Choosing a college or university to attend is one of the most important and stressful decisions that a teen might make in their life. Unfortunately, Celiac disease adds another factor to this decision that gluten-free teens must weigh heavily when picking a college/university.
Sadly, as of 2017, some colleges and universities are still not able to accommodate potential students who have Celiac. If your gluten-free teen has a specific school in mind that they would really love to attend, your teen will likely be very disappointed if their “dream school” is unable to accommodate their dietary needs. It is important at the beginning of your college search, to find schools that can accommodate students with Celiac, and eliminate those that cannot. However, what I have found is that many schools are somewhere in the middle of how well they can accommodate students with Celiac (they do have gluten-free options and ways to accommodate students, but they aren’t amazing).
Since college is such a large investment and students may attend there for 4 (or more) years, any potential colleges that a gluten-free teen wants to attend should be thoroughly investigated to ensure that they have the ability to accommodate students who have Celiac. In addition, they obviously must have adequate facilities and training to avoid cross-contamination when preparing gluten-free food.
The Internet is a great resource to use when researching which schools can accommodate students with Celiac, and how well they are able to. Many schools have information about this on their websites, but this is not always the case, and many times I have needed more information. Therefore, I have emailed or called dining services or the campus nutritionist/dietitian, and found this to be a great way to get more detailed information. They can explain in detail what steps they take to accommodate students with Celiac, and how good their facilities are for gluten-free students.
The information received from these conversations provided an in depth understanding of gluten-free options the school offers, and how they try to accommodate gluten-free students. Every college/university that I contacted was very willing to give me information about this, so don’t be afraid or intimidated to do the same!
Food at the Copper Hood (UVA)
Signs at the Copper Hood (UVA)
Over the past year, I visited multiple colleges/universities that I am interested in, and at each one I scheduled a meeting with dining staff and/or campus nutritionists/dietitians to learn more.
Some colleges/universities have gluten-free stations where you can get meals every day in certain dining halls, while others have a gluten-free “area” with snacks, dedicated gluten-free equipment, frozen goods, etc. Many are willing to prepare gluten-free meals in the kitchen at a student’s request (of course, make sure that they are preparing these foods safely to avoid cross-contamination).
Find out if there are a variety of locations that serve gluten-free foods and/or meals, so a student with Celiac can enjoy the college experience just like any other student (because some colleges only offer gluten-free goods in a few select locations—accessibility of gluten-free food is very important). Also, the location of the college is important to consider: are there stores that sell gluten-free foods and restaurants that serve gluten-free meals nearby? You should do plenty of research on this topic before any decision is made, because a student should not have to worry about food more than coursework and grades!
Here are some relevant pictures from different colleges/universities: