A new report from the University of Michigan might be alarming, but it shouldn't be surprising: "College students with food allergies aren't avoiding the foods they know they shouldn't eat. Students of all ages are not treated with potentially life-saving epinephrine as often as they should be. And instructors, roommates and friends often are not aware of what to do if a food-allergic student has a reaction."
(You can read the full article here)
Teens are notorious risk takers, so it should come as no surprise that this includes taking care of their food allergies especially when away from home, often for the first time.
How to prepare your food allergic freshman for college
Assuming that your child's food allergies aren't new and your family's taken all the necessary precautions all along, here are some additional steps to take together with your young adult to empower them to make great choices when it comes to their health and their food allergy awareness.
1. Get nutritional counseling before you go. Nutritionists, in conjunction with your family doctor, can teach your young adult about how to make healthy food choices when away from home - that includes warding off the "Freshman Fifteen" and learning about appropriate substitutions for their food allergies. Nutritional counseling can be something just for them; they can go on their own and tell you what they've learned.
2. Connect with local medical professionals. Help your teen to connect with a local allergist, local hospital and local pharmacist near their college. In case of an emergency, a doctor back home isn't going to do much good. Find local resources together and set up a doctor's appointment. Your teen can go on his own and make the connection once at school. They will need the doctor to give prescriptions for the local pharmacy, so make sure this happens before you drop them off at college.
3. Have a nearby emergency contact. Locate a local, safe person to call in case of an emergency. This could be a friend of the family that lives in the area or a new friend that the student confides in, so long as there is one safe person they feel they can call who is local in case of an emergency. I've personally been the safe person for several of my older friends whose kids come to New York City for college. (Alternatively, if you have friends with food allergic kids coming to a school near you, offer to be their safe person!)
4. Teach the roommates. Encourage your teen to let their new roommates know what to do in an emergency. There may be some resistance to this suggestion; no one wants to walk into a room full of strangers and announce their limitations. So be prepared that this may not happen. But encourage your teen to begin that convo as this could be a lifesaver.
5. Get the RA in on this conversation. Encourage your teen to befriend the Resident Advisor (RA), so they can be a point person, if necessary. The RA should know what an emergency looks like for your teen. Ask your teen for the RA's cell number and, for your own peace of mind, make sure you have the phone numbers of contacts in your teen's dormitory building.
6. Carry an allergy ID. Talk with your teen about wearing a MedicAlert bracelet/necklace or carrying a card with listed allergies, possible reactions and emergency numbers in their wallet or purse. Or encourage the, to carry both. Again, this should feel like their choice, not a demand from you.
7. Keep updated medications. Remind your teen to carry their up-to-date meds at all times, even to class, even to parties. Especially to parties. Get them a new cool carrying case just for the occasion; something you can purchase together.
8. Check the college's food program. Before you go, investigate your college foodservice's food allergy awareness program. Most college campuses have these programs set up, but it never hurts to have a quick conversation with the head of the program and your teen, about what their needs are and what the capabilities of foodservice is. Let your teen guide this conversation and get to know the kitchen staff by name. (The kitchen ladies at my very small college all knew me by name; they would even make me lemon and honey drinks when I had a cold.) If the college food program seems sketchy to you, consider going out of plan so your child can cook or prepare meals in his or her room, assuming there's access to cooking facilities, a stove, microwave or fridge.
College is a time of great learning, stretching and growing on multiple levels. How to take care of one's food allergies away from one's safe zone is a great skill to encourage, as is the independence that comes along with it.
Other Back-To-School Food Allergy Tips: