For Canadian To-Do List, click here .
✓ As a first step, check the dining sections of the colleges’ websites. Often there will be a page that talks about food allergies and gives contact information for the food services manager or dietitian – a good sign.
✓ We recommend visiting potential institutions before selecting the student’s university. Arrange to meet with the disabilities office plus the dietitian and/or food services director. Ask if it’s possible to have a meal at the same time – this way allergy practices can be seen in action.
✓ Once the student is accepted, lawyer Tess O’Brien-Heinzen, a specialist in disability law, recommends contacting the disabilities office. Send the documentation of the medical condition and request a meeting to discuss accommodations.
✓ Ask questions, and lots of them: how much training does staff receive on food allergies or the gluten-free diet and avoiding food cross-contact? Is ingredient and allergen information readily available in the dining hall? Is there a dedicated area in the kitchen for allergy orders, complete with separate utensils? Are customized meals available?
✓ Online menus can be helpful. On many university websites, students can look up menus by dining hall and date, and tick boxes to filter out dishes containing their allergens. Such tools allow students to find out their options before setting foot in the dining hall. (Students should still double-check ingredients when ordering in person.)
✓ Pose specific questions on housing: Are rooms with kitchens available? Can a student bring or rent a microwave or mini-fridge? Requesting a single room may be best to avoid a roommate who doesn’t ‘get it’.
✓ Once on campus, it is essential to speak up – whether it’s to confirm ingredients or ask if a dining staff member has changed gloves. “The best thing I learned is to be proactive and to advocate for yourself,” says peanut-allergic student Zac Chelini.
✓ Allergic students should remain vigilant about carrying auto-injectors at all times. Inform your roommates, friends and/or resident adviser of your allergies or celiac disease. Wear emergency medical identification.
✓ When in doubt, don’t do it: don’t eat any food unless you are certain it was prepared safely. If unsure, don’t be afraid to ask!
✓ See if there is a food allergy or celiac club on campus to join. If one doesn’t already exist, consider forming one: it’s a great way to meet people in the same situation.
✓ As a parent, don’t expect a college to keep you in the loop. Colleges will not give out any medical information, citing privacy concerns, since your student is now considered an adult.
✓ Do check in with your student to make sure campus food approaches are working out. If there are potential risks, urge your young adult to discuss these soonest with the dietitian or food services staff. They need to be made aware.
Reminder to those thinking ahead to college: Start the search early, since more time and effort are required when reviewing colleges for both programs and allergy-friendly policies. “I encourage parents to start looking at campuses when the students are juniors,” says Kathy Whiteside, a dietitian at the University of Michigan.
Next: Canadian To-Do List
Canadian Universities Checklist
✓ As a first step, check the dining sections of the universities’ websites. Often there will be a page that talks about food allergies and gives contact information for the food services manager or dietitian.
✓ Allergic Living recommends visiting potential institutions before making a decision. Find out if there’s a disabilies office and if the institution makes accommodations for food allergies and celiac disease. If so, what medical information is required? Also arrange to meet a dietitian or food services director.
✓ Ask lots of questions: how well trained are staff on food allergies or the gluten-free diet and avoiding cross-contamination? Is ingredient information available in the dining hall? Are there special allergen practices in the kitchen? Are customized meals available?
✓ Check for online menus: some universities post them in full, including ingredient information. Are there adequate safe options?
✓ Pose questions on housing: Are rooms with kitchens available? Can a student bring or rent a microwave or mini-fridge? Requesting a single room may be best to avoid a roommate who doesn’t ‘get it’.
✓ Once accepted, a student needs to follow-up with the disabilities office and food services manager or dietitian about specific needs. A recurring complaint from universities is that students don’t always communicate that they have allergies. Staff can’t help if they don’t know.
✓ Once on campus, it’s essential for the student to speak up – whether it’s to confirm ingredients or ask if a dining staff member has changed gloves.
✓ Inform roommates of allergies or celiac disease. If allergic, carry your auto-injector at all times.
Reminder: Start the school search early, since more time and effort are required when reviewing universities and colleges for both programs and allergy-friendly policies.