As the prevalence of food allergens becomes a growing concern, college dining teams are rolling out a number of initiatives to address allergies. From clearer menu labeling to stocking EpiPens in dining halls, schools are employing multiple means to help ensure students can dine without worry.
Last semester, University of Maryland Dining Services Director Colleen Wright-Riva told The Diamondback that about 130 of the 9,000 students enrolled in the school’s meal plans had reported to the foodservice department that they had a food allergy. Around 30 of those allergies were potentially life-threatening, she said.
Read on for a look at several college dining concepts that address allergies and other dietary restrictions while retaining student appeal.
Magnolias Zero 7
With a focus on from-scratch preparation, Magnolias Zero 7 serves up comfort cuisine for students at Texas Christian University (TCU). Given the rise in food allergies, members of the dining team spent months conducting research to develop this concept, which opened in August 2017 and doesn’t use ingredients containing wheat, soy, gluten, eggs, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts or shellfish, says Scott Majestic, general manager for Sodexo at TCU. By making items from scratch, they can avoid allergens that might lurk in premade ingredients, such as the soy protein often found in bottled varieties of balsamic vinaigrette, he says. The concept’s smoked bacon macaroni and cheese, which is made using rice pasta, rice milk, vegan cheese and nutritional yeast, has been particularly popular.
Student favorites at this allergen-friendly and kosher concept at Penn State University include quinoa falafel, aquafaba ice cream, Mac ‘n “Not” Cheese and fried chicken. Located in an all-you-care-to-eat facility on campus, Pure serves about 450 meals daily, all of which are free of the eight most common allergens, in addition to sesame and wheat. Compostable plates and bowls are used to prevent cross-contamination via servingware, says Brooke Jodon, assistant director for the East Food District at Penn State. The dining team has begun packaging Pure’s meals for campus c-stores so that students can access allergen-friendly and kosher items outside of the dining hall’s operating hours.
This eatery in Vanderbilt University’s Rand Dining Hall is free of the top eight allergens, as well as sesame, which is “rearing up to be the big number nine,” says Meredith Williams, a registered dietitian with Vanderbilt Campus Dining. Everything offered at the concept, which opened in August 2018, is made to order or build your own, Williams says. To avoid inadvertent cross contamination, its selection of smoothies, salads and stir-fries are served Chipotle-style instead of in a self-serve format, and all items are packaged in compostable to-go containers.
Students at Oklahoma State University seeking allergy-friendly fare can find it at The Natural, which serves up paninis, flatbreads and other handhelds. The concept is completely enclosed in glass to keep cross-contamination at bay, says Rachel Metzger, a marketing coordinator with the Oklahoma State University Student Union. Offerings at The Natural do not contain shellfish, fish, peanut, soy, wheat or egg ingredients, and are also gluten-free. Students looking for vegan options can also request that items be prepared with dairy-free cheese and without meat.