I have suffered from gluten and dairy intolerance since the age of 13, so I know a few tips to deal with food allergies during your college years. I recently entered college with such food allergies, and although it has been difficult along the way, I have managed to gain a lot of experience on how to accommodate food allergies when you’re in college. Eating in college has to be quick when your schedule is packed with classes, and food allergies usually don’t help matters. That’s why I’m going to offer my tips to deal with food allergies at college to help others get enough allergy-friendly food in a timely matter.
1. Talk to the Dining Staff before Entering College
This may sound obvious, but it is a crucial first step in dealing with food allergies during college. If you’re an incoming freshman, colleges will often require you to buy a meal plan. That’s why it is necessary to find out as soon as possible what food your college has to offer to accommodate your specific food allergy. If your college doesn’t have much to offer now, see if you can meet with the dining staff to discuss incorporating some of the favorite food items you eat at home.
2. Buy a Mini Fridge and Microwave (if Possible)
If you can afford a refrigerator and microwave, these will be big lifesavers for anyone at college, but especially for those with food allergies. You will be able to cook food yourself without worrying about cross-contamination with the microwave. You’ll also be able to store food that you buy in case you can’t find very much at your college’s dining center. If your college does a great job at accommodating your needs, then these obviously aren’t so necessary.
3. Seek out Local Grocery Stores in the Area Your College is Located
Once you’ve found out whether or not your school’s dining center has a lot to offer, it’s good to find grocery stores that carry specialty allergy-friendly foods. If your dining center doesn’t have much food, making sure you get enough to eat with a busy schedule can be tough, so researching local grocery stores ahead of time is essential to getting the food you need. Even if your college does have plenty of options for you, knowing ways of taking food back to your dorm is helpful for snacks, which often aren’t provided in meal plans.
4. Enjoy Social Time by Researching Restaurants You Can Eat at
Once you’re at college, you might find a group of friends that like to go out to eat every so often, and you might feel left out. My first suggestion is to try going with them, because most people are offering allergy-friendly (especially gluten-free) menus. If not, try suggesting that you guys go to a place where you can eat that has delicious options for everyone. If your friends are ordering pizza and you’re allergic to dairy, see if you can get some without cheese, or ask if they have a gluten-free crust.
5. Prepare Snacks Ahead of Time for Extracurricular Activities
If you’re going to be involved in extracurricular activities in college that require you to travel (like music, sports, etc.), often allergy-friendly options won’t be readily available to you. That’s why it is crucial to prepare non-perishable snacks like gluten-free crackers, hummus, peanut butter, energy bars, and such so that you have enough to fuel your activity.
6. Find Other People Who Have the Food Allergies
This may not seem like the most typical way to deal with food allergies at college, but it’s what I’ve found to be very helpful. Often times colleges will hold demonstrations in their dining centers for students looking to see what options are available for specific food allergies, where there will be a lot of people in the same position as you. Going to these demonstrations will help you learn what your options are, and will help you meet other people who you can relate with. If your college doesn’t have one of these, you can often find people with food allergies by asking around – I have two people just on my floor with food allergies!
7. If All else Fails, Order Food Online
Let’s say your dining center has nothing available for you to eat. Then, maybe you don’t have a car to go buy groceries, can’t afford a refrigerator, or your college is located in a rural area where your food options are limited. Ordering non-perishable food items online is going to be your best bet. I’ve had to order food from luckyvitamin.com, iherb.com, and even amazon.com in order to get enough food from college. The cost of food is fairly reasonable at these sites, and many of the options are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, and so on.
I’m not a dietician, but I have had plenty of experience in dealing with my food allergies. The best approach you can take to surviving college with such allergies is to ask as many questions as possible, and to always be prepared. Being prepared will allow you to always have allergy-friendly food available when you need it. Do you have any other tips on how to deal with food allergies during college?