How can I manage food allergies at college?
College is an amazing, worthwhile, and eye-opening experience, but there’s a lot to prepare for before attending. No, it’s not signing up for courses or remembering to bring a toothbrush (well, maybe it is). It’s your food allergies.
Food allergies can damper the ideal college experience; there’s so much to avoid and so many people to inform. However, planning and preparing beforehand can make living on your own and enjoying college just as wonderful and crazy as you want it to be.
Keep your friends and roommates aware of your food allergies
The best way to avoid allergic reactions is to inform people about your food allergies. There is no need to shout out details to the world (unless you like to shout out details) but casually bring up your needs when you meet friends and roommates. Don’t worry if you have to repeat yourself a few times – people can forget. Just be patient and always aware. And be sure to show them how to use your epinephrine injector (you keep one with you, right???) Let them know that if you’re experiencing anaphylaxis, they should give you the epinephrine shot immediately, then call 911.
Buy and cook your own food
The college dining hall, despite everyone’s best efforts, will contain some form of food allergy. People need to eat and not everyone is allergic to the same thing. You can instead buy your own food and avoid the limited quantity of allergy-free meals at the dining hall. Not only will you become a 5-star chef in the process, you will impress fellow college students with your stellar cooking skills. It’s a win-win scenario.
Talk to cafeteria supervisors about your food allergies
If option 2 isn’t so convenient for you (we understand if you hate doing dishes), talk to the cafeteria/food supervisors. They can direct you to dishes that don’t include your food allergens. Your conversation will also help bring awareness to the statistic of students with food allergies. In turn, your voice is heard, and the food staff can potentially prepare more allergy-friendly meals.
Plan non-food related activities with friends
Yes, you can hang out with friends without the inclusion of food. I can make an entire list of foodless events (and maybe I will), but it honestly is that simple. If food does become involved, return to option 1 for help.
Inform your Resident Adviser about your allergy
This relates to option 1, but with an additional point. Your RA is meant to help with the well-being of every student in the dorm. By informing them of your medical condition, they can help spread the word about your allergy and keep the dorm safe. Also, if you are ever at your dorm and having an allergic reaction, your RA can help provide the medical attention you need.
Be on the lookout for allergy cross-contamination in the dorm common area
This is one that I’m actually sad to bring up because the common area is there to help students connect, but it’s also a place where food cross-contamination can be dangerous to someone with food allergies. Many common areas have an oven and refrigerator, allowing for some cooking to take place. Plus, students bring in all sorts of snacks from vending machines, fast food restaurants, and munchies from home. I like to think of myself as trusting, but I’m not as trusting of students cleaning up after themselves in the common area. Yes, they can get some surfaces clean, but maybe they didn’t clean that pan as well as they should have. Just saying.
Ultimately, you have a responsibility to yourself to be your own best advocate. When you take time to understand your responsibilities, to educate your friends and roommates, and to learn about resources your college has available, you will help set yourself up for a fantastic college experience.
Lindsee Hasenoehrl Baker is an artist, hobby enthusiast, and freelance writer. Her lifelong experience with difficult allergies and eczema inspires her to learn more about the conditions and to support others with chronic illness.
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