How To

How to Handle Your Food Allergies In College

Since moving 3 hours from my hometown to Grand Valley State University, I have become a daily passenger on the renowned "struggle bus". Before coming to college I was force-fed cheesy parables of what I really needed to know for survival, but no one bothered to tell me how to accommodate my food allergies in college.

This is the first time in my life I'm not surrounded by friends and family who knowingly maintain a 5 foot radius from me after scarfing down their Nutella filled snack or granola bar. While growing comfortable with my new sense of independence, my tree nut allergy was simultaneously becoming autonomous, making eating hazardous and increasing my homesickness tenfold. 

Upon investigation I cultivated these tips for assuring safe meals to keep you focused on everything else campus has to offer:

1. Be Mindful Of Your Meal's Proces

In all of the cafeteria style dining halls, you are able to see the assembly of your meal, which provides ample opportunity to observe what is being put on their plate. The key to this is understanding the components of your specific allergy. Those allergic to gluten need to pay attention to the deep fryers, as what goes in might be gluten free but the oil may be previously contaminated.

Be aware of what ingredients are next to others in the assembly line! It's a safe bet that you'll get what you ordered, but there is always a possibility for a stray almond sneaking into your Caesar salad! 

2. MyFresh Pantry

Grand Valley has built a small station in the left wing of the Fresh Food Company called MyFresh Pantry, dedicated to utensils and ingredients that have been cleaned and prepared in a low allergen environment. Due to it's self serve nature, the station cannot guarantee that it is 100% allergen free, but it still provides people with allergies safer alternatives. 

  There is a fridge stocked with various small meals and snacks, as well as a toaster and waffle maker specifically reserved for gluten free products. This is an incredible addition to the school, as it not only provides a safe space for those feeling isolated by dealing with food allergies in college, but it provides security by allowing them to create the meal for themselves. 

3. ASK For What You Need!

Don't be afraid to ask if there is a gluten free option, for workers to change their gloves, clean serving utensils or fresh pans, or even request to be "served food from the back of the house". Your well-being is not a burden and food services are happy to accommodate for food allergies if you communicate this with them.

4. Visit The C-Store For Frozen Meal

C-Stores are littered all around campus and often used as pit-stops for small snacks and amenities that you might need in a pinch. For us with dietary restrictions in college, snacking is not as leisurely as it's made to sound.

Luckily, our campus has a few alternatives. As well as a large variety of fruits and sweets, there is a frozen food section where you can find pre-made gluten free, soy free, and tree nut/peanut free burritos and gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and lactose free mac & cheese!

5. Consult the Campus Dietitian

Grand Valley has their very own fantastic Dietician, Mary Cummings! Upon meeting with Mary you'll have the opportunity to fill out a Specialty Diet Request Form, (asking basic information such as your name, residence hall/address, emergency contact, type of accommodation, duration of accommodation, etc.) and using this information they'll adjust the products available on campus to match the demand within the student population.

When meeting with Mary, she'll help to craft an individual meal plan that fits comfortably within your lifestyle. She is also always available for ingredient consultations, providing nutrition information and ingredients lists.

Mary Cummings can be contacted at mary_cummings@gvsu.edu or 616-331-8989. 

It is ultimately the student's responsibility to accommodate for their needs (one of the many pleasures of adulthood), but Grand Valley has the resources to make this transition into a new environment a little smoother. 13 weeks into my freshman year, I have reclaimed my meals and am on the path to "figuring it out", one day at a time.