At the Gluten-Free Teen Summit, sponsored by GIG, we learned from key speakers about how to choose and navigate a college safely, while gluten-free. 

Finding and navigating a gluten-free college experience

We heard from Michele LeFebvre, RDN, CDN, the director of nutrition at Cornell Dining at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. According to Princeton Review, Cornell Dining has been in the top 10 for campus dining in the past 11 years, and won the 2018 Best Overall Food Allergy Program from AllerTrain. Nima Sensor named it the 2nd best school for gluten-free and allergen-friendly dining in 2017 and it won the 2017 Sani Award for Food Safety Practices, including its food allergy and gluten-free training. So, as you can tell, Michele is doing an amazing job at Cornell Dining.

They operate a gluten-free dining hall, the nation’s 2nd gluten-free dining hall, and the only dining hall free from gluten, peanuts, and tree nuts. They have an estimated 1300 students with celiac or gluten intolerance, however, they estimate only about 10% of their students that report their need to the university. In addition to their “free from” dining hall, they operate 3 full “gluten-friendly” stations across the university. All of their staff – yes, 100% – are trained on food allergens and gluten within the first three months of being hired including the student staff. Sounds amazing, right? You can thank the alumni, as many of the programs are supported by those dollars.

But Cornell isn’t alone. There are other universities and colleges that have dedicated gluten-free dining halls, stations, and gluten-free options. Check out Nima’s “Best Gluten-Free, Allergen-Free Colleges in the US” article to find more options that might fit your needs! Kent State, University of Connecticut, Southern Methodist University, University of New Hampshire, SUNY (Potsdam/Geneseo), University of Michigan, North Carolina State, Loyola Marymount, UC Boulder, Boston, University of Vermont, University of Arizona, and Auburn are all listed as top universities.



How do I find out about what potential college/university offers for safe dining? Start early – way before you are set to apply to collages! Start a spreadsheet of where you want to go and what type of options that they offer. When you contact the dining manager or the disability resources officer at universities, make sure you ask pointed questions. Are dining plans required? Are there dedicated gluten-free kitchens, or separate prep areas? Are there buffets, and if so, can I get fresh and safe food from the back? Can I order meals ahead, and do I need to meet with anyone upon entering the dining hall for my meals? Do you have training procedures for staff and chefs? What will the foods look like when I arrive – are there certain labels for safe foods? How is cross contamination handled? After you see the options laid out in front of you, do a little third-party research. Search on google for any blogs that address gluten-free dining at universities and colleges you’re interested in.

But what if you school doesn’t have gluten-free dining hall options? What if you’re accepted into a college or university that you’re really excited about – but they don’t have gluten-free dining options? At the Gluten-Free Teen Summit, we also heard from Casey Cromwell, Casey the College Celiac. Her first year at college seemed like a dream, where she had special meals prepared for her. She worked with the disability resource center at her college, along with a diagnosis and doctor’s note, about reasonable accommodations available to her as a celiac. But after a change in management, she felt like she could no longer eat safely in her dining hall. Instead of fighting with the university, she didn’t want to waste her precious hours that should be filled with studying, classes, and sleeping. So, she took it upon herself to keep herself safe and well-fed during college.



She had a shared dorm room kitchen, and a shared graduate apartment – all with those who ate gluten. How did she stay safe? She brought her own pots and pans and cookware and labeled absolutely everything. She cooked, in bulk, at off times. She kept her leftovers safe and covered and labeled. Cooking once in large batches yielded meals for a week. She wasn’t shy or embarrassed about asking for safety with her roommates. She explained what celiac was, and how they could keep her safe. Even with a very sensitive celiac, she was able to navigate school and graduate school safely – due to her own diligence. She’s a great advocate for navigating school safely! 

Thanks again to the Gluten Intolerance Group for putting on the Gluten Free Teen Summit!

Do you have experiences with gluten-free and safe colleges – or the opposite? Did you ever feel like your school didn’t do enough for your safety? We’d love to hear your experiences with gluten-free (or not) colleges and universities. What would you tell someone who was looking for a safe university experience?