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Navigating College With Dietary Restrictions

Clean Plate, located on the first floor of Armstrong Student Center, aims to serve allergen free and healthy options for Miami students.
Clean Plate, located on the first floor of Armstrong Student Center, aims to serve allergen free and healthy options for Miami students.

The transition to college life is tricky for everyone. Navigating dietary restrictions away from home only adds to that stress for some incoming students.

These students might need to refrain from having gluten, follow vegetarian or vegan diets due to preference or health needs, or avoid certain foods due to severe allergies. It can be challenging to find these allergen friendly options when on a meal plan and eating at buffet style dining halls. 

First-year Emma Schusterman, a kinesiology major at Miami University, says it’s been difficult having a gluten-free diet on campus. Many foods can contain gluten as a hidden ingredient, causing those with gluten-free diets to pay close attention to what they consume. On-campus foods are no exception. Schusterman said even foods that seem innocuous can be dangerous.

“You go into Armstrong and you see sushi which seems safe, but soy sauce has gluten,” Schusterman said.

Even most imitation crab contains gluten, and anything tempura is also off-limits to those with gluten sensitivity. 

Sophomore Mackenzie Condon, a double major in primary education and music performance, also has a gluten-free diet.

“I have a gluten intolerance. I also have something called Graves disease which causes me, when I eat gluten, to get really tired,” Condon said.

To offer an inclusive environment, Miami has a variety of food options for its

students. The dining commons always have vegan and vegetarian friendly entrees along with a salad bar. There’s also a soy milk alternative available, and the commons are nut-friendly.

This semester, Miami added the True Balance station at Maplestreet Commons and Clean Plate located at Armstrong Student Center. Additionally, there are various options available at on-campus markets and all Dining Commons to accommodate those with allergies and dietary preferences. 

True Balance aims to offer an allergen-friendly food station for those with specific dietary needs or sensitivities by avoiding the most common allergens. The station is free of tree nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs, sesame, fish, shellfish, milk and wheat, and outside plates and utensils are prohibited to prevent cross contamination. This thoughtful approach helps create a safe dining environment where students can savor their meals without fear of encountering ingredients that might trigger allergic reactions or other health issues. 

Meals at True Balance often consist of meat, vegetables and potatoes. This ensures that students not only have access to allergen friendly dining options, but also maintain a balanced and wholesome diet.

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Schusterman’s only critique of the new station is the lack of variety, a concern Condon shares.

“The allergen section has good food,” Condon said, “but it can become repetitive.” 

As part of Miami’s dietary accommodations, students can use the menu boards at any of the dining locations to identify the ingredients used at each station. Schusterman said she enjoys going to Western Commons for its gluten options, as well.

In Armstrong, Clean Plate offers another safe place for students with dietary restrictions to avoid the nine most common allergens and is the only true allergy-free restaurant in the building. Besides Clean Plate, various restaurants in Armstrong have gluten conscious, nut-friendly, and vegetarian and vegan menu items.

Clean Plate offers salads, grain bowls, acai bowls and a selection of organic beverages. The grain bowl features a concept similar to the fast-casual food chain Chipotle, letting students combine various ingredients to create their preferred bowl. 

“What I like about Clean Plate is the portions are really good and you can customize what you want,” Schusterman said. “I feel Clean plate is one hundred percent fresh.” 

Condon encourages students to “get creative” by mixing and matching food from different stations at the dining hall.

“My tip would be just ask,” Schusterman said. “Learn to advocate for yourself because you know you have every right to food as the person sitting next to you. Go to the pizza station and request gluten free crust. I didn’t know it was available until I asked.” 

For those struggling with gluten issues, you can find a gluten-free bun option at Pulley Diner, Scoreboard, and Grill 1809. One can also go to the markets around campus and find fresh, frozen, and pre-packaged food options that meet several dietary needs. 

To find out more, go to You can also contact an on-campus Dietitian at to discuss any dietary needs.