1. Do your research well before starting classes.
The sooner you learn about the gluten free awareness at your school of choice, the more at ease you will feel when you’re an official student on campus. I always recommend calling the dining hall directly to ask questions about their gluten free friendliness. You can also do a simple Google search and even read reviews of many colleges’ gluten free programs on GlutenFreeTravelSite. Once you do your research, you’ll greatly benefit from being familiar with your school’s GF offerings well before you even get on campus for the first time.
2. First things first: Schedule a meeting with the dining hall manager.
Within the first week of being on campus, you should schedule a one-on-one meeting with the dining hall advisor. This will not only establish your face as one that recognizably belongs to a gluten free diner, but it will make you feel more comfortable eating in the dining hall. If you run into any issues, questions, or concerns surrounding your food options, you will have established a relationship with someone that you can speak to directly.
3. When in doubt, opt out.
Many universities require all students to purchase a meal plan for a certain amount of time. These meal plans are usually expensive and can be a bit hard to justify paying for when you hardly have any options and/or do not feel safe eating in the dining halls. In the unfortunate case that you do feel this way about your dining experience, you have every right to speak with your school’s housing services to opt out of the meal plan.
4. Have a back-up plan in case you get glutened at school.
Celiac Disease is a severe enough disorder that your university’s Health Services or Disabilities Services will acknowledge the risk that is posed on your overall health if you accidentally get glutened. If you become a registered student protected under one of these services, you will be able to prove the legitimacy of absence from class or other school requirements. Many professors require a doctor’s note for an absence, but in the case of getting glutened (where all you can really do is ride it out), you will be able to express your situation quickly through a reliable on campus program.
If you are living in the dorms at some point during college (likely), be sure to furnish your room with a microwave, mini-fridge, and a toaster that will be designated only for your gluten free bread (see my huge "GF" sign on the photo?!). If you go to dining hall and find that you can only eat a plain spinach salad for dinner, you will be able to do a bit of your own cooking in your room.
6. Establish your dietary restrictions early on with roommates.
Don’t wait until breadcrumbs are all over your kitchen counter to bring up the severity of your gluten sensitivities. Bring it up early on in a non-confrontational but serious matter. Your roommates will likely be relatively accommodating if you are clear about its severity.
Put a label on your toaster, your cooking pans, your silverware, everything. (I've just put a bit of colored tape on this black spatula -- that reminds my roommates it's my GF one.) Especially in the case of severe Celiac Disease, you can guarantee your health only by keeping your things separate. This can also apply to your actual food purchases; gluten free food is notoriously expensive so let it be known (in a polite manner) that your $7 loaf of GF bread is not “free for all” food.
8. Request specific items for the dining hall
The dining hall may not always be able to carry out requests, but if you want gluten free bread or some other GF food item to be made available, it certainly never hurts to ask the manager. Ask with a specific brand in mind as well, or else they could end up ordering that type of bread that crumbles at first touch.
9. Have nearby GF friendly restaurants and bars in mind.
Chances are, you will occasionally go out to lunch or dinner with friends during your time at college. If your friends are familiar with your gluten restrictions, they will probably want you to help make the decision regarding where to eat. For this reason, be familiar with plenty of local GF friendly eateries that you can suggest.
10. Don’t let your restrictions get in the way of your experience.
Being unable to eat gluten is only one part of your life, so treat it as such. It does not have to define your identity, and it certainly does not have to define how your live your life. I am not saying that you should just ignore your food restrictions when pizza and beer night comes along, but keep in mind that it is possible to have fun without partaking in foods containing gluten. College has all the potential in the world to be one of the best times of your life. Respect your body by minding what you consume, but don’t forget to take in the experience that is college.
You can follow Julie here each month as she discusses topics relevant to gluten free college students. She also blogs at The Campus Celiac.