The Gluten-Free Road to College

It’s finally August, which means that fall semester is just weeks away for incoming college freshmen. But while many students are probably chomping at the bit while thinking about the independence they’ll gain in college, gluten-free students are most likely worrying about what they’ll be able to eat in the dining halls. But maintaining a gluten-free diet in college doesn’t have to be as difficult as getting an A in statistics! Follow these ten easy steps to keep yourself on the gluten-free track.

  1. Buy a mini-fridge and/or microwave to keep your gluten-free food in. Before you purchase one, though, check with housing services to find out more about your college’s wattage guidelines. If you decide to share either of these appliances with your roommate(s), make sure that they understand how to prevent cross-contamination of their food with yours.
  2. Talk to your roommate(s) about your allergy. Don’t oversimplify your explanation, but don’t make it overly complicated either. Get across the point that even one crumb of gluten can make you sick, which is why you’ll be keeping all of your snacks, cleaning supplies (ie: sponges, towels), tupperware, and dishes separate from theirs. If you’re sharing a kitchen or cooking space with your roommate(s), ask them to wipe down surfaces after their done cooking so as to avoid cross-contamination.
  3. Meet with the dining services director and talk to dining hall chefs. When you meet with the director of dining services, tell him that you’re gluten-free and ask about accommodations the school can offer, gluten-free meals they’ve served in the past or could prepare for you, and even how many gluten-free students they’ve served or plan to serve this school year. After you’re done, walk around and talk to the chefs and dining hall staff. Ask them how they prepare gluten-free meals, if they know how to prevent cross-contamination, and which gluten-free meals they’ve served in the past.
  4. Consider opting out of a meal plan. If it doesn’t seem like there’s many gluten-free options in your college’s dining hall, ask dining services about opting out of your meal plan. Use the money you save to purchase gluten-free snacks at grocery stores or gluten-free meals at local restaurants.
  5. Figure out which grocery store has the best gluten-free food selection. Stock up on gluten-free snacks and frozen meals that you can keep in your dorm room. If there’s a particular gluten-free snack you’d like but don’t see on the shelves, don’t be afraid to ask the grocery store manager if they’ll look into carrying it for you.
  6. Pack gluten-free snacks. Always remember to bring one or two gluten-free snacks with you wherever you go, even if you’re not planning on eating. You never know when your friends may want to grab a snack or meal that may not be gluten-free, so it’s always good to bring a snack so you don’t have to sit there hungrily watching them eat!
  7. BYO gluten-free alcohol. If you’re over the age of 21 and going to a party, consider legally carrying closed bottles of gluten-free alcohol with you when you go out with friends. Just throw a four pack of New Planet Beer in your purse before you head to your friend’s party!
  8. Carry an allergy card with you to give to waitresses, chefs, etc. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has a very informative allergy card at the end of their Gluten-Free Guide to College. Print it out or create your own and carry it with you.
  9. Simplify your allergy story. Think of it like a gluten-free elevator speech; make sure that it’s easy to explain to anyone you meet. Be open and honest about your allergy with your friends, dorm staff, etc.
  10. Parents, send your student gluten-free snacks. Students love getting care packages during their freshman year, so remember to send gluten-free snack packs, especially around midterms and finals!

Don’t let living a gluten-free lifestyle hold you back. Remember that you can do anything other college students do!

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