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Food Allergies and College Living


Replies to: Food Allergies and College Living

  • Mom2aphysicsgeekMom2aphysicsgeek Registered User Posts: 3,795 Senior Member
    My oldest ds's allergies are similar to your ds's except swap eggs with most fruit (all fruit grown on trees, plus grapes. He can eat strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.)

    We ended up getting a letter from his allergist stating that living in a dorm and eating in the dining hall was life threatening. He was given a waiver even though his university required it for 2 yrs. It was just easier than him constantly worrying about cross contamination.
  • noname87noname87 Registered User Posts: 1,119 Senior Member
    We dealt with these issues with our daughter. The first year the school agreed to make her special meals to be picked up at a certain time. First semester it work somewhat but the quality and service decline toward the end of the semester. Mistakes were make. Second semester, my daughter gave up and we started sending food from home.

    My advice/comments:

    1) Take what the school says with a grain of salt. They mean well and will try but expect mistakes. Cross contamination can be a real issue.

    2) Some schools can only source food from their limited approved supplies. It took our school over four weeks to find a supplier of fresh eggs.

    3) While they might supply specially prepare meals, they will often miss the appointed meal pickup time. Makes it harder to eat with friend when the food is not ready on time.

    4) Your son must be willing to advocate for himself. If he isn't willing to speak up, he will have difficulties.

    5) Make sure that your son has easy access a grocery store to buy food that is safe to eat. This is important if he cannot eat restaurant food like my daughter.

    6) Chefs do not always understand what is in the food they prepare. Sulfates are NOT always listed on food labels.

    7) Make sure your son can have his own refrigerator and that it can be large enough to meet his needs. Keeping enough food for a one weeks worth of meals can be tough in some micro refrigerators.

    8) Make sure you son knows how to cook. Many of my daughter's friends had no idea how to cook the basics. They planned on cooking but ended up eating out every day.

    As for asthma:

    1) Does cold air bother your son. If so, see if the school has a point to point car service. This will have to be done through disabilities.

    2) If heat and humidity cause problems, an air conditioned dorm could help. Mt daughter heath is greatly improved with central air. Central air can help provide a constant source of fresh filtered air.

    3) Does you son have chemical sensitives? If so seriously consider a private room. Also consider whether a shared bath will cause problems. My daughter choose a old style dorm with a floor bath over a suite style where 8 people share one small bathroom. The concern was about keeping the scents out of her room.

    4) I second the suggestion for a air purifier.

    5) Carefully consider your son medical needs. Is the health center capable of handling his asthma. Likely not an issue but worth checking. Most schools will have no problems in this regard.
  • cerj002cerj002 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    My daughter is a sophomore this year. The first year she roomed with a girl from her high school who was very respectful of her allergies. They got along fine but decided not to room together re next year. D's new friends were already paired up & her new "best friend " told her it wasn't good for their friendship to room together so we requested a medical single for this year. Most of the colleges we visited offered something like this. I have to be honest and tell you that it sometimes stresses me out that she is alone. Her entire building is single dorms & she knows people in the building but my concern is that she would have a reaction with no one around. Next year she is sharing an apartment style dorm with a group of girls who understand about her allergy & have been trained to use an epi pen. I plan to get her separate pans, etc and probably keep her meal plan.
  • supermom2supermom2 Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    Yes living off campus could be an option, but I don't know if he will do well living alone for the first time. But certainly the food issues will be helped...altho he does not know how to cook yet. I will give him a crash cooking course in the summer. I also worry about no one being around if he is sick or has a reaction. I am also concerned about the shared bath, he is sensitive to smells and perfumes. Will need to ask his allergist to mention it in the letter. Honestly with so many kids having allergies, its a wonder the schools don't take it more seriously and help - they could have one section of dorm for people with allergies, or even one cafeteria dedicated to allergy safe food prep. I am almost at the point of keeping him local and not sending him anywhere! And he would hate me for the rest of his life if I did that!
  • supermom2supermom2 Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    noname87, thank you for al the useful tips. It is certainly overwhelming and I can see how the food quality or care in prep might deteriorate over time! I am seriously thinking about not letting him go and having him attend a local school which is the last thing he wants!!
  • Mom2aphysicsgeekMom2aphysicsgeek Registered User Posts: 3,795 Senior Member
    Teach him how to use a crockpot and bulk cook, then he can cook and freeze and not have to cook very frequently. Just thaw and reheat.
  • negirl508negirl508 Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    Oh my gosh. So much great information. My daughter will be heading out to college in the fall with food allergies and asthma as well. Does anyone have first hand experience with UCONN and food allergies?
  • PizzagirlPizzagirl Registered User Posts: 40,488 Senior Member
    "The roommate became malicious about it and would deliberately smear peanut butter on handles and washcloths in the room hoping to get D to have a reaction because she said she was "faking it"."

    Some people should just be shot. I'm sorry your D had to go through that.
  • supermom2supermom2 Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    Mom2aphysicsgeek, yes those are great ideas, I also considered getting a rice cooker and a grill plate for quick and easy meals....this means he cannot live in the dorm but we will have to get an apt for him. I am concerned about him living alone in an apartment...until he can find some one to share the apartment, then it may work out. But as a freshman he will not find a room mate easily.
  • Mom2aphysicsgeekMom2aphysicsgeek Registered User Posts: 3,795 Senior Member
    edited March 2016
    Your ds has a lot of allergies which intermingle across multiple foods groups. It is probably going to be next to impossible for him to ensure no cross contamination without almost the equivalent of a personal chef. Isolating 1 group...nuts or peanuts or dairy or eggs....is typically what you find available. Finding daily variety covering all of those constantly---how bad are his allergies? Our ds's throat swells and he can't breathe. I used to cook separate dishes of food for him and prepared food on a separate surface when he lived at home. Living alone would have been less dangerous for him than eating food prepared on campus. But our ds didn't end up alone, he had roommates.

    Have you contacted the school's housing dept? They might have roommate searches available for off-campus housing. If you are a member of a church, a local church group might be able to help. We are Catholic, and most campuses have a Newman Center or other on campus presence. I would not hesitate to reach out to a group like that for assistance in finding housing or roommates. (Some Newman Centers even have rooms that they rent out to students.)
  • noname87noname87 Registered User Posts: 1,119 Senior Member
    Okay, time to take a deep breath.

    Yes your son will likely have problems. A lot of kids do even the super healthy. However you need to keep a perspective. I assume your son has a cell phone. He can reach you 24/7 if needed. RAs are trained to provide help in a medical emergency. He will survive. I speak from experience. It can be tough be on the other end of the phone when your kid is being taken to the ER due to breathing problems. However, he will likely surprise you and handle it well. We came close to doing a medical withdrawal but so far she survived.

    My daughter has chemical sensitives that trigger her asthma. She had little issues with a shared bath on a tradition dorm floor. She learned quickly when the showers are not used and avoids peak showering times. That would be harder to do in a suite setting where there are small common areas (like a small common hall). I would suggest a single room that is located away from the bathroom. Single rooms can be more isolating so your son will need to make a effort to be social. However, you do avoid the roommate drama. What concerned us about roommates is what happens when the roommate's friends or SO are not willing to avoid your son's triggers. Really can't expect that from people. Roommates maybe but not others.

    As for the distance issue, you need to take a realistic view of the risks. If you son can eat take out food or is willing and able to cook then food should be manageable. If the allergies are so severe that you need to supply food from home, then 5 hours away could be pushing it. As for the asthma issues, they can be managed if your son has the maturity to take control of his health. If he doesn't (unwilling to avoid triggers, forgets to take medicine, won't get medical help when needed) then I would rethink having him that far away.

    I would STRONGLY recommend living in the dorms the first year for social and support (RA, being able to easily get to campus health center, point to point services) reasons. Freshman year can be a tough adjustment time. Having health issues adds to that. Having to deal with an apartment and possibly being isolated would not be good as a freshman. While having an apartment is idea for controlling your environment, you need to consider issues like how does he get to class and the health center. If he needs to take a bus or walk, can he handle the cold air and the humid spring air? If he is having minor breathing issues, could he do it. We opted for dorm living since the dorms (as part of the disability accommodations) are very close to the classrooms.

    I am in your shoes. We put a distance limit on the college search. The top pick was turn down partly for that fact. I hated doing it but that was our reality. You need to determine what is best for your son. Based on what you wrote, 5 hours away sounds doable but I don't know you son.

    This is a tough thing to balance. You need to be realist and be willing to let go. Most kids step up to the challenge when they have no other choice.

    Sorry for the long post but we are dealing with the same issues and I felt the need to point out some of the issue we missed the first year.
  • noname87noname87 Registered User Posts: 1,119 Senior Member
    Adding to the above, if your son plans on relaying on public transportation make sure that the fumes from the bus will not cause a problem. Take a few bus rides (on the school system) and see how it works out. Sounds silly but better to find out now.
  • PheebersPheebers Registered User Posts: 595 Member
    Something not a lot of people think about is the social aspect of it. It's hard enough on these kids that they can't order pizza or just relax and eat at a buffet with their friends. Many of them are embarrassed and don't like to cause a fuss when something's wrong, so they just go without.

    My daughter has Celiac & can't have gluten. She attended an honors scholars overnight at a school recently that has on their website that they can accommodate gluten-free diets, but we found when we got there that reality was very different. We spoke together with the head & sous chef, and although they couldn't swear there wouldn't be any cross contamination they said everything was very clearly labeled, they used best practices in the kitchen and had dedicated utensils, etc. Usually understanding how important it is is 99% of the battle, and I felt comfortable enough to leave her.

    It turned out that she had some lettuce and a hard boiled egg for dinner, and some cereal for breakfast, and was starving by the time I picked her up. She said there was pretty much nothing she could eat. We had to cross that college -- which was otherwise her favorite -- off the list immediately.
  • supermom2supermom2 Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    Great discussion, and thank everyone for sharing their experiences and tips. My son's asthma is triggered by cold air, strong smells, dust, old musty clothes/books and of course exercise. He passed his milk challenge and baked egg challenge as early as four weeks ago. So that has made a HUGE difference!! He tasted great chocolate for the first time and ate cheesecake and loves takeout pizza!! Food is certainly intermingled with all our social interactions, and I am so grateful we have been able to strike a few things off his list.

    His allergist agreed to an egg challenge next month altho the numbers were slightly high. We are keeping fingers crossed. The rest of the foods - peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, sesame and chickpeas are too high.

    One thing that concerns me is that sesame and chickpeas are not commonly flagged as allergens, altho usually the allergy to these is very high. Also this past week during a tour at Penn State, I realized my son did not know that Tahini was composed of sesame. Also he did not know garbanzo was another name for chickpeas. So I will need to make a list of other names for his allergens. Does anyone know of a database that has other names for allergens that I can borrow from?

    We have limited his college options to no more than 5-6 hours away from home, and ofcourse he picks the furthest one! I wish he gets into Case Western which is only 2.5 hrs away for us....he is wait listed there. But for now we are focused on evaluating Virginia Tech tomorrow.

    So after reading all the comments, I feel it would be unfair to put him in an apt. where he will be isolated. We will work with the Student Disability Office and Dining services to best address our needs. Also feel we have kept him so protected for so long, he really has never had to use his epi-pen. I am not sure how he will manage and know when to use to it.

    Each meal for these kids is liking walking through a minefield....you never know where the danger is lurking. I am sure I will be wreck for the a long time worrying each day.

    Going to meet staff at V-Tech tomorrow, will update on the weekend.

  • april10april10 Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    I just found out that the dining hall at Tulane is 100% nut free. Makes it so much easier when there are no nuts in the dining room or kitchen.
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