How to Manage Food Allergies While Attending College

By Kristen Chandler

How to Manage Food Allergies While Attending College

Starting college is a time of mixed emotions for both the students and their parents. There is nervousness and excitement involved, but sometimes anxiety and even fear as well, especially where food allergies are concerned.

If you are a parent, you have been pretty active in helping your child manage their food allergies up to this point. Sure, they are probably active in managing their food allergies on their own. However, there is a certain peace of mind in knowing that, although they can manage their allergies, they still live at home with you and you still provide some protection.

This changes when your child is old enough to attend college. You can help them prepare for managing their food allergies alone, but once they leave for college, they will truly be on their own. This is why it is important, if they were diagnosed with food allergies early in life, to start empowering them when they are younger to be their own advocate. Below you will find some tips that will help your child manage their food allergies on their own at college, and hopefully bring you peace of mind as a parent as well.

College Housing Affects How You Will Manage Food Allergies

Aside from choosing which college to attend and what classes to take, choosing your living arrangements is one of the most important decisions you will make. Will you be living in a dormitory room or an apartment on or off campus? Most importantly, will you be living alone or with a roommate?

If you are living with a roommate, they will need to know in advance about your food allergies so that they can prepare accordingly. They will need to know what allergens you avoid as well as steps to prevent cross-contamination. They must learn the signs of an anaphylactic reaction and how to respond in an emergency.

You should keep a copy of your emergency action plan and contact information somewhere visible in your living quarters. Your roommate should also know where you keep all your medications. In addition to your roommate, someone else who lives nearby should also know about your food allergies and have a copy of your emergency action plan in case something happens when your roommate is not at home.

If you plan on living alone, whether on or off campus, at least two people who live close to you need to be aware of your food allergies and how to help you in the event of an emergency. If you will be living in a dormitory and have a resident advisor, they need to be aware and have a copy of your emergency action plan as well.

Cooking for Yourself, and On-Campus Food Services

Depending on your housing situation, you may be able to prepare and eat most of your meals at home. If you live in a dormitory room, these options may be limited. You may or may not be able to have your own refrigerator and microwave in your room. If you do not live in an apartment with your own cooking space, find out what options are available to you. Research which appliances you have space for and are allowed to have in your room.

Also ask if you are required to use the food services or dining hall on campus. If you are required to or plan to use them anyway, meet with the director ahead of time. Provide them with your emergency action plan and let them know what allergens you avoid. Hopefully they can provide you with options and help accommodate your dining needs. Ask which times are the busiest for the dining hall, and if your schedule allows, try to avoid eating there during those times.

For eating off campus, follow the same steps you normally would when dining out. Familiarize yourself with nearby grocery and health food stores as well. Even if they don’t carry a lot of allergen-free foods, they may special order for you if you ask them to.

Emergency Services On and Off Campus

If you will be living on campus, there should be health and emergency services available to you through the university. Meet with the director of these services and provide them with a copy of your emergency action plan.

Research where the nearest hospital is located and make sure that you know how to get there. You should wear some kind of medical identification jewelry (a bracelet or necklace) in case something happens to you when you are not around someone who knows about your food allergies, or in the event that you are ever involved in some kind of accident. You should also carry your insurance information, a copy of your emergency action plan and your medication with you at all times. Know where the nearest pharmacy is as well, and make sure they will be able to get and keep your medication in stock if they don’t already.

In addition to these steps, if your university has an office of disabilities, meet with them and find out what services they may be able to offer you, if any. Don’t be afraid to be vocal about your allergies to any and every person you meet. When more people are educated about and aware of your food allergies, it is easier for them to help you manage food allergies and respond appropriately in case of an emergency. You may be going off to college on your own, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to completely manage food allergies on your own.

Do you have questions or anything to add? If so, leave us a note in the comment section below.

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