College With a Food Intolerance/Allergy

I know there are a lot of preparing for college articles, but it’s different when you have food allergies/intolerances. Having recently graduated from University, I want to give my story and a few tips on how to handle college with a food intolerance or food allergy!

I worried about going to college with a corn intolerance. And rightly so; in the States there are so many cafeterias on campus to choose food from, most being corny. Which is awesome for a lot of people who don’t like to cook, and can choose from all of these various options every day. For me, it was a nightmare. Find the rest of my story here.

I want to start with the bullet points of how to survive college with a food intolerance, and you can read more below!

The Basics

These aren’t in any order of importance, but in order of how I learned them.

  • During college tours, make sure to look at the dorms! If you are trying to live on campus, ensure they have a kitchen you can use.
  • Work with the dietitian on campus if you want to try and eat any of the food from the cafeterias. 
  • Get in contact with the Disability Resource Center on campus
  • Find groups/clubs to join that aren’t food based

During college tours, look at the dorms! Make sure they have a kitchen you can use. 

I did a big college tour around the country. When we were driving through California looking at various colleges, we would drive 3 or 4 hours each day. During those days we also would do a college tour, and stopping just for a night in each city. My parents and I were exhausted from it, and decided instead of looking at the dorms for Cal Poly (where I eventually went), we would check out the beach. All of the dorms looked great at every college we looked at, so we figured they would all be about the same caliper.

Eventually, I got my acceptance letter to Cal Poly, and then got to decide on which type of housing to go into. There are apartments on campus, but I thought a dorm would be fun to try out.

Cal Poly dorm, Sierra Madre
My side of the dorm room. These concrete walls were not very inviting.

Cut to me going to school and realizing these dorms were super old. They were not what I expected at all. I quickly learned that these dorms are the “party dorms” and most of the people in them planned on rushing (sororities/fraternities) which is not my style at all. I like to go to bed by 10 and wake up at 7, having productive mornings.

Each room had a mini-fridge, thankfully. And each floor had a microwave, and I was getting pretty good at figuring out how to cook food in it. I was able to cook pasta, and mini cakes in cups. I probably had the biggest stash of food/ingredients in the building. The microwave was great to have until someone inevitably put metal in it and blew it up.

Laundry room for the Sierra Madre dorms

There also wasn’t a good sink to wash dishes on the floor, so I was always taking my dishes to the laundry room 3 floors below to wash them.

To make things worse, the only kitchen was the size of a closet, shared by 5 dorm buildings and only open for a few hours each day. With that many people having access to it, it was never clean either. I think I was only able to use it once or twice.

Work with the dietitian on campus.

My first days, I met with the dietitian to eat some of the food on campus. They didn’t really understand all of the issues with corn, but were willing to try. In one of the dining areas, there was a cooking area that was the dedicated allergen area, ensuring everything was free from the top 8 allergies. They thought that area could accommodate me since I wouldn’t have an allergic reaction to cross contamination.

I had these meals made for me, that were fairly decent. They made me one a day, and would have it set aside ready for pickup. This was before I went vegetarian, so it was typically chicken with salt and pepper and rosemary, potatoes, and steamed vegetables. Nothing I couldn’t eat.

Cal Poly dining food for people with food allergies/intolerances

This worked for a little while, but there were some problems. The first issue was one it took me a while to figure out. I was getting bloated and generally not wanting to eat these meals because they were making me feel sick. Can you tell from the picture what was making me sick? 

It was the container they were putting my food into. Trying to be sustainable, they were using something biodegradable (i.e. cornstarch). And when it was touching hot food, it sort of co-mingled with the food, which made it corny. 

When I brought it up, they were really nice about it, and worked with me to find a container I could clean out and bring back. The next problem was waiting. For some reason, they weren’t making my meals ahead of time. So I would get there and then have to wait half an hour to get my meal. This was just frustrating because it was a waste of my time.

If you don’t have your own kitchen, find one you can “borrow” for a few hours each week.

Recipe for the cookies if you want

Luckily for me, one of my mom’s friends lived about 20 minutes away from the school. And she loves to cook, so she has every kitchen gadget imaginable. I was able to use her kitchen occasionally, which was a huge help. I remember making muffins and bagels in her kitchen. She would freeze them and store them for me, then her daughter in law would bring them with her to work (on campus) and give them to me. So I constantly was having my own homemade food to supplement the other foods I was eating.

There was also this cool study area right off campus that had a kitchen for anyone to use, and a few times my friend and I would go over and make cookies.

Get in contact with the Disability Resource Center (DRC)

PCV at Cal Poly

What dramatically changed my ability to be able to eat enough safe food on campus was when I talked to the DRC. Originally, my parents were trying to help me get something like a toaster oven in my room so I could bake food for myself. That was against regulations; the only way I could use it was if everyone else on the floor could too. This wasn’t going to work for me. The next thought was to move to one of the apartments on campus. It was a little more expensive, but I would have my own room and a kitchen I shared only with 3 other people.

My roommate in the dorms had also talking about moving into an apartment. She talked about it for weeks, whereas days after I talked to the DRC, they had a room I could move into immediately. Working with the DRC and having a kitchen made my life so much better on campus. I stopped eating the meals made for me, because it was too unreliable and just cooked for myself. I also didn’t have to make pasta in the microwave anymore.

Find groups/clubs to join that aren’t food based

There are so many groups that have food as a main priority. A lot of clubs provide free lunches during the meeting, and you can either skip it and still enjoy the meeting, or find something else.

For me, I decided to rock climb. I knew the campus had a climbing gym and I liked rock climbing when I was younger. And I started climbing again the summer before I left for school with a friend and still enjoyed it. One of my first days on campus, I skipped a welcome activity and went to the rock wall. The staff members were so nice, I went back almost every day. Most of my friends from school I met while rock climbing. This way, I didn’t have to worry about being around food and still made great friends.

college with a food intolerance pin

I hope all of this helps! Are you in school and trying to date too? Check out my dating with a food intolerance post for ideas!