How To Eat Gluten Free On Campus

There are at least 3 million Americans currently living with Celiac disease (Source: Celiac Disease Center). This means that there are almost 200 thousand American college students needing gluten free food on campus or nearby.

Today’s student story is brought to you by Ciara Rogers. She’s a recent graduate who’s currently on a gap year before graduate school and she has so much helpful advice for other students that have celiac disease and need to eat gluten free in a dining hall.

Ciara Rogers - How To Eat Gluten Free On Campus

Name: Ciara Rogers
School: Purdue University
Major/Degree: Bachelor of Science in Dietetics/Nutrition
Status/Class: Graduated – Class of 2019

How To Eat Gluten Free On Campus

Living With Celiac disease

I have been following a gluten free diet for 9 years! Growing up, I was sick a lot with gastrointestinal issues, joint pain, classified as ‘failure to thrive’, and had an indication of an autoimmune disorder. After years of going to doctors with no diagnosis, and my symptoms only worsening, my family decided we would try the gluten free diet. Usually, this is not recommended, and I still would not recommend for anyone to go on a gluten free diet without a proper diagnosis. My mom’s aunt carried both genes for celiac disease, and my symptoms aligned with those characteristic of someone with gluten intolerance. The summer going into my 8th grade year I had to get mouth surgery done. After the surgery I became even more sick and started losing weight I couldn’t afford to lose. My mom and I decided to talk to our cousin who had been gluten free for many years due to celiac disease. I was able to try gluten free foods and see they actually didn’t taste awful! When we left that day I realized it was the first meal in weeks I didn’t have a stomach ache, and I’ve been following a gluten free diet ever since. You can read more about my gluten free story on my blog where I go into more detail. 

A Welcoming University

I was definitely nervous about going to college and needing to eat gluten free. I had only lived in a totally gluten free household and took my lunch all throughout high school. I did reach out to the college ahead of time to find out how they catered to those with food allergies and gluten intolerance. Luckily, there was a great Registered Dietitian (RD) who worked in the dining courts and took food allergies and gluten intolerance very seriously. 

Eating Gluten Free Food On Campus

This was the tricky part! There was an app that would list the available foods being served and whether or not they were gluten free and what the ingredients were. There were times when I would plan on going to one dining court because they had a gluten free option, only to find they weren’t serving it that day – I would end up eating a salad and fruit for my lunch. One of the dining courts had a make your own pasta dish where a food service staff would prepare it for you. The Registered Dietitian made sure the gluten free pasta was elbow shaped, while the regular pasta was fusilli. One day I was served pasta I knew wasn’t gluten free because it wasn’t elbow shaped. I made sure to not eat the pasta and texted the RD to let her know. 

Where I attended college there were about 5 dining courts students could eat at. Only 2-3 of those I trusted to eat gluten free at, and I really only ate at one consistently (where the RD was). The RD did her best at educating the other dining courts, but the one she was primarily at did the best job and was where I felt the safest eating. 

Living With Roommates Who Aren’t Gluten Free

If you want to live in the dorms your freshman year but have to eat gluten free, don’t let that stop you. I would recommend living in dorms your freshman year, if you have already talked with the dining courts and campus RD and feel comfortable eating in the dining courts. 

I would also recommend thinking about living off campus. I lived off campus my junior and senior year and it had its pros and cons with eating gluten free. I was able to use a crock pot and had an actual kitchen to cook meals in. But, not all my roommates were gluten free which made it very difficult at times – cross contact was definitely an issue here. 

College Students eating at a dining table

Struggles With Cross-Contamination

Overall, eating gluten free on campus wasn’t difficult all the time. My sophomore year, I ended up having more gastrointestinal issues, and this made eating in the dining courts even more difficult. Asides from the dining courts, there were two other restaurants on campus I felt safe eating at. The biggest challenge was conveying my concerns about cross contact. For example, making sure my gluten free sandwich was not prepared on the same equipment as the other gluten-containing sandwiches. 

Ultimate Advice

The best advice I can give someone else who is going to college and needs to eat gluten free is to talk with the dining courts ahead of time and see if you can speak with the campus Registered Dietitian. I also recommend getting a doctors note so you can have your own mini fridge and microwave. Dorms typically allow one mini fridge and one microwave per room. I was able to have my own because I am very sensitive to cross contact, and I didn’t run into any issues because I had a note from my doctor. 

My last piece of advice is to not let your dietary restrictions define you. During my freshman and sophomore year, I let this happen and it got in the way of activities I wanted to do, just because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to eat there or I would have to take my meals places. Turns out, I did have to take my meals at times or had to communicate with someone in charge of the event, but that was ok! I enjoyed my time at college more when I didn’t let eating gluten free get in my way.


Ciara Rogers is a blogger at Faith Fashion Food With C where she shares Lifestyle, Fashion, and Gluten Free content. You can also find her on Instagram @faithfashionfoodwithc. We’d like to formally thank Ciara for sharing her Student Story here on Bloom + Amplify.

College Girl Eating at a table