For incoming college freshmen, there are many exciting changes on the horizon, including living on your own and easing into dorm life with a roommate. After years of having your own room or sharing with a sibling, this is a major life change.
You and your roommate may have already started getting to know each other, asking questions such as where you are from? Are you a night owl or an early bird? What’s your style? How are you decorating your side? Who will bring the TV? The mini fridge? The microwave (if your school allows it)?
For students with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is one more topic that will have to be broached with their roommates: the gluten-free diet. While this might not seem that important for rooming together, the gluten-free diet will need to be addressed—because in college, a great deal of eating takes place in the dorm room at all hours of the day and night. Since roommates tend to share a great deal, there is the potential for cross-contamination with the food in the room. This means dorm living is a very important part of planning for school as a gluten-free individual.
When living in close quarters with your roommate, you should let him or her know about your dietary needs up front so that together you can come up with a plan for sharing a room and preventing cross-contamination. The more prepared you both are, the less likely there will be stress and disagreements down the road about the gluten-free diet.
It’s important that you explain what celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is and why you require a gluten-free diet. When explaining the diet, take the time to explain what gluten is and what will happen if you eat it. Take the opportunity to explain what cross-contamination is and how preventing it is a very important part of the diet. The most important thing to explain is that it is a medical condition, and your success in school is dependent on adhering strictly to the diet.
Once you have discussed the gluten-free diet, come up with a plan for the dorm room. Find out whether the room can accommodate more than one fridge. If so, it likely is a good idea to have your own so you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination in the peanut butter or jelly, and it also offers the chance to really stuff your fridge without having to worry about leaving enough room for your roommate’s food.
If the room allows only one fridge, it’s important to discuss how to share it. You could suggest buying or renting a slightly larger mini fridge so there is plenty of room for both of you. Ask your roommate what he or she likes to determine if you will need to double up on certain items to prevent cross-contamination. If your roommate loves hummus as much as you do, discuss having a gluten-free container and one with gluten. You can come up with a labeling system together to mark gluten-free products.
Be aware that even with having two separate containers of certain foods, there still could be a problem. The reality with a labeling system is that mishaps happen, especially if a friend from down the hall or a study group pops in and raids the fridge without asking. In college, this happens often. It might be a good idea to purchase packages of single-serving items whenever possible. This way, each time one of you wants a hummus or a smear of jelly, you grab a single-serving container, and neither of you has to worry.
If your dorm room allows a microwave, definitely get one. For a gluten-free student in particular, a microwave holds lots of meal and snack possibilities. Since you and your roommate will be sharing a microwave, it might be a good idea for each of you to have your own microwaveable containers and to set some microwave rules for keeping it clean and crumb free.
When it comes to chips, crackers and cereal, refrain from sharing whenever possible. There is potential for cross-contamination if, for example, your roommate eats a sandwich and grabs chips out of the bag.
As with everything freshman year, there is a learning curve. No matter how much you prepare for living with a roommate, issues will arise. The best advice is to communicate openly with each other and determine the best way to co-habitate.