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How to Stick to Your Dietary Needs While Studying Abroad

February 21, 2020
by Angela Richard

If you’re at all like me, you might be worried about finding foods that meet your dietary needs while you’re abroad. While this is a worry that set in for me just before I went abroad, I quickly realized I didn’t need to fear! Even in the smaller city of Granada, Spain, I’ve found tons of places that can accommodate my dietary needs with ease. Here are a few tips for making sure your dietary needs are met while you’re studying abroad:

1. Do your research!

Doing my research on local restaurants before venturing to Granada enabled me to know which places have options that are suitable for me. And, more often than not, there’s at least always a few ways to customize certain menu options at many restaurants, cafes, and tapas bars! By researching the plant-based scene where I’m studying, I was able to find a slew of restaurants that already meet my needs or can do so easily.


2. Use information from CEA!

Before venturing abroad, CEA sent all of us a specialized guide of local sports facilities, popular shops, laundromats, grocery stores, convenience stores, and most importantly, restaurants (!) with information about each place. In this guide, restaurants that were gluten free and vegan were separated and described in detail accompanied by their exact location via a Google Maps link. With this information, I was able to eat at a vegan restaurant on my first day here, and I got some seriously tasty BBQ pulled jackfruit and banana bread! Taking advantage of this information has helped me and many of my friends who have specific dietary needs feel comfortable within the food scene!


3. Visit local shops and supermarkets!

As others with special dietary needs might relate to, it’s often easiest to purchase your own food so you are absolutely sure of the ingredients that make up your meal. I’ve found that taking my time to browse the products displayed in local food shops and the popular supermarket in Spain, Mercadona, has helped me find items I can consistently purchase and feel happy about eating! I have been able to find dairy-free milk alternatives, gluten-free products, and a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies at reasonable prices here. This required me to pay some extra attention to food labels, but it really wasn’t a problem, because just like I’m used to in the United States, the eight most common allergens are bolded in the food labels so that they stand out and you know exactly what the food is made of. A little bit of added vigilance at first makes buying food so much easier in the days and weeks to come!


4. When you go out to eat, speak up about your dietary needs!

My flatmate and I both have special dietary needs, but just like everyone else, we enjoy going out for tapas after a day of classes. Tapas often consist of comfort foods, like bocadillos (grinders), fries, and other foods containing meat. We went out for tapas one night, but we forgot to tell the servers about our dietary needs, and we were disappointed when we received our tapas. Next time, we made sure we told our servers about our dietary needs, and it wasn’t a problem at all! The server we had assured us it wasn’t an issue that we needed something different than what would have normally been given. One of our favorite places to get tapas now even has a message outside of the door stating that they have gluten-free and vegan options. Although daunting at first, speaking up about my dietary needs has made my Spanish experience so much more enjoyable. There’s no shame in having to stray from the “norm” when it comes to food, and I’d much rather be happy as a result of telling the servers what I need than being deterred from going out simply because of the way I need to eat!


Dietary needs, especially the act of accommodating them, are often frowned upon, but they really shouldn’t be! Everyone deserves to feel and be healthy, and although you might think you need to adjust the way you eat simply because you’re studying abroad, or you’re worried because you’ve heard it’s hard to meet your needs while abroad, you need not worry! There is likely an adequate amount of accommodating places in the city where you’re studying, and although I am only speaking from my experience in Spain, you’re sure to find options that meet your needs in the even larger cities where CEA programs are offered! As they say here in Spain, “barriga llena, corazón contento,” which means “fully belly, happy heart.” Everyone can feel this way abroad, no matter what you need to eat!

Angela Richard is the Summer 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Champlain College.
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