I have finished four years of high school and now I'm about to enter my new life in college. I was both excited and scared. Excited for all of the new friends I would meet, new possibilities, and the opportunity to grow. However, I was scared because I was going to be in a new place separate from my parents and I was going to have to learn to be independent. I was nervous about handling my food allergies in a new environment. In high school, I had never ordered lunch and I brought the food my parents cooked for me at home. But in college, I won't have them by my side. I have to advocate for myself in addition to figuring out the meal plan in college.
In my dorm, I will not have access to a kitchen so I have to go to the dining hall to eat my meals everyday. However, there will be food that contain my allergens and possible cross contamination that I have to worry about each day. Would I have to ask the chef about the ingredients and hope I can eat it? What if I'm allergic to it? Where would I get food from?
My parents and I have discussed this challenge of going to college so we decided to create an action plan. After we took a tour of the college, we went to the dining hall to meet with the manager and/or chef to talk to them about how they deal with students who have allergies. Most of the colleges have a special part of their cafeteria for people with dietary restrictions. This would be the "allergy-free station" where the top eight allergens were not present in any of the foods served. Though I like this aspect of the college, I am only allergic to four of the eight common allergens and I feel restricted to specific foods. I don't have the desire to eat the same foods everyday and avoid the same meals each week.
After many college visits, I finally decided to commit to Rutgers University - New Brunswick! I was in love with the campus as soon as I toured it. It was huge and had great opportunities for me as a business major. Before I started my classes, I met with the Busch Dining Hall manager and chef to talk with them about my food allergies. I was living on Busch Campus so I decided to talk with the manager in charge of the dining hall in that location. They asked me what my allergies were, what my symptoms to an allergic reaction looked like , my food preferences, and my phone number. Then they told me about their text-to-order system. After looking at the menu online, a student would "text" the dining hall at a specific number to tell them what they want for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and when they want to pick up their food. The chef will receive this order and cook the food separately and make sure it doesn't contain any of the student's allergens. This is what a sample text looks like:
Kat; RUID: 123456789
Dairy free, egg free, and nut free. I would like grilled chicken and roasted potatoes please. Pickup inside at 12:30 (9/20). Thank you!
Rutgers University also created a page for each student with food allergies to describe their food preferences, and the specifics of their restrictions so when they would receive the text message, they had access to this page.
After so many college tours, I really loved this characteristic of Rutgers University. This text-to-order system applied to all of their dining halls so it was really convenient to get my food.
If you are preparing for college, create an action plan and speak to a manager or chef about how they will help you with your food allergies before committing to a college.