Pizza, ice cream, cookie dough and Ramen noodles are typical late-night college foods. The Commons’ macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders are also staples in a student’s diet.
But Megan Lowe’s eating habits are a little different than her peers. Lowe was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was two years old.
“You know those commercials with the children living in poverty, with their stomachs bulging out and their limbs all skinny? Yeah, that’s what I looked like as a baby,” Lowe (freshman-engineering) said.
Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, meaning Lowe can’t eat anything with wheat in it, such as pizza, pasta, cookies, bread or pretty much any food that is a college student’s best friend.
But, that doesn’t mean Lowe has to go hungry.
Registered dietitian Melissa Hendricks spoke about the many options the dining commons on campus offer for students with allergies to gluten.
“38 percent of our entrées are gluten-free,” Hendricks said.
Moroccan shrimp, apple glazed pork roast and southwestern red beans and rice are just some of them. There are also plenty of gluten-free items that are available during open hours at the commons, such as gluten-free bagels, pasta, cereals, pretzels, brownies and granolas, Hendricks said.
A call-ahead ordering system also makes things easier for students with allergies. They can call the commons where they would like to eat and place an order for something that needs to be prepared, such as gluten-free pizza or a panini, Hendricks said.
“We go through every inventory item that we have and check every ingredient,” Hendricks said.
Demand for gluten-free food is increasing across the board and the school is listening, she said.
The stations started opening up at the dining facilities in summer 2012, so the system is fairly new, Hendricks said.
Vincent Raco, assistant director for retail food operations, said the dining commons started incorporating gluten-free stations because Penn State held sports camps and conferences, and they wanted to accommodate their customers as much as they could.
“If they’re that age [at camp], then eventually they’ll be Penn State students with that same allergy,” he said.
The biggest problem the campus faces with allergies and food intolerance is that once the food is out, even if it is completely allergen free, there is always a possibility that it will get contaminated, Raco said.
“Someone could switch serving spoons accidentally,” Raco said. “You just never know.”
There are plenty of options at the HUB-Robeson Center for gluten-free food as well.
Lists from Burger King, Chick-fil-A and Mixed Greens include items such as coleslaw, dressings, chicken patties with no bun, salads, French fries and soups, Raco said.
“Burger King actually puts the patty in a nice salad container for people who don’t want the bun…and all of the cream soups use gluten-free flour. There’s one available everyday,” Raco said.
Raco also plans to add two new national brand restaurants in the HUB. However, the names of these restaurants cannot be released yet.
The options that the commons and the HUB provide on the list of typical late-night college foods to eat do make it easier. However, students with celiac disease still have trouble satisfying their craving. This kind of inconvenience can be a real struggle.
For Lowe however, she hasn’t had much of an issue.
“[The dining commons] help you out and accommodates well,” Lowe said.
The only meal she has trouble with is breakfast.
“I eat omelets almost everyday; there aren’t many options,” Lowe said.
Since she has had this allergy her entire life, Lowe doesn’t really know what kinds of food she is missing out on. Late-night college food is different for her. She’s never had regular pizza, cookies or bread.
“The one thing I wish I could eat is a doughnut — they look so good,” Lowe said.
Megan Wesley can be reached at (814) 865-1828.