UHD can better serve students with dietary restrictions

Sydney Gray

Sometimes, I just choose not to eat in the dining halls at all.

This may seem dramatic to most freshmen who experience the dorm dining halls, but for students with strict dietary needs, living in a dorm isn’t always a walk in the park. Although the dining halls always have at least one option for gluten-free and vegan students, many times that option is salad or rice and not much else.

While at first glance salad may not seem like a bad option, it’s hardly something to be excited about when it’s my only option three to four times a week. When food choices are routinely limited for a student with a severe allergy, the question has to be asked — what does University Housing and Dining do for students with severe dietary restrictions?

Freshman psychology major Baylee McGuire finds it hard to eat a vegan diet in the dining halls on campus due to UHD’s heavy focus on meat dishes throughout the week.

“While there is always a form of vegan food provided, the options are fairly repetitious, and I feel as though it’s harder to get the vitamins and nutrients I need because of it,” McGuire said. “On some days, there really aren’t many options for vegetarians and vegans.”

It’s hard to tell exactly what qualifies as “enough options” for students with dietary restrictions, but one main dish and two to three sides doesn’t seem to cut it on a day-to-day basis. For vegan students, it’s hard to meet the minimum protein requirements for daily nutritional intake.

For students like me who are gluten-free, it’s just as difficult to find filling, nutritious meals that meet the amount of calories necessary to function every day. 

Freshman nutrition major Emily Floyd said while she finds it hard to find a variety of gluten-free meals every day, she doesn’t mind it because they force her to make healthy choices.

“I don’t mind being gluten-free at UT, but some of the choices get pretty repetitive,” Floyd said. “Like sometimes I want to eat pizza or have spaghetti, but they don’t serve gluten-free versions of those every day.”

Without a doubt, UHD attempts to provide options for all students, but when it comes to gluten-free and vegan alternatives, they need to be doing more. A mere attempt is not enough. 

“If a student lives on campus, they are automatically put in a Housing and Dining contract,” UHD dietitian Lindsay Wilson said. “If a student does have dietary restrictions, we recommend they reach out before they sign a housing contract to review their needs and see if we have accommodations that meet those needs. That’s a conversation we like to have with the student to help them better make that decision of whether it is in their best interest to live on campus or potentially off campus.”

Either dietitians should be more accessible and available to discuss options for students’ meals, or the dining hall plan shouldn’t be required. When students with dietary restrictions who live on campus are required to purchase a dining plan along with their housing, this severely limits the student and their ability to eat nutritionally dense meals that support their diet.

Even though UHD provides alternate meal plan options, it requires students to fill out tons of paperwork and go through Services for Students with Disabilities, which is a long, complicated process.

On a diverse campus with people who all have different needs, students who live on campus should have a customizable experience when it comes to which foods help them thrive. If UHD provided more options for students with dietary restrictions or allowed them to opt out of the meal plan altogether, students would have the ability to choose what best fits their dietary needs and create a plan that is best for them.

Gray is a journalism freshman from Dallas.