College is supposed to be a time for making new friends. Being vegan, vegetarian, lactose intolerant, dairy-free, or grossed out by any food coming from the udder of an animal shouldn't prevent you from having a great time at your university. However, between ice cream socials and pizza parties, it's easy to feel excluded. 

Being lactose intolerant myself, I know how it feels to be surrounded by people who want to get a group together to go out for pizza and be the only one to either decline the invitation or tag along and have to explain why I'm not eating anything or why I'm eating the salad. 

Here are some tips on how to live a dairy-free life in college without sacrificing a social life—or your sanity.

1. Don't fear the dining hall

pizza, beer
Ashleigh Monaco

Universities all over the country have become much more helpful to students with dietary preferences. If you're invited to go eat lunch at the dining hall with some of your classmates, don't fear not being able to find any options and sitting at the table awkwardly not eating. Focus on getting to know some new friends and relaxing between classes instead of focusing on the food.

Most dining halls now have symbols on each food label (ex: the University of Iowa has a milk carton symbol on any foods containing dairy) so you'll know what you can and can't eat. If you have any questions about the food, the staff is there to help you and answer any questions.

2. Don't be afraid to say no to going out

Ashleigh Monaco

I get it, you want to go out as many times as possible with all the people you can because college is all about making friends and socializing, right? Well, college does involve a lot of socializing and going out, but you don't have to say "yes" to every invite. If finding dairy-free options at random places multiple times a day is becoming stressful to you, you can absolutely say no.

Take some time to relax and focus on you, or better yet, ask your friends if they want to stay in. Saying no doesn't mean you're being rude or antisocial, as long as you don't make a habit out of doing it. It just means you're making some "me-time" for yourself, and in a student's busy schedule, that's completely okay.

3. Own who you are

Ashleigh Monaco

Being dairy-free isn't something to be ashamed about, especially if it's due to an allergy or intolerance, because you have no control over that. Even if it's because you're vegan or vegetarian, don't hesitate to say so. These are your own beliefs and you should be proud of them.

Heck, make up a batch of your favorite dairy-free snacks and show your friends that dairy doesn't need to be invited to the party for the party to be fun. Your dietary preferences will only get in the way of your life if you let it.

4. Offer up alternatives

salmon, tuna, vegetable, sushi, avocado
Ashleigh Monaco

Offering up alternative get-togethers can help everyone feel included. If your roommates plan "Fro-yo Fridays" every week, be honest with them about how you don't eat dairy—if they don't already know—and that you want to do something else.

So instead of having to eat that one flavor of dairy-free sorbet at the Fro-yo shop, maybe you and your roomies can go for smoothies or coffee instead. It doesn't have to be food, either. You can suggest other activities like going to workout at the gym, going to study at the library, or going to the movies. Not every outing has to be about food.

Also, if a club you're a part of suggest ice cream socials and pizza parties, talk to your club organizer about other options for socials. No one will think any less of you. If you're worried about being exposed as THE vegan in the club, chances are they won't announce to the world that Saturday night pizza parties are out because you had to ruin all the fun. You're not ruining anyone's good time.

And you never know, there may be another person in your club that also can't have dairy and will be thankful that you asked for an alternative

5. Find a squad

beer, pizza, water
Ashleigh Monaco

Fun fact: you're not the only student at your university that doesn't eat or drink dairy products. Find the other people that can't have/ don't eat dairy and bond over it, because, hey, you already know you have one thing in common, and that's a pretty great way to start making some friends.

Now, don't erase all dairy-eating people from your life, but spending time with some people that share your aversion to dairy can definitely make you feel more comfortable.

Bottom line

tea, coffee, beer, cake
Ashleigh Monaco

Having a food allergy or intolerance, not liking certain foods, or choosing to not consume some foods because of your personal beliefs does not make you an unlikeable person; it's just a part of who you are. Don't let being dairy-free keep you from having an enjoyable college experience. Go out and have fun.

Not eating dairy—for whatever reason—may mean you can't relate to your friends when it comes to getting excited about pizza parties and free ice cream, and you may have to get more creative when it comes to cooking, but it doesn't mean you have to spend your college years all alone. Being dairy-free in college is possible, all while still having a social life.