5 Colleges with Unique Allergy-Friendly Dining Options originally posted by: Monica E. Randall, Ph.D., College Planning Expert for Food-Allergic, College-Bound Students on February 2, 2016
Excerpt from "What's on Your Plate? A College Planning Guide for Students Living with Food Allergies" by Monica E. Randall, PhD
Once parents and students find out that I'm a college admissions consultant for families living with food allergies, the first question that they usually ask is "What are the top allergy-friendly colleges in the U.S.?" As a consultant, my goal is to find a college that is the best match for you based on your academic, financial, social, and health needs. When you arrive on campus, you will notice that dining is an essential part of campus life and the college experience. At the dining hall, you will not only share a meal with other students but you will share ideas and participate in the campus community. With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the nation, there is no 'one size fits all' method for addressing the needs of students living with food allergies. In other words, I don't have a 'top 20' list. However, many universities use a variety of tools, training, and support to provide students with safe and inclusive dining options. So, I can offer my perspective on several universities with which I'm very familiar. With the exception of Stanford, here is an introduction to unique dining options offered by colleges that I have visited. All universities profiled offer dining options that go beyond listing ingredient information.
There is one similarity that I need to mention in this review. With the exception of dining staff at Towson University, the dining staff at the other four universities have completed AllerTrainU™; a comprehensive food allergy and gluten-free training program offered by MenuTrinfo®. MenuTrinfo® is a leading provider of food-allergen and gluten-free training for college and university dining staff.
Please keep in mind that although these five colleges make every effort to address the needs of food-allergic students, there is always a risk of cross-contact or food manufacturers may change ingredients without notice. This means that there is no guarantee that any food item will be completely free of food allergens. So, I encourage you to consult a college's dining manager and/or Registered Dietitian and please remember to always carry your epinephrine.
George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia)
George Mason University (GMU) is one of twelve pilot colleges participating in the in the Food Allergy and Research Education's College Food Allergy Program - a national initiative to improve the quality of life on college campuses for students living with food allergies. GMU's participation in this program shows their commitment to developing a comprehensive, university-wide food allergy management program. The university is not only addressing the dining needs of food-allergic students but is also implementing policies to improve housing, health, disability and emergency services. For dining, GMU encourages students to work directly with the university's Registered Dietitian individually to ensure a 'safe, delicious, and social' dining experience. You will also find that some of the residence halls offer full kitchens and you have the option of seeking an exemption from meal plans as long as you have medical documentation about your specific food allergies.
Stanford University (Stanford, California)
Stanford is the FIRST university in the country to offer a dining facility that is peanut free thus leading the way for other universities to emulate. Ricker Hall was created in partnership between students and the university as a full service dining options for students living with peanut allergy. To maintain a safe and inclusive dining experience, students are prohibited from bringing outside food into Ricker Hall. Although this facility caters to those with peanut allergies, the university encourages you to consult with the dining hall manager if you have additional food allergies. In addition to this inclusive dining environment, students have access to a Registered Dietitian and extensive food allergy management policies in place for food-allergic students. Stanford also provides students the option of seeking an exemption from meal plans as long as you follow protocol and have medical documentation about your specific food allergies.
Towson University (Towson, Maryland)
Over the years, I've sat through numerous presentations by university admissions staff. Towson was the first university that I've encountered that incorporated food allergy information into their admissions marketing material. Their message is very simple and directs students to contact the university's Registered Dietitian and dining service manager if you have specific questions. Please keep in mind that Towson doesn't ask applicants to identify their food allergy status (it is illegal for ANY university to ask about an applicant's disability status). Towson is simply 'signaling' to prospective students that the school has food allergy management policies in place and that dining service staff are trained to handle accommodations. I was so excited when I saw a reference to food allergies included in the admission's presentation that I posted comments on social media! Why my excitement? Because it shows Towson's food-allergy awareness and inclusiveness. Towson's website also includes information detailing how to request accommodations and what you should expect when meeting with dining services managers once you enroll.
University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
In addition to providing comprehensive training for dining staff thru MenuTrinfo's AllerTrainU program and an on-site Registered Dietitian, there are a two aspects of UNC's dining services program that truly makes this university's dining program unique. First, Carolina Dining provides digital screens at each food station with nutrient facts and information about the top 8 food allergens. Second, there is UNC's student dining board - an active student group developed as a partnership between students and administrators where students can discuss issues related to UNC's food program. This student group is a key element of UNC's effort to recognize that students like you require tools and support to actively manage your food allergies.
University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia)
As an alumna of UVA, I am proud to say that UVA provides a detailed food allergy management guide in the parent handbook. This guide clearly states how students should start the process of seeking accommodations for food allergies and it is written in plain English (which means that you can read it without referring to a law dictionary). UVA offers food allergy and gluten free stations at all three residential dining halls called the Copper Hood. These stations exclude 7 of the big 8 allergens (fin fish is served occasionally). The Copper Hood has allergen awareness preparation areas (yes, color coded purple) to signify allergen-safe meal preparation. If you have a food allergy outside of those accommodated by the Copper Hood, UVA encourages you to work closely with the university nutritionists and dining managers.
About the Consultant: Monica E. Randall, PhD is a college admissions consultant specializing in college admissions guidance for students living with food allergies. Her practice provides students with the tools and knowledge to find safe and inclusive colleges and universities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bridge2College Consulting.
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