Preparing for College: Food Allergy Tips

When you go away to college, it is likely that it is your first time living away from the comforting and safe environment of your own home. Having food allergies in college may seem difficult, but it really isn’t. Read below for a guide to college living with food allergies!

Having a Roommate

When you decide on what college you will attend, the search for a roommate starts almost immediately. Once you start talking to people, it is important that you discuss your allergies with them. Most people are understanding and are willing to accommodate you by not keeping certain foods in the room, but there’s always the possibility that that is not the case. If someone’s favorite food is peanut butter and you’re allergic to peanuts, they may not be a suitable roommate for you, and that’s okay! They can be your friend even if you don’t live together. Before signing the lease, make sure you have these important discussions with your potential roommate!

Some schools don’t give you the option to choose your roommate. If that’s the case, inform your school’s Accommodation Center and/or Disability Service Office of your allergies and make sure that it is understood that you need a roommate who is respectful of your allergies. In some cases, you may even be able to pick your roommate if you go through these centers! Where you live and who you live with can seem like the most important thing from a social aspect, but your health is always the #1 priority, even if it means not living in the best dorm or with your first choice of a roommate.

Dining Halls

Dining halls can cause anxiety for people with allergies. The food labels are usually not specific, the serving spoons may be cross-contaminated, and the staff rarely knows what ingredients are in the dishes. Nut-free dining halls have become common throughout the United States, but there are obviously other allergens besides nuts that can put people at risk.

Prior to your arrival on campus, you should contact dining services and speak with them about your allergies and what’s safe or not safe for you to eat. Many dining halls actually have separate kitchens in the back where individuals with food allergies or other dietary restrictions can have their food prepared in advance. If there are serving spoons being used for multiple dishes, ask a staff member for a clean one so that you can avoid cross-contamination with any potential allergens. Eating in a dining hall can be hard at times, but if you work with dining services at your school, they will almost always be more than happy to accommodate your dietary needs.

  • Check out a list of schools that accommodates food allergies by searching them on FARE’s school list breakdown here. They provide an excellent source of colleges and universities that take the appropriate measures to keep our food allergy community safe.

Keeping Food in Your Room

Most colleges provide a mini fridge or micro fridge in each dorm room (or you can purchase your own). A micro fridge is a miniature refrigerator/freezer with a microwave attached on top. You and your roommate share this limited space, so make sure they don’t bring any allergens into the space. It may seem like you can’t fit a lot in this fridge, but if you organize it right, the micro fridge can hold a lot of food.

Think of easy allergen-free snacks and microwavable meals that you can keep in your dorm. Being able to make your own food is very helpful, especially when you have allergies! You can also keep non-refrigerated food in storage bins under your bed or on a shelf. You never know when you’re going to need a snack, and having your own stash is a perfect way to make sure your snacks are always safe to eat.

Make an Emergency Plan

In the unlikely case that you ingest an allergen and have a severe reaction, you should always have an emergency plan in place. Teach your friends how to use an EpiPen, so that if you need an injection, they are able to give it to you. Also, make sure you know the phone number for your campus’s emergency medical services. Calling 9-1-1 will alert local emergency medical services, but your university likely has its own that will be able to respond much more quickly. Print and have your plan handy in case of any emergency.

Don’t let having allergies take away from your college experience. Go out with your friends and just be smart. Don’t try new foods without asking what’s in it. Have fun while staying careful, and your college experience will be just as amazing as anyone else’s who doesn’t have allergies!

Read our 5 Tips for Dining Out Safely with Food Allergies blog for ways to stay safe!