For many students, college can provide exciting new freedoms. However, it also often presents a number of new and unexpected challenges. For students at the University of Michigan, one such difficulty is now much easier to manage – food allergies.
The University of Michigan has long been among the leaders in helping students manage their food allergies by providing a wide array of dining options to meet special dietary needs. Nevertheless, Residential Dining Services (RDS) in University Housing has taken steps this fall to make it easier than ever for students who eat in campus dining halls to make informed and safe decisions to effectively manage their allergies.
Kathy Whiteside, menu and nutrition information manager for RDS, says providing students with ingredient and allergy information and support is critical for students to be able to manage their own food allergies.
"For many students, college is the first time parents or other family members haven't been around to help manage food allergies," Whiteside says. "Our work is intended to provide assistance to students who are learning to manage their food allergies by giving them the information they need to make safe choices."
RDS began posting dietary and allergen information for its dining options online last year using a system that allows students to easily filter dishes being served at each dining hall on campus. This empowers students with food allergies to see which menu items are safe for them to eat at each dining hall before they go.
This year, RDS also implemented a new practice of posting information about common allergens in its entrees at the point of service to ensure students can make informed decisions to better manage their allergies.
Allergens now noted at the point of service include barley/rye, eggs, fish, milk, oats, peanuts, seeds, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Additionally, point-of-service cards provide macro-nutrition information and specify which dishes are vegetarian, vegan or recognized as healthy dining options by the campus-wide MHealthy program. The MHealthy program is an initiative aimed at creating a healthier campus community by encouraging healthier lifestyles through diet, exercise and other personal wellness activities.
Students requiring additional information about the entrees offered in campus dining halls can access a full list of ingredients and nutritional facts by using MyNutrition, an online tool available to all members of the University community.
"Having all these resources is a great start for students, but I always encourage students to ask questions if they are ever unsure about whether a certain allergen is in a dish. There are several resources available across the University to help them manage their allergies," Whiteside says.
University Unions also label the products made by their chefs with a complete ingredient list and inform customers which products contain nuts, milk, flour, soy and other common allergens and irritants. Additionally, foods prepared by University Unions are labeled as gluten free, locally produced, organic, kosher, vegan, and vegetarian.
Among the other services offered at the University, all students have access to RDS dieticians who work with students to design meal plans that accommodate each student's individual needs. Additionally, the University Health Service has an allergy clinic that offers allergy testing, consultation and immunotherapy to help students navigate their way through their allergies.
"Students should know that we're here to help them learn about and manage their allergies in whatever way best meets their needs," says Dr. Ben Gold, who heads the allergy clinic at UHS. "Food allergies can be serious medical conditions and, as such, require the proper level of attention to ensure students are taking care of themselves."
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