Teens in the Real World
  Food Allergies in the Real World  

Insight from College Students


I found out about my food allergies during my senior year of college, so it was important to tell my friends everything about my allergy. My friends were the ones who spent hours in the grocery store with me, trying to figure out what I could eat. My friends were the ones who cooked me special dinners when others were going out to eat. They became my family. Together we found restaurants around my university where I could eat, and we stuck to those. If you are firm and calmly explain things to roommates and the student housing staff, people will begin to understand and help you in any way possible. Once people realize how serious your food allergy is, chances are they don’t want to be the one to send you to the hospital.

~Abby, age 23. Allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.


Watch out for sharing drinks. My friend ate food that I am allergic to and then we drank from the same bottle—big mistake. I ended up, once again, with an allergic reaction.”

~Nicole, age 19. Allergic to peanuts


I am a 20-year-old college junior. When I first got to school, I told only my close friends about my food allergies, and they were all very understanding and supportive. If I went to meals with other people, I would have to explain why I had a different meal, but this was easier than going around and telling everyone. There were difficult times, such as when my friends ordered pizza or ate ice cream, but I got used to it.

Now I have moved into an apartment and am able to cook for myself. I want to let other teenagers like me know that it is possible to go off to college, enjoy yourself, and have a social life, but it takes time to adjust.

~Lauren S.


I developed food allergies this year during my first year in college. I would suggest that you meet with the school nutritionist and someone in the health center. They are more likely to be able to work with the food service than you alone.

At least at my school, the nutritionist is the liaison between students and food service workers. Give the nutritionist a list of your allergies (sometimes you have to write things out simply — she might not be totally up-to-date on hidden things that contain what you are allergic to).

If the food service cannot accommodate you, most schools have reasonable accommodations you can apply for. For example, next year I am guaranteed housing with access to a (public) kitchen. I also don’t have to be on a formal meal plan even though it is required for all students living on campus.

Always keep extra food in your room. You never know when you will miss a meal, the dining hall closes, your friends order out, and its not safe for you.



The college I attended had kitchens in at least a third of the dorms. Before orientation, I made sure that my allergist supplied a letter stating that I had serious food allergies and that proper accommodations needed to be made, including the possibility of cooking my own food. Having that on file would give me leverage if the lottery did not place me in a dorm with a kitchen. Fortunately, I received my first choice dorm.


I chose an on-campus housing arrangement where my roommates and I cook our own food. I didn’t know any of my roommates before arriving at school, but I contacted them before school started and explained my food allergies and the precautions I would need to take. This also gave them an opportunity to ask questions before we got together to make appropriate plans. I was pleasantly surprised at their reactions. They were all willing to learn about my allergies and have been very willing to accommodate me whenever possible. I brought my own dishes and cooking tools and keep them separate from my roommates’ utensils. They all cook together during the week, and I make my separate meals, but each Sunday we make a meal together with ingredients that are safe for me.


Do you have tips to share with other food-allergic students heading off to college?

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