Looking for a gluten-free college to fit your needs?
There are steps to take, homework to complete and questions to ask. Doing so, you can find your safe place to live gluten-free on campus.
Choosing a college has its own set of challenges. Living with food allergies adds in another element of uncertainty. The good news is that more colleges and universities are setting up their schools for food allergy success.
As my oldest child gets set to start her senior year, I am pondering the tremendous growth she has achieved over these past few years in High School. Honestly, this is not a year I have been looking forward to as I cannot even imagine our household without her. Sending her off to college will be exciting yet bittersweet. I know it will be time to let her step out on her own.
As I let my daughter spread her wings, I will be sending her off with lots of tools which hopefully she will implement going forward.
One tool is managing her gluten-free life on her own!
She will be stepping up to choose, prepare and eat safe gluten-free food. It is time for her to manage her gluten-free life on her own. Even though she has had practice in our own home, as well as during camps and trips without the family, I want to make this a smooth transition.
This all takes research, planning and lots of questions. I know in the end we will find a safe school – in all aspects. But, here, I am referring to safely eating every day without being sick or worrying about every bite she will be taking.
Realizing that food allergies are relevant and growing, many schools are now on board. Even better, Beyond Celiac offers a fabulous program, the Great Kitchens and Great Schools Program, that trains colleges and universities to create a successful experience for those with Celiac Disease. This is super positive for our children living with Celiac Disease or gluten-intolerance.
So . . . how do you find a safe gluten-free college
to fit your needs?
First of all, go through the steps of looking at colleges: What type of school are you interested in: private, state, or a religious-based school? Do you want a large or small school? Are you interested in a city or rural school? Finding a school far from home or close to your family? Which extra-curricular activities are you interested in joining? These are all important pieces to ponder.
Programs of Interest?
Most importantly, look at the schools that offer your area of studies and programs of interest. Education is the priority here!
Gluten-Free Meal Plans
Once you have an idea of the above issues, look into gluten-free colleges, schools that offer meal plans for those with food allergies. Talk with family, and friends – really anyone you know about their experience at college. You can hear first hand about campus food, and whether they serve the food allergy community well. You can also google “gluten-free colleges” to help determine your school of choice. This will help narrow, or possibly grow your list. Unfortunately, you may find a school you are interested in may not fit your needs at all for safely eating in their school cafeterias.
Visit the Schools
Visiting different schools will help you navigate these questions to find your best fit.
Safe Places for Food Prep
Some colleges offer multiple cafeterias, multiple menus and even special kitchens where students with allergies can go and cook on their own – a safe place to prepare and eat their own food. All pretty amazing!
Snacks for Everyone?
Many tours talk quite a lot of all the hot cookies and pizza that can be delivered to the dorms late at night while studying. Of course, they also like to point out all the snack options as you walk through campus. Talk to the schools, see the cafeteria managers and find out what is offered for gluten-free students as well.
This is where your questions come into play! (More on this later!)
Visit the Cafeteria Manager
On your college tour, do your best to meet with a cafeteria manager or someone in the food service area. They are typically willing to show you around and explain how things are run for safe gluten-free eating. Many have systems in place to keep students safely eating and in class all semester. Certainly the last thing you want your child doing is spending time in their dorm room, not in class, due to being sick from foods they are served.
I have been pleased at how the colleges we visited are taking care of their students with food allergies. The University of Connecticut, Boston University and the University of Pittsburgh are all prepared for students with food allergies. Each had steps in place, cafeterias to choose from and lots of daily options. They each had certain systems to follow and explained that you would be eating safely and know the cafeteria manager. That sure made us feel great to hear – and see!
Unfortunately, one school we visited was a huge disappointment, even after stating they had gluten-free options. On the tour of this very prestigious school, they explained that their cafeteria offered people with food allergies a “plain and simple meal plan”. That answer did not make us feel good –especially knowing the tuition of this school! Be careful of schools who want to look like they have it all in place – yet do not.
Over the years my daughter has also attended summer camps at different colleges. This can give you a glimpse of what to expect. One school had everything in place to serve her healthy and safe gluten-free foods her whole time on campus. The second school told us all was set – yet when she entered the cafeteria for lunch, the kitchen staff had no idea what she was talking about – and worse, they explained that even if it is gluten-free there would be no guarantees that it was safely prepared. Meaning, this second school had no idea how to run a safe cafeteria for those with food allergies. Huge disappointment!
Go out and find your fit as to size, place and area of studies. Next find the gluten-free schools that fit your picks. Go to the schools, see what they have in place, ask the questions and soon you can be studying at a wonderful gluten-free college that will safely fit your needs.
Interested in a campus you cannot visit? Call and speak to the Food manager to discuss their gluten-free college experience just as you would if you were there.
Come back next week as I share specific questions to ask while on your tour to help find the best gluten-free college for you!