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I’m back home, and have 2 weeks to catch up on posts that I had meant to write while I was in North Dakota. Oh well. They’ll get written and posted over the next 2 weeks. Here’s the one on special meal requests that I had mentioned I was going to try waaaayyy back almost 2 months ago.
I mustered the courage to try out the online special gluten free meal request form for dinner one night, and then I just kept on using it. The cooks learned how to cook safely for me (there was certainly some fear and trembling at times as I am the first severely food allergic student they have ever fed), and it was realllllly nice to have a cooked meal that resembled a “normal” meal instead of random other things and sandwiches. So, here are a few pictures of my dinners over the first few weeks.
I did have some reaction to one meal, which we have no idea what it was, but other than that, everything went well. Though this worked well for me, depending on your sensitivity and specific allergens it may or may not work for you, so make sure to discuss it with your doctor(s) and consider all the options before deciding. However, my experience is that it IS possible to eat safely in a college cafeteria, IF they are aware of how to keep food allergic students safe and really do take extreme caution.
I have had bad experiences with eating out before, to the point where I dread eating out nearly anywhere, as it’s really hard to really know what’s going on in the kitchen or anywhere that “my food” would be. I’ve dealt with a university cafeteria before (2 years ago, before I was really sensitive to dairy, and before I found out I had celiac disease and other allergies and sensitivities), and they did not know how to really provide safe food. They had good intentions and wanted to try to make sure I had food to eat, but they knew nothing about and when I explained what cross-contamination (CC) is only a few of the workers really understood. Unfortunately, the cafeteria head manager did not understand what CC was, and even less what “dairy” was.
So, this summer, I was nervous about going back to be an on-campus student for the summer, even though it was at a different university. I was told by someone who has been here before that the cafeteria has dealt with gluten-free students before, and that helped some, though I was still nervous. At church on Wednesday night a few days before I left for ND, the last verses on the notes handout was from Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Ok, God, I think I get it. So I relaxed some, had some backup food in my luggage for the first days and was ready to start trying to work with the cafeteria when I got here.
Well, I got here almost a week ago, and I didn’t eat the first 2 meals in the cafeteria because I hadn’t yet talked with the dietician, but every meal since (14 meals), I have eaten there, and I’m still alive and haven’t gotten sick, yet. Hopefully it will stay that way. EpiPen stays with me every time I’m in the cafeteria and with me around campus, and we’re all hoping that EpiPen stays in my pocket and/or backpack for the whole summer. The last week has been really busy, with classes and homework pretty much all day every day so far, yet I’ve had many conversations with kitchen staff, and we still are working on solutions to things as they come.
Monday afternoon the other food allergic student (whom I’ve become good friends with) and I met with the dietician…. for 1 1/2 hours discussing food, food, and more food. We talked about different concerns, especially CC. We also talked about different brands that we were used to and what we had found worked at home. He gave us a tour of the different areas of the cafeteria, especially the “special diet needs” fridge. He introduced us to some of the head cooks (and I’ve met more since).
When we started talking about brands and he knew what brands we were talking about, that was a good sign for me. He knew what gluten free meant, he knew the difference between “lactose-free” and “dairy-free” (they do NOT always mean the same thing) and he was very very familiar with food labeling terms. But the most surprising thing? He has spent time to develop a complete listing of all the foods and the ingredient labels and different foods! ALL ONLINE!!!! AND!!!! he also showed us the special online GF food request form(on the right)!! I haven’t yet used the special request form, but I intend to look at it more closely this weekend and start using it next week. I just haven’t had time yet. However, I’m looking forward to using it. I’ll let you know how that goes.
For this last week I’ve eaten plenty of veggies/salad and fruit.
I’ve also had sammiches (gluten free sandwiches) and they even got a new toaster so that the gluten free bread could be toasted(I totally wasn’t expecting that)!!
They have looked for foods we can eat, and I’ve also been introduced to French Meadow Bakery‘s GF breads and treats (their brownies are reallly good), and also So Delicious’s Coconut milk (it’s actually pretty good, though a bit different from what I was expecting), and more.
I communicate with at least 1 of the head chefs every day, several times a day, and I’ve gotten to know 2 of them, and they are awesome! I trust them with my food as they really understand what I can’t have and are careful with my food and do everything they can to avoid CC. A few things have come up that I’ve been uncomfortable about, so they’ve found a safe solution for me
Fruit: I love fruit. However, I’m allergic to strawberries… and I’ve come close to needing to use the EpiPen at home a week and half ago because of strawberries. So, needless to say, I’m really uncomfortable getting fruit when it’s next to strawberries… especially after I saw a strawberry in the melon. The solution? They cut up fruit that is not strawberries nor bananas and put it in the special diet needs fridge for me before meals.
Sliced meat: I’ve watched people serving themselves, and there’s rampant CC between bread/buns, cheese and deli meat. The solution? They slice up turkey for me and put it on a plate in the special diet needs fridge each day.
There are a few other things that we’re still working out and trying to come up with a safe way to do them, but that should come in the next week as I keep working with the cafeteria.
Though I’m getting more comfortable eating in the cafeteria with accommodations and adjustments and such, I must still remain vigilant, because I’ve learned that every time that I am not careful is when I get sick, and I can’t afford dealing with that here with my crazy packed schedule of classes and homework.
So, in the end, I really have to say that the UND cafeteria has been doing an AMAZING job of feeding me safely so far, and their goal is to do whatever they can to keep me well-fed and safely-fed. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first got here, but they have gone way above what I had ever thought they might do. So, way to go UND!!! And a HUGE thanks for all you do. I can’t thank you guys enough for all you’ve done so far in the first week of the summer and all you guys are working with me to do and feed me safely!!!! There is more I could say about how good a job they’ve done already so far, but that would take too long and I have homework to do still.
Note: I was not paid to do this review of the University of North Dakota’s Cafeteria, and all opinions in this review are entirely mine. My goal is providing this review is to help others with food allergies/intolerance to find safe places they too can eat.