When it comes to food, no two bodies are the same. And as our knowledge of nutrition grows, so does our own knowledge of what our body does and doesn’t need. For some, dietary restrictions are a result of having severe food allergies or a nutrition-related disease. For others, the desire to respect their faith or beliefs -- or just to eat healthily while at college -- is the driving factor. Whatever your particular case, if you follow a specialty diet, here’s what you need to know about eating in college.
Contact Student Disability Office
If you have a significant food allergy for which you need particular accommodation, you must go straight to the Student Disability Office on your campus. They can ensure that your classroom is peanut-free or that the cafeteria has to clean their plates a certain way to prevent contamination. Plus, if you were to have a bad reaction that would affect your school work, you would be provided those accommodations because of your disability. Just remember to bring any and all doctor’s notes and information on your specific disorder so they are informed and it is on record.
Work With the Nutritional Officer
Each campus with a cafeteria has a head nutritionist or nutritional officer who looks over meal plans. They should be your go-to if you are struggling to find food that you can safely eat. Many will even work with you to ensure there’s at least one daily menu item that you can eat. A great one will take your advice and needs to mind and design meals and set out snacks and sides that work for you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Cook
Because it’s mostly “quick service” of sandwiches and other fast items, lunch can be the most difficult meal to find substitutes for. But you don’t have to be stuck eating the same thing every single day. Instead, become an expert dorm room chef! Your residence hall likely has a common area with a stove, oven, and/or microwave -- everything you need to boil up some gluten-free pasta or put some vegan cookies on to bake. Grab yourself some cooking staples that fit with your diet, plus a pot and a pan, and you’ll be all set.
Give the Gift of Health
If you’re concerned that your student is not eating because of dietary concerns, try a care package. Care packages are mailed to them (either for an occasion or just because). There are several specialty versions that offer a great solution. For example, OCM’s Kosher Support Package cuts out items that cannot be consumed and only goes for the good stuff. There’s no guess work or searching through small-print ingredient lists. It’s the perfect gift for someone who needs a tasty pick-me-up during final exam week.
Speak Your Mind
If you’re struggling to find food to match your diet, you’re probably not alone. This is when taking your grievances to the higher ups really matter. Give your cafeteria time to adapt to your needs, but if they aren’t following through, seek help from a Dean or Student Life office. If that doesn’t work, consider starting support groups for students in similar situations or writing an editorial to the school newspaper about the lack of halal menu items. Your voice should be heard, especially when it comes to something as important as specialty diets in college.