As I'm starting my college search, finding schools that can accommodate my food allergies is one of my top priorities. Throughout high school, my food allergies have hindered my experience in many ways: my school cafeteria is not very food allergy-friendly, kids often say rude comments, and there aren’t many accommodating restaurants around my school area. With this in mind, it’s important for me to look for colleges that are food allergy-friendly.
1) Finding a food allergy-friendly dining hall
In college, the dining hall is the main place where students go for meals, so it is important that the dining hall has options for people with allergies. While it is impossible for everything at a dining hall to accommodate everyone, labeling ingredients can be really helpful. When I visit a dining hall on a college visit, one of the first things I look for is if they provide ingredient lists and disclose allergens for each dish. With an ingredients list next to each item, I can easily identify if the food is safe for me or not. Another thing I look for when visiting a dining hall is if they have a “top 9 free” section. In these sections, there are various main and side dishes that are free of the top 9 allergens. If a school has an abundant “top 9 free” section, then I know that I will be able to find a lot of different options that I can eat daily. While the offerings may vary, I will always know that they will be free from the top 9 allergens. Lastly, I look for how good the dining hall is at preventing cross-contamination: are there separate spoons for each dish? Is the dairy-free milk in a separate section from the dairy? Understanding how a school’s dining hall handles cross-contamination can show me how safe I will be if I chose to eat something from the normal line.
2) Making sure there are other dining options/restaurants around campus that are food allergy-friendly
While the dining hall is a great place to start, I know that there will be times when I want to have a meal off-campus or go out to dinner with friends, so it is important to make sure there are other dining options around campus when I visit a school. Many campuses are close to a grocery store, so I like to take a visit around the closest supermarket to a campus to scope out what kind of snacks/prepared food they offer that I can eat. Then, I always check out what restaurants are around a campus. I have a few go-to chain restaurants that I know work for me (ex: Chipotle), so I first check to see if they have any of those dining options in the area. Then, I’ll check out the local restaurants and restaurants I’m unfamiliar with in the area. I research the menus, look through reviews, and talk to the chefs to see if the restaurant will work for me. In general, when looking at restaurants, I always try to make sure they have one food option that works for me, and I use that as my go-to if I were ever to go there for dinner so I know exactly what to get and know that it works for me.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Speaking up and asking questions is always the best way to advocate for yourself, and that still applies when looking for food allergy-friendly schools. Whether that’s emailing the dining hall director at a school’s dining hall or asking students about their dining experiences at a school, speaking up is an effective way to get answers from people who have first-hand experience with the school. People on campus can often give you in-depth answers to questions that may be vague on a school website, and they can offer valuable perspectives on the dining experience even if they don’t have allergies.
As I head into the summer before my senior year in high school, these are the things I will be doing to find the colleges that can best accommodate my food allergies. Food allergies are an integral part of my identity; they affect more than just how I eat, but how I live my life. I want to find a school that values me for who I am, and a huge part of that starts with how they accommodate my allergies. My “perfect fit” in a school will always have food allergies as a top priority.