When you enter your University or College years, there’s a lot to initially think about with new schedules, new friends, new living quarters and, of course, new food! I’d like to take a few minutes to share my experiences about eating food on campus to help relieve some of the worries you may or may not have about feeding yourself over the next few years.
First thing is first. Always ask about what foods are safe for you to eat. Cafeterias can be found in a lot of residences and this will likely be the main place that students like you will eat every day. Tell the front-line servers about your food allergy as well as the supervisor or manager. In a place that you could end up eating every day, it’s a good idea for the staff to know your face, the severity of your allergy, and how they can avoid cross-contamination of foods. If they don’t understand something, explain it to them. It may just be a simple case of the staff using different wording than you’re used to using. In the end, stick with your gut feeling! If they just don’t seem to understand the severity of your allergy, or if there is too much food with your allergen nearby to feel comfortable, move on to another cafeteria or restaurant. There are always many options for food on campus.
Another thing you can do is look for restaurant franchises. These are places that use the same menus, food items, and food policies from restaurant to restaurant. Try to locate places you have felt comfortable eating at prior to University or College and eat there. However, just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean the food is necessarily allergen-free or that cross-contamination hasn’t become a habit at this location. Always, always, always ask before you eat! It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Now, what about kitchens? There’s a lot to consider when shared kitchens are involved. Shared kitchens in residence can quite frankly get very messy very quick. It only takes a few messy people (and believe me, there’s always one) to make everyone else’s cooking experience a frustrating one. The good news is that you can prepare for this and avoid potentially dangerous situations. My advice is to keep your food in your bedroom with you. This help keeps the food safe from potential cross-contamination and safe from other people taking it. If you can get your hands on a mini fridge, go for it! These are very handy and give you the chance to keep fresh foods fresh without the worries of someone else eating or touching your food! It’s also smart to keep a few plates, bowls, utensils, and maybe a pot or pan with you in your room. This way, you can cook and eat off of equipment you know is clean and safe from your allergen. If this isn’t an option, invest in some dish soap and a cloth and always clean the cooking equipment before you prepare a meal.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to teach the people on your floor about your allergy. If this makes you uncomfortable, ask your Don or residence life staff to host a meeting and explain the severity of food allergies without mentioning your name. It is their job to ensure your safety; so speaking up and getting their help can be very beneficial. If you’re lucky, and get a private kitchen or a semi-private kitchen and only have to share with one other person, your job just got a whole lot easier! It’s easier to manage food and cooking equipment when only one or two other people are sharing it with you.
I know there are many different things to consider while eating on campus; but just be confident, careful, and enjoy the experience!