Monday, August 2, 2010
Gluten Free in College
Actually preparing for my celiac son in college began over a year before. We visited a half-dozen or so colleges in his decision process, and he got used to me asking about special dietary needs. Luckily, he didn’t have to make his decision based upon his dietary needs. He found a school that felt just right, applied for early decision, and was done with the college application process by December 15. When we visited the school for admitted students’ day, we asked for gluten free lunches, which to their credit they were able to provide. Then we toured the main dining hall with a staff member and noted that there was no dedicated toaster, no stash of gluten free breads on the line, and no separate condiments. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me—I needed to impart in my son the importance of advocating for himself, and I had to take the initiative in opening the dialogue for him.
About a month before he was to begin his first semester, I e-mailed the dietician listed on his school’s dining hall website and addressed my concerns after visiting the dining hall. She responded to my concerns, and informed me that her organization, Bon Appetite Management Company, was in the process of beginning a celiac training initiative company-wide. The dietician also put us in touch with the college’s executive chef. By the time my son arrived on campus, a lot had changed, including the debut of a dedicated GF toaster. At orientation, my son and I met with the executive chef and discussed how to manage my son’s dietary requirements. This had the effect of opening up a student/chef dialogue. The chef asked my son to set up a time for coffee, and they walked through and discussed all campus dining halls. The executive chef was very student-friendly and offered to have his staff make anything my son wanted and to prepare gluten free versions of meals ahead of the other meals they were making. I am happy to report that my son was not once glutened in the campus dining halls.
Despite a tremendous working relationship with the chef, gluten free dining in college for my son was not without its challenges. Getting him to advocate for himself took time. For example, my son sometimes found himself in the position of holding up the service line of hungry students and stressed out servers, so he just ate yogurt and salad instead. And meals are social times at college; the offer for made-to-order gluten free meals was great in principle, but when my son was dining with friends, they were often finished eating by the time he got his meal.
I had another conversation with the dietician after school was over for the summer, and we reviewed my son’s dining hall experience. I shared a number of my son’s observations, like “Why does barley have to be sitting in the middle of the salad bar where students can accidentally drop it into other offerings?” By the time he starts school again in several weeks, the salad bar will be organized to minimize contamination, and the staff will make an attempt to bake some extra gluten free meals, “fast food,” that can be micro-waved or minimally heated in a pinch. We couldn’t have asked for a much better gluten free college dining service.
The dining halls of the following schools are managed by Bon Appetite:
Case Western Reserve University
Dominican University of California
Lewis & Clark College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mount St. Mary's College
St. Olaf College
University of Pennsylvania
University of Redlands
University of San Francisco
Washington University in St. Louis