Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Accommodations on College Campuses

Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Accommodations on College Campuses

The first year at college is a time of of both excitement and uncertainty for students and parents alike. Students are eager to live on their own, gaining newfound independence, but at the same time, new challenges come their way without the help of mom and dad ready to help. Mom and dad fret about how their child will make it on his own without their help – especially parents of students with food allergies or celiac disease.

College can be a challenging time for students with food allergies. Many students have found it hard to stick to their diet, becoming more “flexible” than they should be. Thankfully, we are not in the 1990s anymore. With food allergies on the rise, many campuses across the country are starting to wise up where certain dietary restrictions are concerned.

Gluten-Free Accommodations are Available on Most Campuses

In December 2012, a lawsuit was filed against Lesley University that played a role in paving the way to better food options for students with food allergies. The lawsuit was filed in response to a complaint from October 2009 that the school violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to create reasonable changes to their practices, policies and procedures in order to permit students with food allergies and/or celiac disease to equally and fully enjoy the same privileges, accommodations and advantages of their meal plan system. Students were required to pay to be on the meal plan at the school, despite the fact that they could not eat the food that was offered. A settlement agreement was filed with the US Department of Justice, and a set of guidelines has been generated for schools to follow, including specific requirements. Schools must:

  • Provide allergen- and gluten-free food options in their dining hall food lines along with their standard meal options
  • Display notices identifying which foods contain specific allergens
  • Allow students to pre-order meals that are allergen-free
  • Provide a space in its main dining all that is dedicated to the preparation of and storage of allergen- and gluten-free food
  • Train university and food service staff about issues related to food allergies
  • Retain vendors that accept prepaid meal cards and also offer food without allergens


Although colleges and universities must adhere to strict guidelines when it comes to making known allergens in their foods, not all schools are equal in this department. While some schools, like the University of Connecticut, offer award-winning meal programs for students, not all make the grade. Some colleges provide only a few options for students with food allergies or celiac disease, leading students to grow tired of the same foods and sometimes stretch their diet for a little reprieve (which often backfires on their bodies).

Finding a College that Accommodates Your Child’s Needs

If your college-aged child adheres to a specific diet because of food allergies or celiac, use the Food Allergy Research & Education’s College Search to gain information about accommodations for students with allergies on campuses across the United States.

To determine whether a school offers adequate nutritional options for your student, start by contacting the school’s disability services office. Thanks to the ADA, accommodations for your child should fall under this department. Ask if the school has a food allergy policy in place, what emergency procedures are in place in case of an anaphylactic reaction and whether you need any documentation for accommodation requests.

What to Take

Along with finding a school that offers safe foods for your child, his stay on campus will be much easier if he has the following items on hand:

  • Plates, bowls and utensils. Eating from the same dinnerware as non-allergic students can pose a health risk to some food-allergic people.
  • Gluten-free, non-perishable items to keep on hand in the dorm like peanut butter, snacks, energy bars, crackers and cereal.
  • Mini refrigerator and a microwave. Sure, the dorm may have these available, but if your child is prone to reacting to even the slightest crumb, it is better to be safe than sorry.


The above will be great options when your student gets tired of dining hall food or needs a snack to power through a study session.

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