A College Student’s Tips for Going Away to College with Food Allergies

Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Sarah Peres

Does the idea of college make you want to never leave home? Does living at an unknown place with food allergies stress you out? Look no further for some great tips on living and socializing in college with food allergies! My name is Sarah Peres and I am a 19-year old college student allergic to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, soy and fish. In January, I was diagnosed with celiac so no gluten for me either. If there is anyone who is pretty limited in their food options, it’s me, so here are my tips so you can be your best college self.

Bring your favorite non-perishable snacks with you in a bin.

When packing, I suggest creating a food bin. Buy a big bin from Target, Walmart, or wherever you choose to go dorm shopping. Most people buy these bins for their clothes and other necessities, but I recommend getting an extra one specifically for food. This bin will give you the opportunity to take your favorite non-perishable, allergy-friendly snacks from home with you. I always keep my Enjoy Life cookies, chips, popcorn, and my favorite granola bars in my food bin. My roommates and I would always joke about it and call it my special food bin.

Let your roommates know about your food allergies and dietary restrictions.

If you have an allergy where you absolutely cannot touch anything that the allergen has touched, I recommend letting your roommates know about the situation. Explain to them that they should thoroughly wash their hands before touching the doorknobs, light switch, or any other common things you would both touch to prevent an allergic reaction.

Reach out and speak to your Campus Dietitian/Nutritionist or Chef.

I spoke to the dietitian at my school and she put me in touch with the chef. I was able to ask him questions about specific ingredients in different foods to determine what is safe and appropriate for my dietary needs.

Rent or buy a microfridge if you’re given the option to.

I definitely recommend renting or buying a microfridge to have in your dorm room. It can help you save money by giving you the opportunity to buy groceries, store fruits and veggies, or reheat frozen meals. If you have the opportunity to go home for the holidays or some weekends, you can even take home cooked meals back with you or you can meal prep for the week ahead.

ALWAYS read ingredient labels carefully.

ALWAYS read ingredient labels carefully. You have to be the one in charge of reading labels carefully now since your parents won’t be bringing home the groceries and buying new snacks for you to try at home. You won’t have your parent or guardian with you to double check the ingredients before or after you buy something to make sure that it is safe. Know the hidden ingredient names of your potential allergens to prevent any allergic reactions. Above all, don’t take risks assuming you can eat something without asking first if you cannot find a set list of ingredients.

Call restaurants ahead and know what places you can eat at surrounding the campus.

It can be really stressful being in college with dietary restrictions when so much of socializing is based around food and going out for meals. I recommend identifying the safe restaurants ahead of time. If you have plans with friends to go off campus, call a restaurant ahead of time or Google the name to see if they have an allergen menu online first. I like to use an app called Allergyeats -  not every restaurant is on there, but it can be helpful since people with food allergies give reviews of how that restaurant accommodated them with their allergies. I also like to bring a list of my allergies to show the waiter/waitress so they can help me decide what my possible options are.

Don’t let your food allergies define you or take control of your life. You are not your food allergies; your food allergies are a part of you. You can still live your college life to the fullest with them!

For FARE’s tips on going to college with food allergies, visit foodallergy.org/going-to-college. Starting the college search? Use FARE’s College Search to find information about food allergy accommodations on campuses across the U.S.

Special thanks to our Back to School sponsors, Enjoy Life Foods and free2bFoods.