By Wendy Gregory Kaho
Choosing a college can be tough when you have celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity. If your child is required to live in the dorms, you need to know what to look for in the dining hall to determine if a school really can meet your gluten-free needs. Here are some tips from our experience sending two gluten-free teens off to small liberal arts colleges.
Despite the good reputations in the food service world of both dining services, we found a wide variation in knowledge and follow through in serving gluten-free meals in both colleges. Look for dining services with training programs within the corporation and look out for programs that are researched and implemented by the chef or manager on duty.
Beware if you have new a new chef or dining manager. They will be getting an entire program up and running at the start of the school year and special diet meals will fall thorough the cracks and off their radar.
Smaller colleges are not always safer. With a much smaller gluten-free population to feed, some schools may have little to no experience even serving gluten-free meals. Ask very pointed, specific questions of everyone when asking about gluten-free meals. Watch the servers, the students and the kitchen preparation to see if you can spot weak links and poor kitchen practices.
Get everything in writing and consider registering with the Students with Disabilities Office at your school. This will protect you and your investment once you do choose a school.
Know your child. Will they ask for help, know how to recognize their own symptoms of gluten exposure or will they try to blend in and not make a fuss about getting safe meals? Choosing a school where it is easy, available and convenient to eat gluten free may make more sense if your child doesn’t want to be involved and public about eating gluten free.
Know that you can be excused from dorm living due to medical reasons and for many that is the safest route. If your child doesn’t have GI symptoms, but has more non-specific fatigue, flu-like symptoms or hasn’t had a lot of experience with gluten exposure, you may want to avoid the risk altogether.
Both schools we chose strongly stressed that parents needed to step away and let their children and the schools get down to business without the helicopter parent hovering. Don’t let that intimidate you or reassure you that your child will be cared for as promised. We were stunned to find that no one checked in with our son from the chef, the dean or the nurse despite promises to keep tabs on him and his diet.
Don’t be afraid to demand a refund or a rollover of your child’s very expensive meal plans if they fail to provide the safe gluten-free food that was promised. We asked for and received both from schools that failed our children.
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