Gluten-free guide to college: How celiac disease patients can prepare for a gluten-free lifestyle on campus
August 20, 2020
Many high school graduates are about to transition from living at home with their parents to going away and being on their own for the first time.
This is a perfect time for young people to start taking on some of the responsibilities of maintaining a gluten-free diet, whether they are moving out or staying home.
For those leaving for college, celiac disease is likely to present certain obstacles associated with the demands of living gluten-free. College students with celiac disease are exposed to cross-contamination on campus, in dining centers, and off-campus housing.
How to be gluten-free in college
Will being gluten-free affect my college experience?
Adherence to a strict gluten-free diet can be mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. And the symptoms caused by accidental gluten ingestion, like gastrointestinal discomfort, fatigue, and changes in cognition, can affect a student’s ability to attend class and academic performance. The earlier you become familiar with the health services your university provides, the easier it will be for you to adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle on campus.
College accommodations for celiac disease
Not all colleges are equal when it comes to meeting the needs of students with celiac disease. Some have gluten-free dining halls or cafeteria sections; at others, students struggle to find gluten-free meals. It is important to reach out to supportive services office to see what options may be available.
Support services for students with celiac disease
When you enroll at a college, register with the disability services office to ensure that your medically required dining accommodations are recognized, as celiac disease is acknowledged under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Often, if institutions cannot ensure a safe dining environment for students with celiac disease or food allergies, they will make accommodations to provide access to kitchens, pre-ordered meals, or off-campus living arrangements. Registering is also important in case you experience cross-contamination that impacts your academic performance and you need accommodations, like time to recover.
University mental health services
The precautions necessary to ensure a gluten-free diet can be socially isolating and promote feelings of anxiety and depression, which can greatly influence a student’s social and academic life. Research what mental health services your university provides for students. Many universities also have support services in campus housing like peer advisors and RAs. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns with them early so they can help you throughout the year.
Gluten-free dining options for celiac patients
When visiting college campuses, request a walk-through of the dining hall with a dining manager. Identify the appropriate personnel at each campus dining location so you have a contact for any future questions. If you have concerns, speak up.
Some schools provide access to a school dietitian. If so, set up a consultation. Additionally, look for opportunities to advocate for yourself and students with similar challenges. Find out what practices other colleges are implementing, and recommend them to your school.
Social events without gluten-free options
Be prepared for social events where you may not have gluten-free options. Carry snacks in your backpack or bring your own lunch. Avoid going to social events hungry. Rather than skipping an event, eat ahead of time so you can spend your time socializing instead of worrying about your dietary needs.
Gluten-free grocery shopping and meal preparation on campus
For many of you, most of the grocery shopping and meal preparation has been done by your parents. This can be a time of increasing independence, even for those continuing to live at home this fall. Now you can step forward to participate in meal planning and preparation.
What if I am learning from home?
Consider taking on some of the responsibility in the kitchen. Prepare your own breakfast and lunch daily. Offer to prepare dinner for your family or friends once a week, or take on an active role helping prepare meals with your parents. This can help you become more comfortable with cooking and help educate others about new ways to prepare healthy gluten-free meals.
Create a separate, gluten-free area of the kitchen
If you live in a dorm or household where others consume gluten, dedicate a separate section of the kitchen for your gluten-free kitchen utensils, equipment and food.
Develop a shopping list each week
Develop a shopping list by determining what gluten-free meals and snacks you intend to eat for the week. You can find gluten-free snacks and easy meal plan ideas for college students online or from a reliable source such as the Celiac Disease Foundation There are also helpful apps like Recipe Revolution, which show you how to turn any recipe into a gluten-free version.
Learn how to read labels carefully
Read food labels carefully at the grocery store. Don’t limit yourself to only items labeled “gluten-free.” You may miss a variety of great options. However, you do have to make sure they are safe. See if the packaging states, “contains wheat.” If not, check the ingredient list for any potential gluten-containing ingredients such as malt, rye, or barley. If you need help understanding labels, reach out to a registered dietitian. There are also some apps that allow you to scan foods to determine if they potentially contain gluten. However, these apps can have glitches that make using them as time consuming as reading a food label.
Whether you are attending college in person or remotely, the focus of your experience should not be on your food restrictions, but on learning and growing. Use the resources available to you, speak up to promote change when needed, and enjoy your time as a college student.
Celiac Disease Treatment
The mission of The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center is to cure celiac disease. Through our groundbreaking research, we’re striving to identify new treatments for celiac disease and find a cure. We also strive to raise awareness and diagnosis rates through education and advocacy.Learn more about celiac disease