“My daughter has gluten and dairy allergies. What can she eat?”
Welcome to the first blog in our series Parent Dining Questions: Answered! We’re going to address a question asked by parents of children with specific dietary needs or preferences.
“My daughter has gluten and dairy allergies. She isn’t getting enough to eat. What can she eat?”
Answering this question at face value (“We have plenty of options, here’s where she can find them!”) may not settle parent fears. We’ve found that answering the “question behind the question” is more effective. The parent is really asking: “Will my daughter be safe when she eats at your school? How can I be sure she won’t eat something that will make her sick?”
Our college and university food service directors assure parents that their children with allergies will be safe and have plenty of options by talking about Safety, Personalization, and Privacy.
At Creative Dining, through our Allergen Awareness program, we identify the presence of the eight major food allergens through icons and labels. We also identify offerings that are halal, vegetarian, vegan, organic, certified humane, and that have 25 grams of sugar or more.
Double-check with your hospitality partner that all food offerings are labeled with the major allergens. Let parents know there are clear identifiers to reassure them that their students will be easily able to see what is safe to eat.
Dedicated Food Station
Creative Dining’s “The Zone” station provides an allergen-sensitive station where student diners know they will quickly find safe food offerings.
Do you have a food station solely dedicated to allergen-sensitive food offerings? This is another great way to increase parent and student confidence, and students won’t have to wander around trying to find the best options.
At Creative Dining, we use “dining dockets” to consolidate personal allergen information. These also act as a reference or reminder for chefs when they build their menus.
Consider asking your hospitality partner to develop a dining form for students on an individual basis. This form will help you reassure the parent that you care about their student’s individual needs and take them into account when developing menus.
We hold group tours for specific eating preferences or dietary needs (all vegetarians on one tour, students who eat gluten-free on another) at Creative Dining locations. Students can walk through the kitchen and see how food is prepared, lessening their anxieties and getting them excited about the possibilities. It’s also a way for students to network with peers with similar dietary needs or preferences.
Mention specialized tours if you offer them, or ask your hospitality partner if this is an option they can offer.
For students with severe allergies, parents can be a helpful resource for menu items and even recipe suggestions that will keep their student safe and satisfied. We don’t shy away from asking parents for suggestions. It’s a great source of ideas and an excellent way to help the parent feel heard and involved.
Privacy around dietary needs is often important to students. Parents may worry that the student will not bring up their needs because of a lack of privacy. At Creative Dining, we offer opportunities for them to discreetly discuss food preferences and dining options with the dining manager. Make sure you mention this option if it’s offered by your hospitality partner.
We also provide forms students can fill out if they prefer that to talking one-on-one. Offering this option can be helpful as well.
Check out our next blog in the series, Parent Dining Questions: Answered! [Part 2] where we dig into another hot topic: Feeding college athletes.