Attending College on a Special Diet
It can be a challenge to adjust to the college environment. It’s usually the first time students are away from home and responsible for their own food choices.
“When you add a food allergy or sensitivity, it makes it even more
challenging—but it doesn’t make it impossible,” says Lisa Kimmel, MS,
RD, a sports nutritionist at Yale University.
Navigating a special diet on a college campus requires a closer eye.
But Kimmel says reaching out to available resources makes it easier.
Before arriving on campus, students should talk to dining services to
inform them of special dietary needs and to devise a plan for safe food
“I would encourage a college student to develop a working
relationship with dining services,” Kimmel says. Dining service
managers can directly address questions about cross contamination
and food preparation.
Kimmel says dining services want to encourage a safe environment
and will work with students to accommodate their needs. Many will
post food ingredients in their dining halls and list them on a website.
For example, the Yale University dining services website provides a list
of foods, identifying which contain common allergens. The list gives the
ingredients in each food item, as well as nutritional facts, such as the
amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates and vitamins.
For students who must adjust to a new diet while at college, a
nutritionist on campus can help them become educated about their
special diet and provide resources to assist them in making wise food
choices. For example, Kimmel helped Yale student Maximillian Goer,
who has celiac disease. Because Kimmel has a working relationship with
Yale’s dining services, she knows about food ingredients, has looked at
food preparation and can direct Goer to proper food choices.
“As an athlete, he deals with an even more challenging scenario,”
Kimmel says of the crew team member. “The gluten-free diet eliminates
many readily available sources of carbohydrates, the primary fuel for
Kimmel worked with Goer to fi nd gluten-free sources of
carbohydrates and tailored a well-balanced diet specifi cally for him.
She also suggested safe snacks for him to bring when the team travels
and advised him on the questions he should ask when eating at a
Students who live off campus must take the time to read food labels
when grocery shopping, Kimmel says.
But the bottom line is that students, whether living on or off
campus, should become their own experts. That means understanding
their condition and knowing which products normally contain their
allergen and which food choices are safe.
“This kind of education is for a lifetime,” Kimmel says.