Eating in the dining halls is an inevitable part of the college experience, but finding food that you can actually eat can be tough when you have allergies. Gluten, dairy, peanuts, and fish are some of the most common allergens that are guaranteed to show up in the dining halls.
But living the college life with allergies is easier than you think. With these tips, you’ll be able to rest easy (and start leaving the epi-pen at home).
Look for the allergens list.
While you may have a love-hate relationship with them, allergens lists are your first line of defense when it comes to navigating the dining halls. Without them, you’d have to ask someone to recite the ingredients, which would require more social interaction and time than your hungry self can handle.
Hit up the salad bar.
Don’t groan — the best part of a salad is that you control what goes in it, so you can conceivably make it delicious if you want to. Think of it like building a Chipotle burrito bowl and try to replicate your favorite order.
#SpoonTip: Top your salad with whatever protein your cafeteria is serving that day. If you’re looking for a vegetarian or vegan option, try tofu.
Talk to the staff and chefs.
They’re there for a reason! Find someone who knows the kitchen and voice your concerns. Don’t worry about disturbing them — it’s their job to feed kids and keep them healthy. Your life is at stake, and that’s more important than anything.
Avoid the bread and sandwich stations.
For those with gluten allergies, this is an immediate no-go. Even if your dining hall blesses you with gluten-free bread, you never know what utensils or food have come in contact with the allergen. Cross contamination is an invisible enemy that you always need to keep in mind.
Take advantage of special allergen stations.
Some schools are fortunate enough to provide kitchens, meals, or pans specifically for students with allergies, so if your school has one, take advantage of this! The dishes are altered to mimic meals that other students are having while eliminating the top allergens, making them safe for everyone.
An article from USA Today reports that Brown, College of the Holy Cross, and Franklin and Marshall College are a few colleges that have opened allergen stations, and I can personally attest for the allergen station at UC Berkeley’s Crossroads Dining Hall.
So if you choose to visit a dining hall for your next meal, even if you don’t have an allergy, take note of what measures the dining hall takes. Eating at the dining halls doesn’t have to be a scary experience (unless you’re talking about taste, which is a different story). Just remember to be your own advocate. After all, your health should be your #1 priority.