Navigating your teenager’s transition to college and independent living can be nerve-wracking. However, there are several steps you can take to support them through this significant life change.

Education: Ensure your teenager has a thorough understanding of celiac disease (CeD), its impact on the body, and the necessity of adhering to a gluten-free (GF) diet to manage symptoms and prevent long-term complications. When selecting a college, research dining options along with support services for students with dietary restrictions. Websites like Gluten-Free Friends (gfreefriends.com/colleges) provide valuable insights directly from students into campus dining experiences for students with CeD. NCA’s college page offers a college survival guide, tips for a great experience at college, and more.

Meal Planning and Preparation: Teach your teenager how to plan and prepare GF meals. Encourage them to explore GF recipes suitable for their cooking level, offering cooking tips and guidance on reading food labels to identify gluten-containing ingredients. Practice cooking GF meals together before they head to college or out on their own.

Familiarize Your Teen with Safe Foods and Dining Options: Assist your teenager in identifying safe GF foods and dining choices both on and off campus. Research local grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes offering GF options. Encourage them to communicate their dietary needs to restaurant staff to ensure their meals are GF.

Connect with Campus Resources: Many colleges provide resources and support for students with food allergies or dietary restrictions, including access to GF dining options or modifications in campus dining halls. CeD qualifies for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (https://www.ada.gov/). Encourage your teenager to reach out to the college’s disability services or student health center to discuss their dietary needs if they are having difficulties finding GF options.

Stock up on Gluten-Free Essentials: Stock up on GF pantry staples and snacks for their dorm room or apartment. Put together a list of trusted GF brands and products, and consider sending care packages during stressful times to offer support.

Encourage Communication: Remind your teenager to openly communicate with roommates, friends, and professors about their dietary needs. Empower them to advocate for themselves and express concerns about cross-contact or food safety without hesitation.

Provide Emotional Support: Managing CeD while transitioning to college or living on their own can be challenging at first. Be sure to offer support and reassurance.

Encourage your child to seek out campus support groups or counseling services if needed or desired.

Foster Independence: Encourage your teenager to take ownership of their health and dietary choices well before it’s time for them to be on their own. Teach them to advocate for themselves, manage their condition independently, and seek out resources and support when necessary. Empowering them to navigate their journey with confidence and autonomy is key to their success.

Published May 1, 2024