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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Improve MyPantry

Mary Ngo
A figure stares in disappointment at the minimal food items available in a mini-fridge. MyPantry is a good start to accommodating students with allergies but should be improved. (Mary Ngo | Northern Star)

NIU offers a program for students who have food allergies or intolerances called MyPantry. MyPantry is a good start, but NIU has a ways to go to be truly accommodating to students with allergies.

MyPantry is a self-access station for students with alternate dietary needs to safely access allergy-friendly food, according to the Campus Dining Services website. MyPantry caters to students with allergies or intolerances, whereas the dining hall in general may not. MyPantry has locations in the Neptune and Patterson dining halls.

Many people have food allergies throughout the world, with almost 6% of U.S. adults and children having a food allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Students with severe or multiple food allergies have to be cautious about what they eat. 

Through the MyPantry program, students with food allergies don’t have to struggle with trying to find allergy-friendly food. The MyPantry program is a good start to accommodate students who have allergies or intolerances.

Avery Ullrich, a sophomore special education major with numerous food allergies, said she appreciates the concept of MyPantry despite its weaknesses.

“MyPantry, it’s good as a concept, I think there are definitely things that they could change to make it better and more accessible option,” Ullrich said.

Meg Burnham, a dietitian nutritionist through Campus Dining Services, said there is a separate space at Stevenson away from common allergens where food is prepared.

“We’ve got a prep space over at Stevenson, so it’s like a dedicated allergy friendly prep space within Stevenson dining where I have four dedicated workers who work in that space to prepare the food. So it’s like their zone, no one is allowed in it,” Burnham said. “They prepare food Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, so they’re going to run a set of recipes for that week and then they’re going to swap that out for a new set of recipes the next week.”

While this resource is positive, the dining halls should generally do a better job of catering to students with allergies or intolerances. The dining halls should have more options, especially when it comes to vegetarian or vegan foods. While there are some options such as plant-based meats, students may not want to eat the same thing every day.

Ullrich now lives off campus and doesn’t use a meal plan anymore, but when she did have a meal plan, she felt it was a waste of her money.

“It sucks that it was obligatory, like, because I did not go to the dining hall very often because I couldn’t eat most of the food,” Ullrich said. “I couldn’t eat anything. I only had it (the plan) because they made me – it was just too huge, like waste.”

The dining halls could also do a better job of having labels of what allergens go into the food so students who may be allergic know what foods are safe for them and what foods to stay away from.

Ullrich said although she used the online menus, she wishes that the online menus extended to all of the dining areas on campus.

“They only have the menus with the ingredients for Patterson dining and Neptune dining,” Ullrich said. “So when my friends would go get dinner at Stevenson or something, I couldn’t be there because I had no way of seeing if any of the foods had things I’m allergic to.”

While the online menus for Patterson and Neptune dining come in handy by listing allergens, the online menus should extend to other food places such as Stevenson or even the Huskie Den and Qdoba.

Burnham said MyPantry also allows students with allergies or intolerances to pre-order meals if they choose to; however, students need approval for pre-ordered meals.

“So, as far as MyPantry goes, they (students) don’t technically need to see me to get approval,” Burnham said. “The only thing that I need to grant approval for is if they want to order a custom meal because that’s kind of like a whole different thing with our back kitchens.”

Students that want to pre-order meals can reach out to Burnham with their allergies or intolerances so that she can help students find meal options.

Students that live in the dorms or eat at the dining halls who have food intolerances or allergies should take advantage of the opportunity to order custom meals. Roughly 15 to 20 students are registered to receive food accommodations, Burnham told the Northern Star.

NIU dining should do a better job of catering to students with food allergies or intolerances.

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