Surviving College. Thriving Gluten-Free.

Graduating from high school and heading off to college is a very exciting chapter in a person’s life. It’s the time when young men and women leave home and embark on the journey to find their calling in life.

For many, this includes their first attempt at living semi-independently, away from their parents, siblings, and childhood friends. The start of freshman year can be a real challenge for a person with celiac disease or anyone who requires a gluten- free diet. However, by planning ahead and being proactive the transition can be made as seamless as possible, or even as easy as (gluten-free) pie….

Even before enrolling in a university, it is wise to first contact the school’s department of dining services to get a feel for their knowledge base, degree of conscientiousness and willingness to accommodate the gluten-free lifestyle. A few simple questions are often all one needs to garnish this critical information.

  • Does the program offer gluten-free meals on a daily basis?
  • Are they available in all the dining halls or one designated area?
  • Are they included in the price of the regular meal plan?
  • How does the college determine if the ingredients they are using are in fact gluten free?
  • Will the program supply gluten free breads, bagels, cereals, cookies, pizza crusts and pastas?
  • If not, will you be allowed to bring your own food into the dining hall?
  • Ask if you can take a look at their gluten-free menu or item list, and if the campus is at a distance from you, have them put a copy in the mail for your review.

Once you have chosen a school and have formally enrolled, set up the necessary meetings to get your needs “on the table” before the semester actually starts. Introduce yourself to the managers, chefs and servers of the primary foodservice establishments where you will be eating. Remember to communicate with them on a regular basis and to openly discuss any requests, concerns or needs.

It is also a good idea to check out the local restaurants and pubs situated around the college or university to determine which have gluten free menus, their hours of operation, and whether or not they deliver on campus. Find a local grocery or health food store that carries your favorite gluten-free snacks or products, so that you can keep your dorm or apartment well-stocked.

A Few Specifics:

In the Dorm:

  • Ask if you will be allowed to keep a refrigerator or microwave in your room. There are plenty of delicious, simple recipes that can be made in a microwave.
  • Make sure that you stock your room full of gluten free snacks, such as breads, bagels, chips, peanut butter, cookies, granola, protein bars, etc.,
  • Be prepared for just in case of “emergencies” situations such as late night munchies or not wanting to walk to the dining hall in the pouring rain.

In an Apartment:

Living in an off-campus apartment comes with the “luxury” of having your own kitchen for preparing meals. Chances are you will also have roommates.

  • Friends and roommates will need some education from you with regard to gluten intolerance and the specifics of the diet. It is advised that they learn about the seriousness of your condition, and the importance of working carefully in the kitchen to avoid cross contamination.
  • A simple example to share with roommates might be that using a knife in the peanut butter, cream cheese or butter to spread on a piece of wheat bread can’t be dipped back into the container without causing a cross-contamination situation.
  • A good idea is to have one designated gluten-free cabinet in the kitchen, as well as a separate, uncontaminated toaster.
  • Even a labeled bin with a lid in the refrigerator for storing gluten-free cold cuts, breads, salad dressings or leftovers may be helpful.

Remember to thank your college food service providers when they are doing a good job or bending over backwards to meet your needs. A few small compliments can go a long, long way…