Gluten-Free Dorm Food & Eating Gluten-Free in College: A Survival Guide
Somehow, it’s already fall. Inevitably, school supplies are replacing beach toys in the store aisles, every television commercial is boasting back-to-school sales, and your email inbox is filling up with letters from your future teachers, classmates, and clubs. For some of you, those subject lines read, “Welcome Freshmen!” and if so, we’re here to help.
Fall is crucial for incoming college freshmen. It’s time to spend your grad party money on dorm room essentials, strike up a conversation with your future roommates and study up on your campus’s labyrinth-like layout. Luckily, there are endless resources to help college freshmen prepare and adjust to the undergrad life. But if you’re gluten-free, there’s no handbook, no ready-made shopping list and you have to leave your mom’s flawless gluten-free meals at home. That’s why we’ve put together The Gluten-Free Dorm Food Survival Guide, explaining the crucial steps that will make your dorm days a gluten-free success story.
1. Befriend your chefs.
Start with the oldest trick in the book. Simply type the name of your college and “gluten-free” into Google to research their gluten-free dorm food options (and other offerings) and read student reviews. After you’re well-informed, schedule a conversation with your dormitory’s head chef or registered dietitian. Even if you feel comfortable with your school’s gluten-free accommodations, take that extra measure and get to know the cafeteria’s chefs personally.
University of Michigan’s Culinary and Nutrition Support Specialist Lindsay Cook discusses Michigan Dining’s latest efforts to accommodate students with allergies and dietary restrictions.
“We provide nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information for every item served. This information can be found on our web menus, MyNutrition, and on signage that is posted near where the food is served in the dining halls,” Cook explains. Cook adds that every dining hall has at least one gluten-free option during each meal, and that all of their staff is trained in the ever-complicated nuance of cross-contamination. The University has even made their MyNutrition platform available to students as a mobile app. Udi’s blog points to ten more colleges that are gluten-free and allergy trailblazers, highlighting the new trend in universities to accommodate students with dietary restrictions.
Cook agrees with other collegiate dietitians that communication is the key to gluten-free success in dorms. She advises incoming freshmen, “Be your own advocate! Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions until you understand exactly what is in your food and how it was prepared. When you establish a relationship with the dining management staff, they will understand your needs better.”
Contact your dorm before move-in and request a brief in-person meeting at the start of the school year. When you meet, discuss the specifics of requesting gluten-free options at meals, ask about dedicated equipment and cross-contamination, and – most importantly – thank them for making gluten-free options available in their kitchen. Get to know their faces, and they’ll get to know yours. When you walk into the cafeteria each day, the process will be that much more pleasant and painless.
2. Stock up your kitchen.
When it comes to dorm rooms, the amenities vary greatly. Some dorm rooms have shared bathrooms, some have full kitchens, and some have nothing more than an outlet for your mini-fridge and microwave. If you’re working with the latter, you can still stock up on quick and easy gluten-free meals. There will be days when your cafeteria’s GF options just aren’t your thing, and nights when the cafeteria is closed and you want a late-night snack.
Beware of the Freshman Fifteen: many packaged gluten-free products are packed with hidden calories and unhealthy ingredients. Keep naturally gluten-free foods like fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and lunchmeat in your fridge, and have simple gluten-free snacks on your shelves. Popcorn, bread, granola, and GFB bars are healthier options for a quick snack. For frozen meals, we recommend Amy’s Kitchen and Ian’s Natural Foods. As for gluten-free beer and liquor options, we’ll talk to you about that when you turn 21.
3. Take a crash course.
We hate to tell you to start studying before school’s even started, but a quick crash course in gluten-free dorm food basics will prevent confusion (and stomachaches) down the road. If your parents fielded most of your GF grocery shopping in high school, expect a learning curve when you venture out on your own. Know the ins and outs of gluten-free labeling, hidden sources of gluten, and ingredients to avoid. Start with our Gluten-Free Labeling Guide and get educated.
What are your gluten-free dorm food survival tips? Let us know in the comments below!