Dorm Survival Guide for Students with Food Allergies or Sensitivities


Dorm Survival Guide for Students with Food Allergies and Intolerances - Gluten-Free Living and BeyondShelby Kaho ~ Going off to school: it can be a scary thing for potential students and their parents alike, especially if they have special dietary needs due to food allergies, food intolerance, or Celiac disease. The dorm life isn’t always hospitable to these needs, unfortunately. With very few cooking appliances allowed and limited food storage, you are almost forced to rely on the dining halls. As a student with celiac disease, I have found this to, sadly, be one of my biggest challenges at my university. However, through my experiences, I have found a system that keeps me well fed and healthy.

One of the most important aspects of a successful dining experience is communication between you and the dining hall staff. It is vital that you let the manager and executive chef know about your food sensitivities. Also, it’s a good idea to check and see what kinds of plans they have for special dietary needs. It is very important to make sure the staff knows about the dangers of cross contamination and other possible dangers. If they don’t have some sort of system set up already, or you are not comfortable with it, make changes! Take charge and make sure your needs are met. Never eat something you aren’t sure of just because it’s easier.

Secondly, ALWAYS have a backup plan! I have found that keeping a good supply of safe foods in my room ensures that I never go hungry. A great idea is when you go home or have access to a kitchen, make meals that you can freeze and then heat up in the microwave. The freezer in my mini fridge is always packed to the top. This has been a lifesaver for me. Also, keep some basics on hand to fill in such as snacks, bread, rice, lunchmeat, fruit, etc.

Dorm Survival Guide for Students with Food Allergies and Intolerances - Gluten-Free Living and Beyond
Shelby’s Fully-Stocked Dorm Freezer

For the concerned parents, sending care packages is a great way to ensure your child is getting fed and it’s also always fun for them to get a package in the mail! Send your child’s favorite snacks (homemade cookies or other baked goods are a nice way to give them a taste of home) and whatever else you want to throw in. I can say with confidence that receiving a package like this from home will make their day. Also, work with your child and their dining hall to make sure they are getting what they need.

This is advice from the prospective of a gluten-free student, but it can be translated to suit you regardless of your dietary needs. Just remember to always be observant and cautious of food you are unsure of. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your health is very important, so don’t put it at risk.

If you’re like me, you probably skim most articles you read online, so here is a summary:

  • Get in contact with your dining hall and work out a plan.
  • Ask questions and do not eat anything you are unsure of.
  • Pre-make meals and freeze them to be reheated in your microwave later.
  • Keep snacks and staple foods on hand such as rice, bread, lunchmeat, and fruits & vegetables.
  • Parents: send care packages with your child’s favorite snacks & keep in contact with the dining hall.


Shelby Kaho is a college sophomore who has lived gluten-free for the last six years. She blogs at and the blog OneHurdle. You can read more about her college dining experiences at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness site.

Dorm Survival Guide for Students with Food Allergies and Intolerances - Gluten-Free Living and Beyond

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

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