It’s normal to feel both excited and a little bit nervous when heading off to college for the first time. But if you have celiac disease or follow a gluten-free diet, you might feel more than a bit anxious that you’ll end up getting sick from accidentally consuming gluten in your new home-away-from-home.
At home, your family has (hopefully!) figured out a system to keep you safe. Your family members prepare gluten-free meals and understand the risks of gluten cross-contact. But at college, you’ll be living with roommates you’ve likely never met before and eating the majority of your meals in a dining hall. Will they have enough options for you? Can they guarantee that the french fries weren’t cooked in the same oil as the onion rings? Will your otherwise great roommate leave bagel crumbs all over the counter every morning?
It’s a lot to think about, but the good news is eating gluten-free at college is totally doable. Here are five tips so that finding gluten-free food is one less thing you have to worry about once the semester starts.
1. Talk to dining services directors and campus dietitians.
Before you show up on campus for the fall semester—and ideally before you’ve made your final decision about what school to attend—have a conversation with the people in charge of food services. It’s often not clear from a college’s website what gluten-free options are available in the dining hall, but some colleges have surprisingly good gluten-free protocols in place. Others, not so much. Either way, you don’t want it to be a surprise when you show up for your first week of classes. Ask questions about how food is prepared, what gluten-free options are available daily, whether menus with ingredients are posted in advance, and if it’s possible to order specially prepared gluten-free meals.
2. Visit the cafeteria to see the gluten-free area for yourself.
Even after talking to dining services managers, some college students with celiac disease report showing up on campus to find that the school had over-promised on what it could deliver. Since it’s incredibly frustrating to find yourself in that position, make sure to take your time looking around the dining hall when you visit campus. Is the gluten-free area right next to the regular cereal bar, making cross contamination likely? Is it stocked with more than just a loaf of gluten-free bread? Is the “gluten-free” chicken being cooked on a grill next to grilled cheese sandwiches? Your meal plan is expensive, and you need to be able to actually use it!
The good news is colleges are increasingly aware of the needs of students with celiac disease and other food allergies. Some colleges have independently certified gluten-free dining areas, and Kent State in Ohio became the first U.S. college to open a 100-percent gluten-free dining hall in 2016.
3. Register with the disability office.
You might not think of celiac disease as a disability, but registering with the disability office at your college will ensure you are eligible for special gluten-free meal options if your school doesn’t already offer a full gluten-free menu. It will also be there to help you navigate excused absences from class and exams if your symptoms prevent you from attending.
4. Store and cook food safely in the dorm.
College dorm kitchens aren’t known for being particularly clean, which is why it’s important to make sure your gluten-free snacks are stored away from any rouge crumbs or splatters. Claim the top shelf of the refrigerator for your own food (crumbs travel downwards) or get your own mini-fridge, and store your pantry items in a plastic tote. (These tips for sharing a kitchen with gluten eaters can help, too.)
Also, explain to your roommates what celiac disease is and ask that they be mindful of cleaning up crumbs and covering food in the microwave to prevent splatters. If it’s possible for you to connect with other new students online before the semester starts, you might even be able to find a fellow gluten-free roomie to live with!
5. Keep plenty of gluten-free snacks and quick meals on hand.
No matter how good your school’s gluten-free dining options are, you’re going to need snacks. Mikey’s Gluten-Free Pizza Pockets are an easy, dorm-friendly meal or midnight snack, but we’ve got plenty of other ideas, too:
- - Fresh fruit or fruit cups
- - Gluten-free cereal
- - Gluten-free crackers
- - Gluten-free granola bars
- - Gluten-free mac and cheese
- - Gluten-free pretzels
- - Gluten-free soups
- - Hummus
- - Mikey’s Gluten-Free English Muffins
- - Mikey’s Gluten-Free Pizza Pockets
- - Nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- - Peanut butter or nut butter
- - Popcorn
- - Salsa
- - Tortilla chips
- - Veggie sticks
- - Yogurt