1899 Dining Hall on East Campus
1899 Dining Hall on East Campus

What to Eat on Campus When You Have Food Allergies

by Micaela Ricaforte

From getting to know a classmate over pizza at the Cougars’ Den to bringing coffee to a friend studying in the library, a lot of meaningful connections in college happen over food. These moments are something every student should experience, and those with food allergies are no exception.That’s why Dining Services and the Student Health Center are continuously working to improve options for students with dietary restrictions.

Dining Services director Ed Stinchcomb and APU campus dietitian Julie Negron, RD, share some helpful tips for students with food allergies.

You’re Not Alone

Negron said during the school year she sees roughly 80-100 students with dietary restrictions, and even more students email her with questions. With a growing number of students on campus with special diets, Negron works closely with Dining Services to ensure there are plenty of nutritional options for all.

Set Up a Meeting at the Student Health Center

Reach out to [email protected] or call the Student Health Center at (626) 815-2001 to request an individual nutrition assessment with Negron. If you haven’t been formally diagnosed, she suggests going to the doctor and doing so. If you have, then she will gather your medical information, do a food recall, and gauge the level of your allergy education. Then at a follow-up appointment, Negron will use this information to provide resources tailored to your dietary needs and explain how to navigate the dining venues on campus.“I want to help students select nutritious meals while taking their allergies into consideration,” she said. These appointments are covered by the health fee paid at tuition.

Know Your Options

Stinchcomb said that he works with APU’s executive chef and with Negron to adjust the ingredients, recipes, and menu items to provide a variety of options for students with special dietary needs. For students who need gluten-free options, the campus offers gluten-free bread, hamburger buns, sub-sandwich rolls, bagels, tortillas, and muffins available upon request. For those who need dairy-free options, Dining Services provides almond milk, soy milk, and dairy-free cheeses. For plant-based protein, try the tofu bowls at Umai Sushi or the soy chorizo at Mexicali.

Eat a Balanced Meal

Balanced meals consist of lean proteins, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats. APU’s on-campus options are outlined in a Dining Services guide. “Just because you can’t eat certain foods doesn’t mean you can’t eat well-balanced meals,” Negron said. “Our motto is ‘feel energized, concentrate well, stay healthy.’ Eating a variety of nutrient-rich food gives you energy to focus and lessens your chance of getting sick.”

Ask the Staff

If you have food allergies, always notify your server before ordering. Dining Services staff are trained to know which foods contain gluten, dairy, and other allergens. “Students with dietary needs should ask for guidance from dining services staff,” Stinchcomb said. “They are trained on the eight most common food allergens and know how to prevent cross-contact.”

Dining Services offers "allergen-free" tables in the 1899 Dining Hall and Heritage Court. They are also partnering with the Learning Enrichment Center to implement "allergen-free" microwaves available in Cougar's Den and Heritage Court in the upcoming fall semester.

Check the Labels

Before you try something new, Negron suggests checking the nutrition facts label for ingredients and potential allergens. She reviews each food item available on the menus at every dining venue on campus. To check the labels, simply visit Dining Services, open the “menu” option on the left, and choose a venue from the drop-down list to see their menu. Click on a menu item, and the item’s nutrition label will pop up, detailing its ingredients and potential allergens.

Stock Up on Healthy Snacks

Paws-n-Go and Heritage Market both have both snacks and frozen, prepared meals that you can stock up on when you’re on the go. Each market has a gluten-free section with chips, granola bars, muffins, and other snacks. Paws-n-Go even carries dairy-free ice cream sandwiches!

“By empowering students to make healthy choices and take control of their special dietary needs they can get the most of their college experience,” said Negron.

Micaela Ricaforte ’20 is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a double major in journalism and honors humanities.