Transitioning to college or university is one of life’s major milestones. Like all life changes, the move from home to campus brings a unique set of challenges, including sharing space and educational and life experiences with new peers.

Before or after college move-in day, there are many things to research and inquire about the target or selected college—including on-campus dining.

For students who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, some extra research is required specific to the availability of and accessibility to gluten-free meal accommodations.

Legal Aspects of Gluten-Free Dining at College

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specifically itemize or address celiac disease, because this medical condition affects major life activities such as eating and digestion, celiac disease is legally recognized as a disability under the ADA.

In 2012, when the United States Department of Justice announced an agreement with Lesley University and, later, with Rider University, this gave legal precedence for students with celiac disease and other food allergies to have the right to fully and equally enjoy the university’s meal plan and food services.

This means that students with celiac disease have the right to gluten-free meal accommodations when they purchase a meal plan at college.

Tips for Pre-Planning and Research

However, in addition to the law, access to college and university meal plans requires pre-planning and research. Proof of your celiac disease diagnosis may also be needed with a letter or completed form issued by your doctor.

To support your pre-planning or research, below are the key departments and college personnel to contact about access to gluten-free meals on and near campus.

People to talk to about gluten-free meals on the college campus: 

  • Food service director or food services office
  • Registered dietitian 
  • Disability services office 
  • Student health services 

Once these key professionals have been contacted, here are key questions to ask:

Questions to ask about gluten-free meals on the college campus 

  • Is there a gluten-free menu available, and are there several gluten-free meal options available each day? 
  • Do you have to pre-order gluten-free meals? 
  • Do all dining halls or other food outlets on campus have gluten-free options? 
  • Are food service staff trained in allergen safety and gluten-free meal prep? 
  • Are all ingredients checked for gluten-free status? 
  • What steps are taken to prevent cross-contact from storage through prepping and serving foods? 
  • Are there kitchen amenities available to prepare your own meals? 
  • Are there stores on and near campus that have gluten-free foods available?

The transition to college brings many opportunities and challenges to all students, with added ones for those with celiac disease. Remember that there are many resources to assist you with this transition, so please reach out to the many people who can help you ensure a smooth transition as you embark on this exciting change.