From grab-and-go to made-to-order, students with dietary restrictions have options
For students with food allergies and dietary restrictions, going away to college includes a unique set of stressors. Determining what to eat, where to eat and whether meals are safe can be exhausting. Peyton Schilling, a first-year student from Long Island, was diagnosed with Celiac disease in first grade and is all too familiar with food-related stress. She was especially concerned about what her options would be when she enrolled at Binghamton University this fall.
She soon found that Binghamton University Dining Services (BUDS) staff could accommodate her dietary needs. The BUDS team offers plenty of options across campus, and works closely with Schilling and other students who have special dietary needs.
“Everyone is so helpful,” Schilling said. “I just go back into the kitchen and talk to everyone. It’s that easy.”
Schilling primarily eats at the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4), where she and the chefs have developed a personal relationship. On her first day of the semester, she spoke to C4 Executive Chef Sam Pfaffenbach, who explained that anything Schilling can imagine — from pizza to pasta, chicken fingers to brownies — he can make for her. When Schilling wants something from C4, all she has to do is place an order and the chefs make it up fresh for her. She’s welcome to walk straight back into the kitchen to place her order, as are other students with dietary restrictions, so she can eat the same things her friends do with no stress or worry about getting sick.
Alexa Schmidt, one of two registered dietitians on the BUDS staff, is dedicated to helping students with dietary restrictions feel at ease while dining on campus. She regularly fields calls from prospective students asking about the dietary accommodations on campus. Once they’ve arrived on campus, she urges students to take advantage of free nutrition advising sessions.
After students meet with her, Schmidt encourages them to meet with the executive chefs at any of the dining halls. For prospective students and their families, Schmidt also arranges tours of dining halls and introduces them to executive chefs, unit managers and staff.
“We’re here as a resource,” she said. “We like to meet with every student that has special dietary needs so that we can provide the best service possible.”
For students who prefer to simply grab and go, rather than place an order, Simple Servings is always an option. The station, which can be found in both C4 and the Appalachian Dining Hall, avoids seven major allergens (milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish) and gluten. Featuring just what the name promises — simple dishes — Simple Servings always offers two proteins, a starch, two vegetables and a bean/lentil option. The food it serves is stored separately and cooked separately from other dining hall foods, minimizing the risk of cross-contact.
Gluten-free students on the go also have the option of grabbing prepackaged gluten-free foods from any of the dining halls, including gluten-free cookies, brownies, bagels, bread and rolls. The BUDS team separates all of the gluten-free food into “zones” to ensure students can quickly and easily get what they need and provides a completely separate toaster and microwave for gluten-free students to use. BUDS also recently rolled out a health and wellness table in each dining hall with information about allergen-free and gluten-free dining.
“We work very hard to make sure that we can meet anybody’s dietary restriction,” said Lori Benson, BUDS director of marketing.
Every member of the BUDS team works to ensure that students have a safe, healthy dining experience. For the students, dining nerves aren’t necessary. All they have to do is be a little proactive, like Schilling, and they’ll be set to eat to their hearts’ content.