Monday, August 8, 2011

Off to College – Meeting with the Nutritionist

If you’re taking a child with food allergies or food restrictions to college for the first time, chances are you’re a lot less worried about how they’ll get along with their roommate than whether or not they’ll be able to eat safely on campus.

When I dropped my food-allergic son off at campus, it was the first time I was entrusting his food decisions to someone else for more than a few days at a time. Prior to that, if he went on a class trip or a weekend away, I could pack enough snacks to make sure he didn’t starve.

My son was well trained. He knew at least as much about food ingredients and what he could and couldn’t eat as I did. While some parents worry that their kids would cheat and try unsafe foods, I didn’t – my son knew how miserable he could be if he eat the wrong foods.

I wasn’t worried about him. I was worried about the people who would serve him.

Suddenly, he was on a meal plan. The food service staff was making the decisions about what food to buy and serve. Would there be appropriate choices? Would he get enough to eat?

The single most important step I took at this critical time was to meet with the nutritionist at the college before leaving campus. While I knew that this was just a small step, and that my son would need to forge his own long-term relationship with her an others, the meeting went a long way to putting my mind at ease.

The single most important question to ask when you meet with the nutritionist is, “How do you accommodate food allergies?” The goal of this open-ended question is to determine what procedures are in place for the staff, and what kind of support system is in place for the students. Other questions to ask include:
  • Can special allergen-free meals be prepared? For example, if pasta is on the menu for tonight, can the student call ahead and ask for gluten-free pasta?
  • Can special foods be ordered? During my son’s first year at college, the nutritionist ordered cases of vanilla hemp milk and gluten-free cereal for him; due to his food allergy he was allowed to use his meal plan to cover these costs. If your student has a favorite bread, cereal, or milk alternative, will the college purchase it in bulk? Will they designate this food for your student?
  • Are substitutions allowed? For example, can a salad be substituted for the bread when purchasing a burger?
Go to the meeting prepared with a list of specific products that you know you can eat safely.

For more suggestions on going off to college with food allergies, see my column at Living Harvest.

4 comments: said...

Dear Colette,
You are making a very positive difference through your knowledge on EoE and through maternal instincts. We will be recommending your blogs and websites to the patients and families we serve. Keep up the great work.
- Dr. Atul Shah,

Colette said...

Dr. Shah, I am always to help any way I can.

Marie said...

These are the very same things my nutritionist Long Island told me to ask. I love how you framed the questions. It can be easy to betray your expectations with simple "yes and no" questions.

Nutrition Forum Fred said...

Nothing is more important than healthy eating! Put in the wrong fuel or let it go without regular use and there's no way it can deliver its full power and performance. Without healthy eating, your body's engine will cough, splutter and eventually stall.