Last month, over the President's Day long weekend, our family ventured down to the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina for a hockey tournament with our younger son's team. Typically we head north for tournaments, but this year the team was in the mood for something a bit warmer. And in that department, we lucked out...the temperature hovered right around 72 degrees each day, making it not only a glorious weekend for travel, but a perfect weekend to squeeze in visits to some college campuses for our older son, a sophomore in high school. While it's still a bit early for him to be narrowing his choices for colleges, we've been trying to drive or walk through any campuses in areas we've visited over the past year or so. It's a great opportunity for him to get a feel for big state schools versus smaller private universities, urban campuses versus rural or suburban, and liberal-leaning versus more conservative.
Although our older son is not Celiac like our younger son, these campus visits give us a feel for "what's to come" in another few years when our Celiac son begins his own college search. Like other Celiac teens, his decision will likely be affected by the dining services offered on campus. Fortunately, from what we've observed over just the past few years, I'm optimistic most schools will eventually be able to offer a safe environment for their gluten free students, as well as those with other dietary restrictions. There are even colleges who have dedicated entire dining halls to exclusively offering gluten free meals. (See my past Blog post on Kent State University.)
While I didn't have the time on this trip to talk with any of the directors of dining services at the campuses we visited, I was encouraged by what I saw. At Duke University, we literally stumbled upon a high-end style food court, although that description probably doesn't even do it justice. There were stations offering almost every type of food (Italian, Mexican, Indian, Southern, Farm to Table, Salads, Carved Rotisserie, Pizza and more). I did notice several signs indicating the availability of things like gluten free pizza and gluten free bread or rolls. Since our younger son was not with us on this campus visit (he was hanging out with his team), I did not need to track down a manager to discuss options and preparation procedures when choosing our lunch at this emporium. However, when we went to get our older son some dessert from the bakery/gelato bar/creperie, I did inquire about the gelato flavors. I was told that they were ALL gluten free. (Unfortunately, it didn't appear from the creperie menu that gluten free crepes are currently an option!) Like most universities, Duke has a section within the Campus Dining area of their website indicating the policies to help keep students with allergies and food intolerances safe.
Our next two days found us meandering through the campuses of both University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and University of Richmond. While we didn't venture into the dining halls to scour the selections, we were excited to see various gluten free products in convenience stores and coffee shops throughout the campuses. And, of course, both UNC-Chapel Hill and University of Richmond have resources and contact information on their websites for students with special dietary needs. However, nothing is as helpful as hearing first-hand from a gluten free student actually attending a particular college!
As you may know, we have almost 100 colleges reviewed by gluten free students on the Gluten Free College Reviews page of our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite. Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and University of Richmond have not yet been reviewed by GF students. If you know a gluten free student at these -- or any other college or university -- PLEASE encourage them to take just a few minutes to submit a review of the dining services, from a gluten free perspective. Are there enough options for dining gluten free on campus, or are they relegated to one particular dining hall? Are the choices plentiful? Are procedures in place to prepare things in a safe way, beyond just using gluten free ingredients? How is the quality and variety of the food?
This is a great way our gluten free community can help others. The college years can be among the best years of your life, but they also come with challenges and a fair amount of stress. Having to worry about where you'll eat and what you'll eat -- without getting sick -- shouldn't add to that stress. When we launched the GF in College section of our website years ago, our goal was to give gluten free college students a forum to pass along their gluten free campus dining experiences to younger gluten free teens as they begin their own college search process. Honest feedback in the form of these reviews can go a long way towards helping gluten free teens make informed decisions...and have the tools and support needed as they begin their own college experience.
Submitting a review of a college is easy. Just go to Submit Review on our website, and submit a review just as you would for a restaurant or other venue. (Simply select "College" as the type of venue on the review form). Parents and grandparents of GF college students: please encourage them to submit a review!
Beyond Celiac (formerly the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness) also has some good resources on their website for staying safely gluten free in college. Take a look at the resources in the left column on this page.
Let's work toward the goal of getting every college and university in the country reviewed on our site by a GF student! Thanks so much for your support!