I attended a small liberal arts college with one of the highest ranked cafeterias in the country; essentially an ideal eating situation for a college student. There was a bountiful salad bar, a sandwich station, multiple hot meal options that actually tasted pretty good, and an abundant supply of easier options like yogurt and cereal. We were blessed with fresh options, monthly theme nights, and chicken tenders on Wednesdays. The food service provider practiced buying seasonal and sustainable produce from local farmers and minimize food waste. Like I said, pretty ideal—unless of course you have food allergies.As a college freshman I knew about peanut allergies and lactose intolerance, but had never heard of celiac disease or grain allergies. It simply wasn’t on my radar. That changed when a friend was put on a sugar-free, mostly fruit free, vinegar-free, grain-free diet by her doctor. The limitations nearly blew my mind. This wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity and she couldn’t deviate from the plan if there were no other options. So I watched my friend negotiate dorm life and meal plans without any of the stereotypical foods that college students subsist on.With colleges beginning again, the challenge of dorm life for those with food allergies or other dietary restrictions continues. And it’s important to think about how students with food allergies can maximize their dining options without endangering their health. One thing my friend did was speak with the manager of the food service provider in order to guarantee that food preparation hadn’t exposed her food to ingredients she couldn’t eat. Contamination can occur in the prep stages because of shared countertops, knives, and pans, so it is important to know what hidden opportunities for exposure there are. She also found out about food that was already safe to eat, and what dishes the staff could prepare quickly. Another idea is to find a cookbook for cafeteria eating or dorm-room microwave eating. For example,our student body released an annual cookbook with ways to use the available dining hall ingredients in the microwave and the waffle iron to create interesting dishes. You can find some examples here, here, here, and here.The key is thinking about the available foods as ingredients rather than as final products. And many of the available foods are increasingly healthy options that make it easier to create your own dish. With a basic idea and better options, you get maximum creativity within the confines of a dining hall that isn’t specifically designed to address food allergies.
The dorm room is another place for creativity. Learning to cook on a hot plate, in a microwave, or with a toaster oven is the beginning of a lifetime of delicious food made in a limited kitchen. And in the spirit of dining hall and dorm cooking, here is an easy meal that is gluten and corn free. Keep an eye out on our social media for additional options!
- 2 handfuls Raw or steamed cauliflower florets
- 2 handfuls raw spinach
- 1 handful peas or other vegetable
- 4-6 slices pepper jack cheese
- 1 generous dollop greek or plain yogurt or splash whole milk
- Place a tablespoon (large splash) water in the bottom of your bowl with the cauliflower and then the spinach on top. Tear or cut the cauliflower into smaller pieces if desired. Microwave covered for 1 minute, checking to make sure that the vegetables are tender but not soft. Microwave for 30 more seconds if they are not done. Note: If your cauliflower is already steamed, add this after the spinach has cooked.
- Stir in your peas, yogurt, and torn slices or chunks of pepper jack cheese. If there are other types of cheese, vegetables, or meats that you want in your mac + cheese, now is a good time to add them.
- Microwave again for 2-2 ½ minutes. When you remove the bowl from the microwave give a vigorous stir or two. Your cauliflower should be al dente, the cheese and yogurt sauce-like, and the other vegetables integrated into your mac + cheese.