Navigating the College Search for Student with Celiac Disease and Food Allergies
Transitioning from home-cooked meals to college dining can pose serious challenges to students with medically-restricted diets and/or food allergies. Navigating college dining can also be an arduous process. Many colleges require purchasing a meal plan, but they are not always transparent about where the food is coming from, whether the dining halls are safely equipped to serve all students, or if the dining staff is trained to accommodate students’ dietary needs. As students research colleges, they should visit the dining services section of the website and learn as much as possible. Then, as students narrow their list and plan campus visits, it would be invaluable to make an appointment with dining services and/or the disability/accessibility office, and ask some pertinent questions:
- Is there a gluten free dining hall?
- Is it available for all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)?
- If there is no separate dining hall: Are there gluten-free/allergen-free food stations at each dining hall on campus?
- Are they available at every meal?
- Are food items and ingredients clearly labeled?
- Is there a gluten-free menu on the website?
- If a student is exempt from mandatory meal plans, are there other accommodations to ensure the student has access to safe food (e.g. a dorm room with access to a private kitchen or a safe food preparation area in the dorm)?
- Is there a professional dietician/nutritionist on campus, and is this person available to meet to answer pertinent questions?
- Is there an option to room with a student with the same allergy?
- Are resident advisors (RA) trained in case of an allergic reaction emergency?
Some students may need to register with the college’s disability/accessibility office in order to meet their dietary needs.
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations (with proper documentation), universities must modify their meal service plan so that students with food allergies or celiac disease can safely participate in meals served. Therefore, it is important to reach out to the appropriate office early, even during the college search process, to inquire about the accommodation guidelines and process. The student may want to schedule an appointment with the appropriate staff during a campus visit and ask how they accommodate students with allergies and/or celiac disease.
Here are some important factors to consider if the student is planning to register with the college’s accessibility/disability office once admitted to the institution:
- It is the student’s responsibility to notify the school (typically the office of disability/accessibility) and provide documentation to request accommodations and/or modifications.
- Look for the following information on the disability/ accessibility website:
- Current policies and procedures for requesting accommodation
- Contact information of appropriate staff
- Documentation guidelines
- Accommodation or student intake form(s)
- Schedule an appointment to discuss dietary needs and what accommodations and/or modifications can be made:
- Including: dining, academic, and housing as outlined under reasonable accommodations below.
- Inquire if they have a professional dietician/nutritionist on campus and if this person is involved in the registration process. If possible, set up an appointment with that person as well.
The student may wonder what kind of modifications/accommodations will be available for students with medically restricted diets and/or food allergies on campus? While each school will determine reasonable accommodations/modifications on a case by case basis, here are some requests to consider:
- Flexibility with attendance and/or deadlines when the student experiences a food allergy or celiac reaction.
- This would ensure that the student will not be penalized for missing a class.
- Class adjustments, if necessary and appropriate.
- For example, a culinary student may need to prepare only foods without their allergen(s) or a biology student may need to avoid handling their allergen(s) in a lab.
- Access to separate areas to prepare/store safe meals, pre-ordered meals, or off-campus living arrangements if the school cannot ensure a safe dining environment.
- This may include exempting the student from a mandated meal plan.
- If regular housing options with roommate assignments are not a safe option, students may request a single room (“medical single”) based on appropriate documentation and the medical provider’s recommendation.
Additional guides and resources:
- Gluten Free Guide to College – A student’s guide to navigating the gluten free diet in college
- Eating Right on Campus with Celiac Disease
- Gluten-Free in College Toolkit
- Colleges That Go the Distance for Students with Food Allergies
- Gluten Free College 101
- FARE – Food Allergy College Search
Tags: allergies, celiac disease, college freshmen, college living, diet restrictions, dinning hall, gluten free