Tips for College Freshmen: Adapting to New Norms With Food Allergies During COVID-19

What’s up, y’all? I’m Anesha Santhanam, and I’m here with tips for college students getting ready for their next semester!

With the current COVID-19 situation prompting many changes in on-campus housing, on-site/online learning, meal delivery and transportation, it is crucial that college students prepare to adapt to the changes happening in their university’s education landscape.

As a freshman in college, I have attended many College Dining During COVID-19 webinars, including those from my own university, to learn more about the current situation and how dining will be managed by colleges as they implement social distancing measures. 

Although I’ll be studying remotely this year, I’ve compiled a list of helpful tips from these webinars and other sources for all college students (studying at-home or in-person) about on-campus dining, online grocery shopping, food delivery, managing an allergic reaction, and how to stay safe during this pandemic. I hope these tips help you to efficiently manage your food allergies whether you are learning on-campus or at home.


On-Campus Dining Tips Before Move-In Day

  • If you will be on campus next semester, contact the Head of Dining Services at your college and set up a call/Zoom meeting with them to discuss the dining options given to students with food allergies.

  • Set up a meeting with the head chef at the university to specify allergens and prepare your meal plan in advance. Remember that some dining locations may have restricted hours and availability, as well as different food options due to the pandemic. 

  • Know the locations of off-campus dining spots you can order from, as well as local grocery stores and their delivery options. Your university may have its own delivery system for groceries as well. 

  • Research how your university is ordering and distributing their food. Some universities give students the option of ordering from food delivery services such as GrubHub or UberEats if they are living off-campus. Other colleges offer pickups at select locations on campus. Know the menu/hours of operation of each location and which ones cater to your needs the most. 

  • Know the emergency services located on/around campus. Keep the phone numbers of the campus police or local authorities saved in your phone and on a physical piece of paper which you should carry with you at all times. In case of an allergic reaction, know the protocol your college takes. Will they administer epinephrine? Will you be taken directly to the hospital? Make sure you know all the details and who to call if you have a reaction. 

Online Grocery Shopping and Ordering Food for Delivery  Whether you are on campus or learning at home, knowing your best options for ordering food items comes in handy. In a time where indoor dining is limited and unsafe, here are some tips to ensure that your food allergies are taken care of when you order online: 

  • Know which online ordering option works best for you. Some food delivery apps and websites have a section where you can specify dietary restrictions, whereas others do not. 

  • Every time you order food from a restaurant or outside source, make sure to notify the person who is delivering your food AND the restaurant you are ordering from that you have food allergies. Making a quick call to the restaurant after placing your order to let them know that your order needs to be made specially could help ensure that your food will be allergen free. 

  • When ordering groceries from a delivery app/website, make sure ingredients are listed. Additionally, selecting the “no alternatives” option for a specific item you want to purchase ensures that if the original item is not available, the person picking up your food will not select an alternative that has your allergens in it. If you have to pick an alternative item, make sure you specify food that is safe to eat. 

What If? Handling an Allergic Reaction Once you have your meals taken care of, you might be wondering: “Even though I carefully ordered food and specified my allergens, what if I have an allergic reaction?” In a time where going to the hospital may put you at even more of a health risk, FARE’s Dr. Thomas B Casale (Distinguished Chairman, FARE Clinical Network) helped develop guidelines for managing an allergic reaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. I will be summarizing the points below, along with other tips, but you can learn more here

  • Prior to reaching campus, make sure your medications are not expired and you have access to reordering your auto-injector from a pharmacy or drugstore near campus. Check their delivery times/schedule: sometimes medication may take weeks to arrive. Also, note down the expiration date and set a reminder to reorder a few weeks in advance. 

  • If you are attending college on-campus, make sure your friends, academic advisors, and RAs (Resident Assistants) know about your food allergies. In case of a reaction, they will be able to get help if you are unable to. 

  • If you are studying remotely at home, reach out to your doctors or pediatricians in order to establish a protocol for handling a possible reaction, and get clarification on the necessary steps to be taken after administering your auto-injector at home, such as rushing to the hospital or administering another epinephrine dose.

  • Follow strict safety measures when handling food. Don’t try to take risks with unfamiliar items during this pandemic.

Social Distancing and Self-Care Additional safety requirements such as social distancing have become a number one priority. Here are some general practices you should follow:

  • Wear a mask when you are out in public, and wear gloves when handling food or surfaces that could be contaminated.

  • Handle food with caution. Make sure you are not sharing food with others, which could cause cross contamination with COVID-19 and cross-contact with food allergens. 

  • Wipe down surfaces! As a part of the food allergy community, we are already used to doing this on airplanes, in restaurants and other venues, so step up your safety precautions. Make sure you sanitize surfaces, including utensils being reused such as plates, forks, and knives, in order to keep yourself safe. 

Following these tips prior to and during your college experience, whether in-person or at home, will ensure that you are taking as many precautions as you can to stay safe, manage your food allergies efficiently, and make the most of your time in college. 

Even though we have a pandemic on our hands, stay optimistic—there are millions of teens with food allergies going through the same exact thing, and we can get through this together! 


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