What you need to know about food allergies and campus food

Campus life is about many new experiences, and learning to prepare food and fend for yourself is a part of those experiences! If you’re part of the 75% of people who can’t digest dairy or you have gluten or soy food allergies, you need to know about campus food and your food allergies/sensitivities before your school year kicks off!

It's very important to tend to your food allergies. (Credit: cafemom.com)

It’s very important to tend to your food allergies. (Credit: cafemom.com)

What are “dairy allergies”?

There are many “hidden” dairy products in food that can make ordering in the dining hall and shopping in your campus’ convenience store a pain! According to BBC’s Good Food post, “Spotlight on… dairy-free” by Jo Lewin, nutritional therapist, “it may be harder to buy ready-made foods and you will need to become an avid reader of labels and ingredients lists.” Here is a list of items you’ll want to look for on labels and ingredients’ lists and avoid them:

  • Butter
  • Yogurt
  • Buttermilk
  • Hydrolysed casein/whey
  • Casein/caseinates
  • Cheese (included cream, curd, and cottage)
  • Whey
  • Lactalbumin
  • Cream — all varieties
  • Fromage frais
  • Milk solids
  • Lactose
  • Ghee
  • Milk of all kinds
  • Lactic acid (E270)
  • Skimmed milk powder
  • Ice cream
  • Whey protein/sugar

So, what can you eat on campus? You’re probably used to buying/consuming products made from tree nut products: almond milk or coconut milk; or other animals’ milk: goat, sheep and buffalo can be worth checking. You’ll want to do some research into your school’s cafeteria and see what options are available as you’re surely not the only student on campus with food allergies.

On campus dining

If you’re going to be new to campus this fall, you’ll definitely want to be sure to contact your school’s dining hall to see what options are available to you in regards to your allergies/restrictions. Bucknell University, for example, posted in their FAQs for Meal Plans that students with food allergies may call the dining hall representative and discuss options. They’ll allow students to review menus and daily offerings to help determine what foods can be safely eaten.

Many campuses across the U.S. have introduced a program called Simple Services, says Jennifer Smola for USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent, in her October 1, 2013, post, “’Are there nuts in this?’ : How food allergies play into college dining.” Simple Services allows for allergen-free dining without the possibility of cross-contamination, as food is placed on a separate station and students know exactly what they’re getting when they order. No hidden allergens. “Students with specific dietary needs can get full healthy meals without peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, milk and dairy, eggs or gluten,” added Beth Winthrop who is a registered dietician and represents the company that piloted Simple Services.

Do your research and find out who that person may be for your campus and you’ll feel much more confident going to campus in the fall. The same goes if you’re studying abroad. Don’t assume that just because a product is dairy or nut-free in the U.S. that it’ll be the same (or even offered) on your campus in the U.K.

Dining-out at restaurants

If your particular food allergies are new to you, focus on what food items you can eat rather than those you can’t, and you’ll feel much more confident when ordering out at restaurants.

Go Dairy Free.org is geared toward those of us who have dairy allergies or lactose intolerances, and has a guide on what items are “clean” to eat if you also fall under these categories. Some tips that can be useful for anyone:

  • Pick a restaurant wisely: Local spots/Mom-and-Pop diners might not have the giant list of ingredients for each product that larger chains do. Choose a place you feel could accommodate your needs. Call ahead if there’s any doubt.
  • Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your server or the manager on duty. They may not have all of the answers but insist they show you packaging to be safe.
  • Play it safe: Asking for dressings and condiments to be put ‘on the side’ is a good way to inspect them before your food comes drenched in something you can’t have. For example: some vinaigrettes are creamy and made with milk products, while others are oil-based.

For more tips on how to dine out with your particular food allergies/dietary restriction, check into these websites:

What tips do you have for eating on campus for those with food allergies? Post in the comments below!

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