Refusing to Settle for Less: The Search for a Gluten-Free Friendly College

Stories and Advice from Gluten-Free Students

By Lianna Prill

Lianna Prill

Lettuce. That’s what’s for dinner…in college?! Folks, I’m not apologizing for wanting a bit more than a sparse plate of lettuce (without dressing, I might add) for meals when I venture off into the next four years of my life. As I’m told, college life is supposed to be fun, vibrant, adventurous and food-filled. I mean, this stage in your life is infamous for the “Freshman Fifteen.” Doesn’t that mean the food must be good? Sadly, while college shopping over the last two years, I had an eerie feeling I was going to be known for the “Freshman Negative Fifteen.” I toured smaller, private universities. They had lettuce. I toured bigger college campuses. They had lettuce. And oh wait, they were getting fancy…they offered apples as well! I felt excluded and like an inconvenience, which was really discouraging. So often I thought, “Celiac disease will not deter me from enjoying college life, living on campus or even attending.”

However, I was mentally going down that path.

Thankfully, I visited a campus that finally understood my needs. (It’s a certain big ten school? Go Big Red? Still nothing?) Well, (in case you didn’t guess) I visited the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after my mother heard though the gluten-free grape vine that it offered food for me! Apparently after contacting the school, the Admissions Office directed her to the foodservice deparment, which led her to its Special Projects Manager, Pam Edwards. Pam told my mom the cafeteria was already serving other students with celiac diseae and gluten-free needs. As it turns out, what I thought was my limitation was going to be cinch to fix at Lincoln. So, I gave it a shot and went for the visit. Once I stepped into the cafeteria, I knew I had just stepped through the gates of a potentially glamorous, gluten-free life. I mean, hello, the only way to get tuition out of a girl with celiac disease is through her stomach!

It was so refreshing to have a plate of “normal” food and sit down and discuss my future eating plans with supervisors and chefs. They were not only feeding me exciting information, but more importantly, gluten-free bread! After that meeting, I felt safe and secure in their hands for my next four years at Lincoln. They knew my dietary needs, how to prepare my food, what to give me, what not to give me – and most of all, it was so much more than just lettuce.

Food should never be an issue, especially for a teenager, when life already seems to be tough enough. That’s exactly why I decided to make the gluten-free lifestyle my platform this past year as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. As an ambassador for both the Miss America Organization and Children’s Miracle Network, I also traveled the state promoting celiac disease awareness and the gluten-free lifestyle. I knew that the crown on my head would be a megaphone for both my story and crucial, life-saving information about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.

Getting ready to head to college makes me think back to all the issues I faced before my diagnosis. At the tender age of six, my life had begun to spin out of control. I endured daily visits to the school nurse, experimental medical treatments and countless opinions from doctors. Still, there were no answers. I remember lying on the cold bathroom floor undergoing yet another nightly migraine, feeling like my body was my prison and I was trapped without a glimmer of hope. Ten arduous years later, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Now adhering to a strict gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyle, my symptoms have decreased dramatically. While my daily battle entails a crazy amount of self-discipline, it has molded me into a unique student and advocate for celiac disease, especially because I understand both ends of the spectrum: Struggling to complete day-to-day activities and grasping the unbelievable sense of empowerment I have when I’m feeling well.

Today, I eagerly wait to move into the dorms, get involved in sorority life and feel included. And it’s all thanks to my gluten-free and dairy-free cafeteria at UNL (did I mention they were trained by the GREAT Schools, Colleges and Camps gluten-free training program from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness?). I’m so thankful for the facility and hope other college freshman to realize that college is totally doable, especially with more than lettuce on the plate.

– Lianna