Dorm Room Essentials and Tips for Students with Food Allergies

short list of must have dorm room essentials for college students with food allergies
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I’ve compiled some of my top dorm room essentials based on our experience of moving two sons with food allergies to university. Both are doing well and I’m happy to share with you some of my tips and strategies. Read all the way to the end as I have food allergy and asthma related tips throughout.

Disclaimer: Please check that all ingredients are suitable for your allergies and be sure to ask your medical care team regarding any allergy related questions (I do not share medical advice). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Learn From Our Experiences

Congratulations on your college or university acceptance! It’s a very exciting time for you as well as your family. Our family has been through the freshman move-in experience twice. My older son lived in a dorm and an apartment before he graduated. My younger son will end up living in a dorm for all four years when he graduates in May.

If you are preparing to move in to a college or university dorm either as a freshman or a transfer student and have food allergies and/or asthma, consider this your dorm room essential guide from an experienced food allergy and asthma mom. We have moved both of our sons into university when one son went to school locally in California and the other son went cross-country to Massachussetts.

Less is More!

Your college dorm room will be your home away from home and your needs in college will be pretty much the same as your needs at home. Focus on your essential items you will need items such as bedding, clothes, toiletries, medications, backpack, and laptop. There won’t be a lot of room for everything.

Before moving in, imagine what it will be like to move out. Consider what will absolutely be essential and try to minimize what you bring to move-in day to simplify your move-out day at the end of the school year or at graduation. Your future-self will thank you!

My older son had to move out of his dorm room quickly in March of 2020. Since we live about an hour away from school, we could help him. My younger son goes to school across the country and has to pack and move at the beginning and end of summer vacation. Less is more, bring what you absolutely need during freshmen move-in. You can always bring a little bit back and forth during breaks. And you will be glad to have less stuff to clean and pack after your finals in the spring.

short list of essentials for students with food allergies living in dorms

Dorm Bedding Essentials:

If you have food allergies, asthma, environmental allergies, then planning out your bedding is important. Your dorm bed will most likely an XL Twin which is a slightly longer than a regular twin. Because these items are bulky, some families might order online and pick up locally. But because of our allergies, we opted to buy and wash everything at home so that they’re ready to use at move-in.

You will want to wash your bedding regularly in hot water, check the laundry instructions to be sure that whatever you choose is machine washable. A lightweight comforter will fit in most washers and dry quickly in a dryer at school. Add a throw blanket to adjust to the changing seasons. When it’s extra cold, you can add a throw blanket and when it’s extra hot, you can sleep with just a throw blanket. And you want to select something that is easy to wash and dry to avoid any dust related allergy flares.

You will need a pillow and a dustmite pillowcase cover if you have environmental allergies. If you can, a dustmite cover for your mattress is great, but it’s hard to slip on especially on a bunk bed. We bought twin XL mattress pads. We looked for padded (for comfort), extra deep (easier to put on), and waterproof (in case of spills).

Some people also buy mattress pads for extra padding but they’re not that comfortable and end up being tossed. Most of the dorm mattresses have a plastic cover and adding a basic mattress cover is sufficient. You can always change your mind and adjust your bedding choices after move-in.

Cotton sheets are usually more comfortable for all kinds of weather. Even if the winters are cold or harsh, the interior of the dorms will be heated to a comfortable temperature. Flannel sheets are not so practical and might be too hot most of the time.

Label the sheets. Somehow sheets do get mixed up between roommates or in the laundry area. I bought dark blue high threadcount cotton sheets and somehow my son ended up with a dark blue microfiber fitted sheet that was hot, poor quality, and it eventually fell apart at the seams. Mabel’s Label sent me samples a few years ago and I put them on a few items, including water bottles and they’re still sticking!

Tip: Be Aware of Housing Policies

Check with the housing office and policies for specific rules about what you can or cannot use in dorm rooms. A string of lights is so pretty for photos but can be a fire hazard and not allowed in some colleges or university housing.

Some dorms do not allow small appliances but may have a small communal kitchen area or mini-refrigerator rentals. You might need to work with the school’s disability office for accommodations regarding small appliances. For example, a shared toaster oven might not be safe for someone with wheat, nut, egg, milk, or sesame allergy or gluten intolerance and they would need be allowed to use their own small appliance in an agreed upon location.

Command hooks and command strips are super handy to hang light items. However some schools have policies about them due to potential damage to surfaces. They’re easy to stick on but be sure they’re allowed and that you know how to remove them without damaging school property.

Dorm Room Essentials

Air Purifier: might help with allergies

If you have an air purifier at home for your environmental allergies or asthma, then you will want one in your college dorm room. An air purifier will clean the air of dust and pollen which will help you to rest and feel healthy. If you notice more nasal congestion at school, be sure to use the air purifier when you are sleeping or hanging out in your room.

We have a few Levoit air purifiers in our home, this lower-cost air purifer by Levoit might be just right for a dorm room. When I received an air purifier to review, I learned about how to evaluate an air purifier. While I like the Okaysou air purifier, it’s difficult to buy their filters which is inconvenient.

Air purifiers and filters seem to be seasonal items and difficult to buy during fall and spring. We scrambled to buy an air purifier for one of my sons when there were some major air quality issues during a heat wave.

Comfort and Safety Items for Your Room

A small tabletop or personal fan can keep you feeling comfortable, especially in a bunk bed. I personally use a mini personal fan that is charged by a USB cable. It’s easy to take with me anywhere and the battery life lasts for hours. My sons like clip-on fans charged by USB and they can be mounted almost anywhere.

In some cases a bedside tray might be super helpful, especially if there’s a chance of sleeping in a top bunk or if your bed might not be adjacent to your desk or a nightstand. A bedside tray will give you a flat surface to put your water bottle, phone charger, glasses, and other small items you might need when you are in bed. Bedside pouches made from fabric are available but they’re not safe if you like to charge your phone at your bedside. Do not place a phone that’s plugged in and charging on your bed to avoid any fire risk.

You might have some important or personal documents with you. I recommend a fire-proof bag and store it in your locked suitcase or use a security cable (depending on how secure you need things to be). We purchased a small safe but it was difficult to use due to space constraints.

A flashlight or battery operated lantern might be helpful in case of power outages, looking for things, or middle of the night evacuations. Some of my family members love to use these battery operated lanterns, the 4 pack is a better value and we get a lot of use out of them.

Even though you could use your phone’s flashlight in a pinch, in some cases you might need to conserve energy and/or keep your phone secure. Look for features such as easy to find batteries, glow in the dark accents, LED bulbs. I always want solar powered devices to work but haven’t had much luck with them.

A Few Personal Items

There are plenty of opportunties to make friends. It’s easy to make friends with people in your dorm or at social events. Display some photos, bring a few favorite board games, books, art, plants, or other small items in your room that reflect who you are and what you care about. You will feel more at home.

Tech and Desk Essentials for Your Room

For completing assignments

It’s helpful to have a laptop to complete your assignments. STEM students might want to check in with their departments regarding any technical specifications to run specific software. Look for back to school specials in July or August and/or utilize student discounts and be ready to provide proof of enrollment (school email address, letter of acceptance, etc.). If cost is a factor, your school might have a loaner program for students and there are computers available to use at university libraries.

Since most work is submitted online, you’re not likely to need a personal printer and there are often printers on campus that you can use. A USB flash drive is useful for transferring files. At one point my son’s computer crashed and he needed some start-up files on a flash drive. I also recommend attaching the flash drive to a lanyard so that it’s easier to find.

For safety and security

You will also want a padded laptop case or sleeve and/or a secure backpack with a padded laptop pocket to protect your backpack in case of accidents. My sons and I like a laptop case with a shoulder strap or handles with pockets to organize all the various cords and cables. If you opt to use something lighter such as a neoprene sleeve, then be sure your backpack has a padded laptop compartment with a velcro strap to secure it. Some backpacks have antitheft or security features which might be helpful in some circumstances.

You will need a power strip with a surge protector to plug in your laptop, phone, and other personal electronic devices. Another nice feature is USB ports for powering other devices.

You might also have long days out so a portable battery pack for your phone is helpful so that you can make a phone call in an emergency. Be aware of how to use a power bank safely and do not let your phone or battery pack overheat while charging. I have reliable results with Anker batteries. Also, if you are going to school that requires an airplane ride home, be aware of TSA restrictions and to keep them with you in your carry-on bag (I would not put them in an overhead bin either).

If you need to buy power charging cords for your phone or devices, a 6 feet or longer length is convenient. Sometimes your room might have outlets in inconvenient places so a longer power cord will give you more flexibility.

There are a lot of little things to manage and that could get mixed up with roommates or study groups. We have tried Mabel’s Labels and they do stick very well. They’re perfect for items that end up in shared spaces in your room or dorm in general. However, if you lose something in a random place, there’s a low chance it can get back to you.

For your most important items, consider using Tile trackers or Apple AirTags to help you find things you want to be able to find again. A family member has a Tile slim for their wallet but it seems to require an annual subscription. However, be aware not to leave any Bluetooth devices hidden in vehicles, always take your valuables with you.

Epinephrine, Medications, and Safety Reminders

Epinephrine

You must bring at least two sets of epinephrine autoinjectors with you move into your dorm. Carry one set with you in a backpack or pocket and leave one set in your room. If you end up needing to use epi, you will still have a back-up set ready until you can obtain a refill to replace your used epi.

It’s important to review with your doctor when and how to use an epi and then practice with a trainer. You can download and print a generic emergency care plan to post in your room for reference.

Start the process of ordering refills now and allow enough time to sort through any potential insurance issues, mail/delivery issues, special orders if you care about which generic epi you receive, and/or ordering a trainer. I’ve compiled some epi related resources in this post from 2022 (which needs an update but I’m in the thick of issues right now!).

If you bring a trainer with you to school, you can show any new friends who might have food allergies themselves and need to practice. When you feel comfortable about talking with your new roommates or resident advisor about your food allergies or asthma, and gauge whether they might be willing to help you in an emergency and ask them.

If you are moving to a school with different weather than what you are used to, be sure to be mindful to keep your epi at the right temperature in extreme weather. We like EpiTemp’s neoprene epi storage cases which come with phase change packs. Use the correct insert for hot or cold weather as an extra layer of protection.

Basic First Aid Kit and Medicine Pouch

Besides bringing emergency medications for food allergies and asthma, also bring over the counter medications that you usually use for colds, coughs, fevers, etc.. Be sure to discuss with your family or doctor about how to take care of yourself until you can see a medical professional.

Pack a basic first aid kit and add what you might need such as bandages, wound cleansers, tweezers for splinters, etc.. My favorite first aid kit is compact enough to carry around day to day. Think about whatever first aid items you usually use at home and be sure to bring a little bit to have on hand. I’ve ordered items like moleskin kits for blisters and lip balm which can also be used as portable skin protectant.

Be Prepared for Safety Responses

It’s possible that you may need to evacuate the building due to fire, a safety drill, or a prank. Keep a flashlight or battery operated lantern handy and use it instead of your phone in case you need to exit in the dark. You want to keep your phone secure in a pocket while you are walking down stairs or in the dark.

Know the location of a fire extinguisher and how to use it. The first and only time I had to use a fire extinguisher was when I was an undergrad.

Familarize yourself with what to do in case of a natural disaster in your area so you know what to do to stay safe. Your school likely will have emergency supplies but if you have food allergies, asthma or eczema, you might want to have some allergy-safe food and stay on top of refilling any daily prescriptions.

Essential Personal Items

As a freshman, you will most likely be using shared bathroom facilities rather than having a private bathroom where you can leave your shampoo, soap, toothbrush, etc.. Usually people have a toiletry bag for items they use at a sink (brush teeth, wash face, shave, etc.). There are all sorts of styles and I recommend something that opens wide and is washable.

You will also want a shower caddy for items that are used in a shower. A shower caddy that drains, has lots of ventilation, and easy to wipe down and sanitize will be easier to maintain. If you are an athlete or will be using a shower at the gym and have a storage locker on campus, you might want a second one.

Plus you might need to carry a fresh change of clothes in a tote bag so you don’t drop any small items. Remember to add the tote bags to your laundry every week. These tote bags with many colorful designs fold up compactly in your backpack and you can use them for other purposes.

Shower shoes are a must-have item! Look for slip-resistant sandals with small perferations to drain the water. Avoid showering in shared facilities with bare feet.

At some point my sons realized they needed nail trimmers. I bought them a basic set with a carrying pouch so that it’s easier to find in their toiletry kits.

If there’s any chance you are a light sleeper, ear plugs and eye masks are great. Buy small packs of ear plugs and wear them to sleep at home for a few nights. You want to check that they’re the best size, shape, and material for you. Certain brands of ear plugs make my ears feel itchy or they pop out because they’re too big for my ears. Don’t buy the corded earplugs for sleeping due to safety reasons.

Eye masks help block out light in case you and your roommate have different sleep schedules or you need to sleep in or need to take a mid-day nap. I love silk eye masks because they are lightweight and comfortable.

It’s easy to lose things because of stress, long days, and so many transitions. Retractable key chains and badge holders, secure pockets such as zippered pockets or hidden/inside pockets, lanyards, carabiners, etc. can help you keep you stay organized and keep your belongings secure.

Shop Local for Clothing, Shoes, and Other Personal Items

Pack your comfortable and easy to care for clothing. You won’t have time for clothes that need to be dry-cleaned or handwashed for day to day wear. You might consider if you need clothing for internship interviews or social events but remember that space is limited.

If your school has very different weather from where you live, it might make sense to shop locally for the best price and selection. We went shopping in Boston for weather-proof hiking boots and other items and loved the student discount as well as the lower sales tax. My older son bought some really nice soft cotton t-shirts and long-sleeved tops for $1-2 at thrift shops.

Where we live in California is mostly dry and very warm and we are not used to the idea of living in an area with snow. It’s pretty much impossible to find hats and scarves here at the end of summer and shop locally for hats, gloves, and scarves. Wear a hat to stay warm, gloves will protect your skin, and wrap a scarf over your neck and mouth to protect your airways from extreme cold air.

We happen to have 3 in 1 jackets which both sons like to have handy for extended outdoor trips in cold weather. My younger son usually wears a lightweight insulated jacket to walk from building to building and it’s easy to stuff into a backpack indoors. My older son wears the 2 layers from his 3 in 1 jacket separately, as a windbreaker and a light insulated jacket, for our mild California weather.

When You Need To Cook in Your Dorm Because of Food Allergies

If you are living in school housing, you most likely will have a meal plan so you can eat in the dining hall. Try your best to work with the school’s disability office to coordinate with their designated personnel regarding your food allergy needs. However, you always want to have a back up plan in case the dining hall is closed.

Check the school policy before buying any small appliances. One of my son’s university only allowed renting a microwave/refrigerator unit and have a mini kitchen in the lobby. My other son’s university allows students to buy a compact refrigerator for their dorm room and most dorms have a community kitchen.

Have a Backup Plan for Your Meals

Think about what you like to eat such as easy heat and serve items or add hot water to top 14 allergen free oatmeal cups or ramen cups, or other favorite recipes. What do you like to eat when you’re sick? What can you make when you come back from the library and missed dinner? Consider what you will need to make those dishes.

For microwaving premade, canned, or frozen items, you will need a can opener, a few microwave-safe vessels such as a bowl, plate, cup, storage container, etc.. You could buy them at local stores but sometimes college town stores run out of stock during back to school. Perhaps bring a few items or order online and pick up locally.

Maybe you like fresh fruits and vegetables. You might want a collapsible colander for easy rinsing. For easy prep, you might need a cutting board (look for non-slip grip and grooves to stay tidy) and knife with a safety cover. Store all of your meal prep supplies in a designated clear storage bin or a tote bag so you can take it with you to shared kitchen areas as needed.

Other potential items depending on how likely you will cook include a small pot, medium frying pan, cooking utensils, dish soap, sponge, etc.. A box of quart sized plastic bags, is great all-purpose size for food and snacks but also in case you need to fly. Most of those items you can buy locally.

Both of my sons eventually asked for a water bottle brush as that was one item that they absolutely need to use from time to time and nothing else will do. Be sure that your brush fits your water bottle and you have the right tools to clean the straw, lid, etc.. Most campuses have water refilling stations and so a water pitcher is one item we didn’t need to buy.

Snack Tips

Having some portable snacks that will give you energy and keep you feeling satisfied will help you get through your days at school. Sometimes you might need to stay up late or you might miss a meal, having an allergy-safe snack will help tide you over.

We love ready to eat snacks: look for high protein snacks, snacks made with fruits and vegetables that will give you some nutrition and fiber for sustained energy. You might already know which are your favorite snacks already. Some of our favorite portable healthy top allergen free snacks include meat sticks by Chomps and Vermont, That’s It bars, and 88 Acres bars. Variety packs are great way to figure out which flavors you like best.

Tip: Handbook for College Students with Food Allergies and Clubs

Look on your university website for information about food allergies to learn about resources available on your campus. As an example, Northwestern University has a great handbook for college students on how navigate food allergies on campus. Inside the handbook, there’s also information about their club for students with food allergies and contact information on how to start your own chapter on campus.

Moving Essentials

When we moved my older son across the bay, it was pretty easy to move in. We organized his stuff in big blue IKEA bags, boxes, and suitcases. If you live near an IKEA you can find them near the checkout area for the best value (a few dollars).

However, when we moved my younger son cross-country we had to be more strategic. Since my husband and I went, we planned on fitting all the essentials, including washed bedding, into three carry-on suitcases and checked in one large suitcase and one rolling duffle bag. We were able to pack everything by using compression bags and adding some of my son’s clothing to our carry-on bags. When we arrived, we transferred his items to a zippered IKEA bag.

The idea was that my husband and I would go home with our two carry-on bags and my son would fold up his rolling duffle bag, IKEA bags, compression bags and store them in his carry-on. The carry-on bag would nest inside the large suitcase, which was out of the way on top of a large wardrobe.

So far it seems that he has enough storage options to move from dorm to summer housing and back to his dorm every summer. We’ll update our final move-out process when he graduates in May, 2025.

Whatever items he needed, we ordered it online and shipped to a nearby Amazon locker and shopped locally for snacks, supplies, and a large storage tote to contain laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies. We bought a couple of storage totes which nest together so that he could pack up his things at the end of every school year.

Tip: Laundry Solutions

My last tip is about laundry, which you will likely tackle after you’ve moved in and your parents are home. The best thing to do right now is to be sure you know how to do your laundry while you are still living at home. Be sure to learn all of the dos and don’ts when it comes to laundry such as sorting colors, how to wash new and colorful clothes, when to use hot water vs cold water, etc..

Because we have sensitive skin issues at our home, I use fragrance-free and dye-free detergent. However, the liquid laundry detergent comes in a very large, heavy container and is not practical for dorm living. Laundry pods (check if they’re allowed) and laundry sheets are smaller and more compact. But if it’s a different brand or formulation than what you are used to, then try washing your laundry at home to test if it’s suitable for you. You don’t want to feel itchy and uncomfortable after you do your first load of laundry at school.

When you are at school, make it a regular habit to wash your clothes and bedding. Plan ahead for weeks when you know you will be busy with exams and projects. If you have a dirty item that is damp and you can’t wash it right away, air dry it before putting it in your hamper.

The best laundry hamper solution is to buy a set of washable laundry bags. You can put your dirty laundry in it and then wash it with your laundry. When your laundry is clean and dry, you will have a clean laundry bag to carry everything back to your room. We’ve tried wire and mesh collapsible hampers but they’re not sturdy. My son likes cloth-lined collapsible hampers but they’re difficult to keep clean.

You can buy laundry detergent and dryer sheets near campus. But you might want to pack or order specialty laundry items such as the following:

Mom Advice from Sharon

I’ve been blogging for you all these years and I might not know you personally but I am invested in your well-being and happiness for many years. Have fun, study hard, make friends, and prioritize your health and safety in every decision you make. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy.

Do not let other people psych you out or intimidate you. You are there because you are awesome despite what anyone might say to you. Reach out to trusted friends or your family when you need support. There are also on campus resources available for you.

Call home (or Facetime or Zoom). And if your parents want to fuss over you during move-in, let them because you will be on your own until Thanksgiving or winter break.

summary of dorm essential tips for students with food allergies

Do you have other college related questions? Ask them in the comments and I may write another post! Are you a college student and have helpful tips I missed? Share them in the comments.

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About Sharon Wong 282 Articles
Welcome to Nut Free Wok, a blog about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I hope that you will find my food allergy mom experiences helpful and enjoyable to read as I write about recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy related awareness and advocacy issues. My professional experiences include education, teaching, and a little bit of science and computers. Thank you for visiting! ~Sharon Wong, M.Ed.

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