Gluten-free college student Chynna Foucek runs down effective ways for college students to stay safe from gluten ingestion in the dorm room.
By Chynna Foucek
Be sure to check out Chynna’s Celiac 101 blog series, happening on “College Student with Celiac”!
Eating in a dining hall on a college campus can sometimes be a risk for college students with celiac disease. For the first time, neither you nor your family is in complete control of preparing the gluten-free foods you eat. Even if a school has incredible gluten-free accommodations, there is always the potential for accidental gluten ingestion (this can occur, for example, if you eat something that you assume to be gluten-free because you prepare it without gluten at home). While I hope that accidents like that are rare for most gluten-free college students, the risk is still there and, as a result, requires extra vigilance. Thankfully, for a college student with celiac disease, your dorm room is an incredibly safe space; because it’s where you live, you have complete control in ensuring that your dorm room remains “gluten-free.”
For this post in my Celiac 101 Series, I wanted to focus on ways to “gluten-proof” your dorm room and provide a list of tips for keeping your dorm room safe. From stocking your drawers with the best gluten-free snacks, to letting your new roommate know about your dietary accommodations, I hope this post helps you create the ultimate safe space!
Me in my gluten proofed dorm room!
There are a few kitchen appliances that should definitely travel with you to college this semester. Certain items are crucial in your quest to prep your dorm room and create a gluten-free haven. I highly recommend bringing a refrigerator in order to keep extra gluten-free food. This will be important for any cravings you have during late night studying, and is also valuable for keeping healthier options like your favorite fruits and vegetables (should they be unavailable in your dining hall). Your own refrigerator, rather than the communal fridge on your floor, keeps your food safe, and minimizes the chance that someone will take your food. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to keep the refrigerator in your room specifically gluten-free in order to prevent cross-contact and mix-ups with other students.
If your school allows it, I also recommend a microwave and refrigerator combo! It’s always a good idea to keep a microwave in your room. In the event that there aren’t viable gluten-free options in your cafeteria one night, you can quickly microwave a frozen meal from companies such as Ian’s or Glutenfreeda! You’ll also want the ability to microwave a gluten-free pizza if you get an occasional late-night craving for a college staple! As a student with celiac disease, it’s crucial to have quick and accessible gluten-free options. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you’re hungry and surrounded only by gluten-containing foods.
It’s also a good idea to bring your own sponges. If there’s a kitchen in your dorm with sponges, you don’t want to use these. These can contaminate your utensils and dishes if they were once used to wash a plate that had gluten.
My dorm room junior year, my single room was 100% gluten-free!
Cross-contact can easily occur if utensils and plates are not cleaned properly and have previously been used to serve something that contains gluten. As I mentioned before, it’s important to use your own sponge when cleaning your plates and utensils. There are also several other steps you can take to ensure that you keep your dishware safe from gluten. Keep your utensils and plates tucked away in a drawer, or on a shelf in your own room so that no one mistakenly uses them. Label your cutlery, dishes and any containers you store these items in with “Gluten-Free” and your name. You can also order these amazing gluten-free stickers from Gluten Libre! If you have friends who regularly visit your room, explain that these items are for your own use, and offer to keep a set of plastic cutlery in your room for their use.
I think one of the most challenging things for a college student with celiac disease is approaching a roommate about the disease. I know I would have rather spent time talking about my hobbies rather than my necessary dietary accommodations. However, it’s much easier for a roommate to respect your gluten-free lifestyle if they understand the severity of the disease and the necessity of maintaining the gluten-free diet.
When you receive the contact information, don’t feel pressured to talk about your gluten-free diet right away. Talk about interests and hobbies via Facebook message or email, and get to know them first. As the semester approaches, explain that you have celiac disease and are required to maintain a gluten-free diet. Explain why you require a gluten-free diet, and explain what happens to your body if you do ingest gluten. Most importantly, talk about cross-contact, which occurs when gluten-containing food (or something that has touched gluten) comes into contact with a gluten-free food. Explain that because of cross-contact, you like to play it safe and tell them you will be bringing a fridge specifically for gluten-free food, (but don’t forget to offer to share your gluten-free goodies!) and that you need a special set of utensils and plates so that there’s no threat of cross-contact.
Let your roommate know that it’s okay for them to have gluten in the dorm room, as long as it stays on their side of the room, or in their own fridge. Thank your roommate for their ability to be so accommodating, and offer to tell them more about the disease over a gluten-free meal once school starts. With increasing awareness of celiac disease throughout the country, there’s a good chance your roommate might have heard of celiac disease before!