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Food Allergies and College Living


Replies to: Food Allergies and College Living

  • yankeeinGAyankeeinGA Registered User Posts: 226 Junior Member
    Tons of great advice here already. Just to add, from personal experience: My current college kid is a vegetarian and has nut allergies. Her school did a good dog-and-pony show about accommodating food preferences/allergies, but (surprise) the reality simply didn't match up with what was promised. (Welcome to the south, where every vegetable touches a pork product!) I have both gently and not-so-gently encouraged her to advocate for herself -- ask to meet with the head of Food Services, for example -- but she is reluctant to do so. I find this frustrating as we are paying thousands for food she's not eating, but there's only so much I can force her to do in that respect.

    Our solutions thus far (and next year when she's not a freshman and not required to have a meal plan, we will probably revamp some):
    * She has a larger-than-a-cube dorm fridge, and we were delighted to discover you can now buy a dorm fridge with a separate-door freezer compartment. This allows her to buy things like Morningstar Farms and Boca frozen entrees she can microwave in the room, plus she can keep high-protein snacks like hummus, yogurt, and cheese on hand.
    * She likes smoothies, so I got her a tiny Hamilton Beach single-serve blender and some protein powder. She can grab fruit at the dining hall and make her own smoothies.
    * I don't love how much microwaved mac-and-cheese and sugary oatmeal she eats, but they're decent on protein, easy to make, and shelf-stable.
    * Most school meal plans have some sort of associated Dining Dollars which can be used at nearby fast food places, and in her case she's able to eat at a local burrito place (where they're good about allergens) pretty regularly using the money already in her account.
    * Her dorm has a kitchen, and there are a few things she's willing to cook that go beyond tiny-fridge-and-microwave, so we make sure she has the tools to do that.
    * I periodically send her a case of GoPicnic meals, which are like Lunchables but organic and allergen-aware. (She likes the sunbutter crackers and hummus ones, and each box also has a fruit product and other munchies, and everything is individually packaged. The hummus ones have a little nut mix, I think, but it's not touching anything else and she just gives it to a non-allergic pal.) In a pinch she can grab one of those and sit in the dining hall with her friends.

    Unless it would be life-threatening to live in the dorms (and I know that's a possibility in some cases), I'd recommend against an apartment as a freshman. I think what they gain from the "we're all in this together" atmosphere and RAs on hand outweighs the annoyances about food. Just my opinion, of course.
  • scmom12scmom12 Registered User Posts: 2,768 Senior Member
    You might also want to check the health centers at schools also. Had one at small LAC and one at large university. Large had more resources for allergy but strangely, had no night or weekend hours for health center. D1 small LAC basically handled allergies on a case by case basis (never needed it but I am celiac so always have antenna up to the issue) but they had a health center open 24 hours with nurse on duty overnight so always accessible. Depending on problem, that might be a deal breaker as well.
  • LYLMomLYLMom Registered User Posts: 34 Junior Member
    @yankeeinGA - my kids used to eat the sugary oatmeal too, but have found a much healthier alternative. Try getting her a small crock pot - she can cook steel-cut oatmeal in it which is much healthier than the regular kind. 1 part steel cut oatmeal to 4 parts water, add a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon, cut up peeled apples or anything else she wants to add. Turn it on before she goes to bed, cook on low setting overnight, and it is ready when she wakes up in the morning!
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,532 Senior Member
    Some schools will allow students to decline a meal plan if allergies or celiac make participation difficult or dangerous. Registering with the disabilities office and having an MD request this as an accommodation might help. Of course then the student misses out on the social aspects of the meal plan. We have never taken that route, but someone mentioned the problem of meal plans upthread.
  • JenJenJenJenJenJenJenJen Registered User Posts: 841 Member
    My D17 has Celiac, and @compmom on college tours she saw quite a few LACs with wonderful accommodations, like Wesleyan had a GF section of the cafeteria. Elsewhere, her college tour guide where she ended up going had Celiac too, and I suspect that was a significant part of why she applied to that school ED!
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,532 Senior Member
    One of mine has anaphylaxis with lobster, crab and shrimp. Another one of mine has celiac, type 1 diabetes (and seizure disorder). With the exception of some very small schools in the arts, we did not run into any schools that weren't accommodating and helpful. Of course GF is fashionable now so the main challenge is making sure that personnel understand the difference between that kind of GF and celiac.

    My kids did NOT choose schools on this basis. The whole point of the Americans with Disabilities Act is that anyone can go anywhere (where they get in) and disabilities should not factor into choices. In theory, that is! But we felt the only way to make theory become practice was to proceed as if the ideal was reality.

    But then again, tour guides have an awful lot of influence on kids in many areas : )

    My daughter is much stricter with her celiac now. During college she had so many health challenges that I think celiac fell by the wayside at times. Not that she ever intended to eat gluten, but as you know, bad things happen without intense scrutiny and self-advocacy.
  • yankeeinGAyankeeinGA Registered User Posts: 226 Junior Member
    @LYLMom that sounds delicious... to ME. ;) Said kid is also picky (because the allergies and vegetarianism aren't enough...) and won't touch steel cut oats. (Oh, well. More for me!)
  • david6kdavid6k Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    Just a quick recommendation -- we just came back from a college tour to NY and New England, mostly tech schools. Due to son's food allergies, we made a point of eating in a dining hall at each school, and contacted admissions offices ahead of time to see if they could arrange a meeting with food staff. The absolute winner was RPI. The dietitian absolutely knew her stuff, and connected with my son in a way that made him feel like he would readily reach out and talk to her if he needed something. They have a dedicated room off of a main dining hall where allergy friendly food is stored and can be prepared (they have multiple cooking appliances in there with different labels - gluten free, kosher, etc). It's only accessible by students whose campus IDs have been authorized. The dietitian said if there is a particular food my son likes that fits their criteria, she will get it and stock it in that room. We were super impressed. Liked the school otherwise too.
  • wisteria100wisteria100 Registered User Posts: 3,121 Senior Member
    @david6k I think a lot of schools do have the accommodations you speak of. The tour guides may not know all the details, but at many schools, if you have a food allergy you register with health services, meet with a dietician/food services and then get service like what you describe at RPI. Once enrolled, you usually aren't left to forage the salad bar on your own.
  • david6kdavid6k Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    @wisteria100 Well, we went to five campuses in four days. All the schools had accommodations, but the ease with which we could use them varied quite a lot. For example, at one school, they had big signs on all the food serving stations in the dining hall -- "please inform us if you have a food allergy." So my son went to one of the serving stations and talked to the person serving. The server's English was poor, my son wasn't able to make himself understood, and there wasn't anyone else at the station, so my son gave up on that food and went to try and find something else. And that school's admissions office didn't arrange for us to talk to anyone, they just replied to my son's inquiry by directing us to this dining hall, which was supposed to be the allergy-friendly one. If they have a dedicated room for students with allergies, no one told us and we didn't see it.
  • greenbuttongreenbutton Registered User Posts: 2,367 Senior Member
    As part of an ongoing cycle of renovations, Penn State UP added an allergen-free/kosher dining cafe to their largest dining commons. It's called Pure, and just opened this semester. Food is prepared right there, in separate kitchen, prep area. It's supervised by a rabbi (apologies, I am not Jewish but I know there is a term for him) who determines that everything is proper.

    all the other dining commons continue to have a gluten-free station (really just a microwave and fridge) for celiac students -- self service with limited choices. Several of the little convenience cafes stock gf frozen food, and the commons' managers are very receptive to feedback.
  • scubadivescubadive Registered User Posts: 594 Member
    edited October 2017
    You need to get your child classified as disabled with disabilty services. With that, accommodations can be put in place and depending on the situation exempted from the meal plan and/or certain housing situations.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,532 Senior Member
    david6k, I hope you or your child don't let any of those visiting experiences dissuade him from applying. Sometimes it takes a little while to set up a real meeting with dining services, and there are probably resources not obvious with a quick visit to the dining hall (for instance, one of mine w/allergies was given a book with recipes and the personal email of the head chef; another one of mine was given a number to call for advance preparation of meals for celiacs etc.). And admissions may not be in the know. Once admitted and serious about going, our experience has been that schools are very eager to please and accommodate. (And yes register with the Office of Disabilities.)
  • david6kdavid6k Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    @compmom @scubadive I originally posted to share a particularly positive story (RPI) from our visits, not to suggest that other schools can't do well if given a chance.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,532 Senior Member
    edited October 2017
    Post 52 was positive, post 54 was not, which is fine. I just wanted to make the point that once admitted, it is easier to evaluate these things and visiting before admission can be misleading. 3,600 people have read this thread and I had them in mind.
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