How To Hack the Dining Hall if You're Gluten-Free
Eating gluten-free is hard enough at home, but the challenges seem to multiply when you go off to college and aren't in total control of how your food is prepared. Plus, when the average college diet seems to consist of instant ramen, pizza, and Kraft mac and cheese, your options can appear to be gravely limited. But there is still hope, if you know where to look.
Eat the Options Provided
Obviously, if your campus advertises gluten-free options, head for those straightaway. My campus has a gluten-free station in three of the four dining halls, and I know plenty of universities have similar accommodations. So start there and eat worry-free.
Pick and Choose
However, if you don’t have a specialty area in your university or you just don't feel like eating at one of the strictly gluten-free stations, it's possible to pick and choose from other stations. I eat from the salad bar often, which is something that surprised me, since I've never been a huge vegetable fan. But even if I can’t eat anything else in the dining hall, vegetables are naturally gluten free and are always readily available. And I will be the first to admit that I had to actually learn to like salads and that I’m totally not perfect and choose French fries over salads more often than is probably good for me. It is definitely a learning process. As for other stations, I also eat at whatever Mexican/Tex-Mex station there is, since beans and rice and guacamole are safe bets. I bring gluten free bread to the sandwich station and occasionally eat soup if I can tell or find out if it's gluten-free. The only places I tend to shy away from are the Asian-inspired station (since soy sauce has gluten) and the pasta station (gluten-free pasta is a rarity).
Make It Yourself
While it’s always a good idea to use the dining plan you paid for by eating in the dining halls as often as possible, sometimes you need something the dining hall can’t make gluten-free. In that case, my advice is to treat the dining hall like a grocery store rather than a restaurant; you can get ingredients, but not the entire meal. My go-to is swiping shredded cheese from the salad bar and refried beans from the Mexican station and making a quesadilla with gluten-free tortillas in my dorm.
Talk to Your Nutritionist
Now, while I do have to deal with eating gluten-free foods in the campus dining hall, I don't have as much of a problem with cross-contamination as most gluten-intolerant people do. But I know the gluten-free stations definitely accommodate to that, and the people in other stations are happy to change their gloves when handling gluten-free food. If you have to be aware of cross-contamination as well avoiding eating gluten, I highly, highly suggest talking to your school’s nutritionist. The nutritionist is trained to answer your questions and can help you adapt to your specific university and what they offer. For example, I would have never know Baylor had three gluten-free stations in the dining halls if I hadn’t talked to the nutritionist.
It may seem like a daunting, even impossible task, to some, but eating gluten free is remarkably doable, even when you are far from home. By taking advantage of what things your college offers, working around what foods you can't eat, and getting guidance from a nutritionist, being gluten-free on a college campus a totally doable.