As students research colleges, they should visit the dining services section of each website and learn as much as possible.
Navigating dietary restrictions in college isn’t easy. Transitioning from home-cooked meals to college dining can pose serious challenges to students. 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 each website and learn as much as possible. Then, as students narrow their list and plan campus visits, they should 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 answer pertinent questions?
Is there an option to room with a student with the same allergy?
Are resident advisors (RAs) 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 regulations, universities must modify their meal service plan so that students with fully documented 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.
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 accommodations
- 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 school cannot ensure a safe dining environment.
- This may include exempting the student from a mandated meal plan.
If regular housing options with roommate assignment is not a safe option, students may request a single room (“medical single”) based on appropriate documentation and medical provider’s recommendation.
Additional guides and resources: