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Managing roommates and food allergy

August 27, 2020

Growing up with food allergies, home always felt like a safe place where you could comfortably eat what you wanted without fear of cross-contamination or potential allergens being around. Of course, this doesn’t last forever as we get older and most people eventually move out on their own. Whether it’s during college, university, or early adulthood, moving out will often mean living with roommates. This can seem daunting for people with food allergy and you may think it’s just easier to live on your own. Whether it’s for financial or social reasons living alone isn’t always the best option and living with others while having food allergy is totally doable! 

When I was in university, I lived in a house with three other people and learned how to make things work with my food allergies, so I felt safe and comfortable eating and living in my home. 

Here are my top 5 tips for managing food allergy with roommates:

1) Give them a heads up

When you are first on the hunt for people to live with it is always courteous to let them know about your food allergy before you decide to live together. Some people have their own dietary restrictions and it may be difficult to accommodate both of your food requirements. Some people may have a specific diet/preference that includes your allergen, and that is okay! There are lots of people who will be willing to make accommodations for your food allergy if you let them know in advance.

2) Be open and honest about your comfort level 

Everybody manages their food allergy differently. You may be comfortable with your roommates having your allergen in the house as long as it’s kept separately from your food and there is thorough clean up after. For others, this may be too anxiety-provoking and you may prefer to have none of your allergen in the household. Regardless of your preference, make sure you communicate this clearly with your roommates – that way everybody is on the same page about the management strategy. 

3) Teach roommates about your allergies

Most people aren’t used to frequently checking labels or reading “may contain” statements. This is a whole new world that you are introducing your roommates to so help them out! Printing a list of your allergens and keeping it on the fridge may be helpful. On top of printed reminders, I liked group grocery shopping so that I was able to be with them as they picked out foods and let them know what did and didn’t work for my allergies. It will take time and I guarantee they will make mistakes, but be patient and understanding – everyone is learning together!

4) Make meals together

If you are worried about seeming difficult or restrictive with your food allergy, offer up some ideas for meals that are allergen-safe and make them together. This helps ensure everybody is fed and it teaches your roommates about meal and food options that are allergen-safe. Making and eating meals together are also great ways to socialize and bond.

5) Be clear on when they can eat your allergens.

In university, when I would go home to visit my family for the weekend and my roommates were still at our house, I would tell them to go wild with my allergens! As I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts this often meant eating peanut butter or chocolates with nuts in them. My roommates would then (very kindly) meticulously clean the house and dishes before my return. Personally, I felt comfortable with this, and it allowed for my roommates to not totally give up my allergens. If you are somebody who would rather not have your allergen in the house at all, another good compromise is to suggest your roommates only eat your allergen(s) when they are out of the house.  

Living with roommates at any stage of life is a great experience that I recommend everyone tries at least once! Don’t let your food allergy hold you back as they really don’t need to. Hopefully with my tips and your personal allergy management strategies you will feel more confident and comfortable living with others!

– Lindsay S. 

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