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Every fall freshmen at Northwestern University arrive on campus excited and, most likely, a bit nervous. Leaving home for college is a rite of passage for many young adults, allowing them an opportunity to experience life away from the comforts of their childhood home. Campus life offers many “firsts” for freshmen, such as adjusting to life with a roommate and balancing schoolwork and free time without the guidance of a parent. But for students like Megan Yee and Josh Krivan, there is an added stressor – finding food
on campus that is safe to eat.

Ms. Yee and Mr. Krivan have severe food allergies. Both are freshman at NU and both said finding healthy and safe food on campus has been generally quite easy, thanks to an effective food allergy program run by Sodexo, the company that partners with NU and hundreds of other colleges and universities nationwide to provide food services.  

Karen Sechowski, a registered dietician employed by Sodexo and stationed on NU’s campus, said her main role is to help students who have food concerns navigate the campus dining experience.

“I work primarily with students who have food allergies,” she said. “Each year, the number of students with severe allergies living on campus has increased, and we expect it will continue to grow.”

 According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children under 18 years of age increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. The disease affects 1 in every 13 children in the U.S. That is roughly two in every classroom.   

There is currently no clear answer as to why food allergies are on the rise, but colleges and universities across the nation are gearing up for the increasing influx of students with dietary needs. As a resource for potential applicants and their families, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) premiered its College Network in 2010, a website that includes a growing list of colleges and what they offer for students with food allergies.

Sodexo has been leading the way in accommodating food allergies on campuses with the introduction of Simple Servings – a food station featuring meals free of the eight major allergens and gluten.  

“Every day at the Simple Servings station we offer a complete and healthy meal free of peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, milk, dairy, eggs and gluten,” said Ms. Sechowski.  

Simple Servings also eliminates the risk of cross-contamination of foods by using color-coded utensils and cutting boards. The meal is prepared separately from the other food, and the utensils and equipment used are locked away before preparing the rest of the food, added Ms. Sechowski.

The Simple Servings station is just like any other dining hall station and is not only for students with allergies. Ms. Sechowski said the clean and simple meals are appealing to any student wanting to make healthy choices.

Dishes include well-rounded meals such as pork with oven-roasted butternut squash and roasted corn and turkey chili.

Mr. Krivan, who is allergic to dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, barley and legumes, said living on campus as a freshman this year has “not been too life altering.”

Within the first week he arrived, he met with Ms. Sechowski. Together they mapped out where the best dining options for him would be on campus and with whom he could get in touch if he had any questions. They also discussed a special menu option that is available for students like him.  

Ms. Sechowski said they want students to have as much of a typical college experience as possible, but for those with multiple food allergies who are not comfortable eating from the dining hall menu, they offer a special service in which Ms. Sechowski creates an individualized weekly meal plan based on the student’s specific dietary needs.  

Despite Mr. Krivan’s multiple food allergies, he opted out of the individualized meal plan and said he has had no problem finding enough food he can eat.  

“I usually stick to the basics,” he said. “I’ve learned over time to appreciate simple, familiar food, and everything in the dining hall is labeled with nutrition facts as well as allergens, so it is very easy to navigate.”

Ms. Yee, who is allergic to peanuts and pine nuts, came to NU from California and said she also has had no problem navigating the dining halls, thanks to the adequate labeling system and the Simple Servings option.

“It’s been an easy adjustment for me, but probably harder for my mom, who worries I will forget to carry my EpiPen,” she said.

Mr. Krivan said he did not want his food allergies to play too much of a role in where he chose to attend college.

“I actually made a conscious effort to not factor it into where I was looking, but then I came to the conclusion that NU would be my top choice, and it also happened to have one of the best dining choices, so it worked out. It was very reassuring to come to campus knowing there was an initiative for people like me. And the food is good, too.”

If you’d like to read more about health and wellness topics, follow Anne Bodine at MyNewBeet.com.

Anne Bodine

Anne Bodine, Community News Editor, has been a part of The Evanston RoundTable since 2008 as a reporter covering businesses and institutions; arts and entertainment; and health and wellness. More recently,...