don’t speak the language so I can’t just ask questions.

Katie: A little, I felt as if I knew what I could and couldn’t have and was prepared to figure it out as I went.

Has it been hard finding proper food for you?

Paige: Since we make our own meals in the dorm kitchens, I choose to make all dairy- & meat-free foods. This way, when I go out, I feel like I’m not overloading my body if I have some dairy (like a few pieces of kepta duona!). Most grocery stores have alternative milk options (coconut is my go-to) and even some vegan cheeses and desserts. The quality of food here is great (a lot less preservatives are used), so I feel good about the food I buy and eat.

Kristina: It actually hasn’t been as difficult as I expected to find gluten free food—our fantastic experience coordinator Rugile has asked questions for me when we eat out as a cohort and I already knew at home how to substitute things when I’m cooking for myself. I have even found gluten free pasta and on the rare occasion bread(!!!) in the grocery stores. I generally cook for myself so I can monitor what I’m eating, but it really hasn’t been too difficult!

Katie: Sometimes, when it comes to meat, pasta, or eating out, it’s hard to actually find anything that I can eat that doesn’t cause my gerd symptoms to react.

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Katie’s famous smoothies.

What is your go to meal?

Paige: I love quick-cooking food that I can use in different ways throughout the week. My favorite so far has been a quinoa and lentil salad. I ate it warm the night I cooked it, but in the days after, I ate it cold over arugula with nuts, dried fruit, and a poached egg over top.

Kristina: When I’m cooking for myself, I keep it pretty simple: you’ll find me eating a lot of rice and potatoes. My go-to snack has always been  PB&J, so I’ve managed to completely replace bread with rice cakes; I use them to make peanut butter sandwiches, ham and cheese, and even next to my eggs and bacon in the morning.  You’ve just got to get creative!

Katie: Smoothies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Easy and simple to make.

What do you eat when you go out to restaurants?

Paige: It’s really hard to find things that aren’t likely cooked in butter. However, the dairy here is less processed and hasn’t left me as sick as it does in the States. When at restaurants, I like to get something different every time. I try to stick to foods that aren’t going to be creamy, and you can easily ask for the whipped cream/sour cream to be left out. Potato pancakes are always tasty!

Kristina: I generally stick with meat and vegetables while I’m at restaurants, which has been so easy here because sometimes it seems like the only food for Lithuanians is pork and potatoes, which is perfect for me!

Katie: Going to restaurants is hard because I can never know what is in every dish, so it’s a guessing game and I try to pick dishes that are least likely to upset me.

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Despite all diet restriction we all love kepta duona!

How have you managed to navigate through the grocery store?

Paige: I went to Iki for the first three weeks, then made the grocery store conversion to Rimi. Rimi just has a better layout and lots more options for produce, dairy-free foods, and healthy snacks. Also they have an entire aisle dedicated to teas and coffees.

Kristina: Grocery stores are going to be almost the same in Lithuania as anywhere else, just less things have a label of allergen free. I learned the Lithuanian words for wheat, barley, and gluten so I can check the ingredients for questionable items, but in general I know what I can and can’t eat, so grocery shopping is easy!

Katie: The more time I go to the store the better I become at finding things I need. I’m at the point where I only buy certain things and know where to find them.

Would you recommend people with a special diet to study abroad?

Paige: Don’t let a special diet hinder you from enjoying from time here! There’s so many great options for people in grocery stores and a good variety of restaurants — you’ll love it.

Kristina: If anyone wants to study abroad, a special diet should not be their deterrent, especially in the LCC program. Because you’ll cook most of your meals for yourself you won’t be at the mercy of chefs who don’t understand allergies and you’ll have lots of control over your own health. If you want to make it work, you absolutely can!

Katie: I would say yes it’s definitely worth it but depending on your special diet and how prepared you are might affect your experience.

What are tips you can give future study abroad students who have similar diets?

Paige: If you’re lactose intolerant, bring your Lactaid. If you’re whey intolerant, throw caution to the wind every once in a while. Traditional Lithuanian food is incredible. Even if you can only try a bite or two at a time.

Kristina: First, there are going to be things you simply can’t find here (like corn tortillas🙁) so be prepared for that, but you aren’t going to starve to death. I suggest you learn the Lithuanian words for your allergy before you come just to make things easier and then start building your collection of recipes of things you can eat—without special substitutes like gluten free flour or soy sauce.

Katie: Bring a hand blender, easy to pack in your suitcase and it’s so worth it. I eat smoothies almost every day and eating would be harder without it. Know that there is a lot of good and interesting food that you’ll want to try, eat it, you might not feel good afterwards but I haven’t regretted trying all the food over here.

Classic salad by Paige and midday snack by Kristina.

Thank you to our current study abroad students for taking time to answer our dietary question!

 

 

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