By Carly Earnest

Whether you are an incoming freshman or a transfer student, navigating your first year at UCSB can be overwhelming. Choosing where to live, learning proper biking etiquette, and crashing classes are just a few of the many stressors that students deal with in their first year as a Gaucho. On top of these typical challenges that all Gauchos face, students that have dietary restrictions, whether it is a food allergy or preference, face a whole new set of obstacles.

As someone who has a gluten allergy, I understand the struggles that many college students with dietary restrictions must overcome while also learning the ins and outs of UCSB. While the thought of having access to unlimited pre-made delicious meals excited most first-year students, I was terrified at the thought of not having options to eat or even worse, eating gluten by accident. How will the dining commons prevent cross contamination in their facilities? Who can I contact to know that what I am eating is safe? Will I be stuck eating the same food all four years? These questions all circled my mind as soon as I committed to UCSB my senior year of high school. It may seem impossible at first to adhere to your specific dietary needs at the dining commons or eating out in Isla Vista, but this guide covers all you need to know about how to keep you happy and healthy.


UCSB’s dining commons offer a variety of nutritious and delicious options that accommodate every dietary concern or special need. If you are unfamiliar with the UCSB dining commons, the facilities include Carillo, De La Guerra, Ortega, and Portola. Read below for resources you can take advantage of to ensure your dietary needs are met while eating at one of these facilities.

Contact UCSB’s Registered Dietician

If you have a food allergy, it is strongly encouraged that you self-identify yourself as having a food allergy or specific health-related dietary restriction. The summer before my first year at UCSB, I reached out to our Registered Dietician, Danielle Sinclair, to review their protocols and available options to meet my specific needs. Daneille is available to address dietary concerns or special needs, provide tips on how to make healthy choices in UCSB’s dining commons, and to answer any nutrition related questions. With Danielle’s thorough guidance, I felt reassured about the options I had to maintain my gluten free diet. We scheduled to meet at Portola, the dining commons next to the Santa Catalina dorms, the day after I moved into my freshman year dorm. While there, Danielle kindly showed me around the facility and introduced me to the chefs to consult to confirm gluten free ingredients. This is a great resource to take advantage of prior to attending UCSB to relieve any dietary-related stress or concerns you may have before you begin your first year.

You can reach out to our Registered Dietitian and learn more about Nutrition resources here.


Another beneficial resource at UCSB’s dining commons is NetNutrition, which is an online dietary tool that allows students to make educated food choices. All students have access to this resource that is located inside all four dining commons, as well as online. This service allows students to view nutrition information for individual items, calculate the nutrition of an entire meal, view weekly menu offerings, and filter by dining locations, allergens, or specific dietary preferences.

Specifically for food allergies and preferences, you can use the allergy filter to control which foods are displayed, with the most common allergies listed in the lower right corner. By selecting the allergens you want to avoid, such as gluten, only menu items that are gluten free will appear on your list of menu choices. If you select more than one filter, only the foods that are free from all the selections will appear on the menu.

For my Gluten Free Friends!

While meeting with the Registered Dietitian, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of options they had for students with gluten allergies. In fact, I had access to an entire gluten free pantry. All four dining commons had one of these locked wooden pantries, so only students who met with the Dietitian were given the “secret password” to access gluten free bread, bagels, desserts, and more. If you are gluten free, you understand how uncommon it is to find these gluten free items while eating out or even at grocery stores. Additionally, located on top of each pantry was a separate gluten free toaster, which prevents cross contamination and the risk of unintentionally eating gluten. These accommodations assured me that I did not need to worry about having food to eat or having a reaction from gluten. UCSB provides excellent accommodations for every dietary restriction, so you can take this off your list of worries as you begin your first year at UCSB.


Depending on your meal plan or if you eat out with friends, you may find yourself eating in Isla Vista. My number one tip for eating out with a dietary restriction is to be prepared. Review the menu ahead of time and call to ask questions about menu items. It can be both challenging and embarrassing to order food and ask the employees specific questions about ingredients or cross contamination, especially when with a group of friends.

To prepare yourself, I recommend using online resources such as the Yelp app. Yelp is available for download for free using the app store, and you can read reviews and recommendations for nearly every restaurant in Isla Vista. I often leave my own reviews about the availability of gluten free options at places in Isla Vista. In fact, you can thank me for Pizza My Heart now having seltzers available, rather than only beer, after I left a review regarding the lack of gluten free drink options at their restaurant. Do not be afraid of inquiring about menu items or how the food is prepared because more often than not, places are able to accommodate your specific needs. While at first I felt self-conscious about my gluten allergy, I learned to embrace it and vocalize my needs rather than opting out of dinner with friends.


After a year of eating at the dining commons, it was extremely nice to have access to my own kitchen to cook gluten free meals. However, if you live off-campus it is likely you will live with multiple housemates. Sharing a kitchen with others when you have a food allergy or dietary restriction can be challenging. It is important to have open communication with all of your housemates and inform them of your needs. For example, I bought a separate toaster for my gluten free items. I labeled the toaster “gluten free” and spoke with my housemates about not using this toaster for any products that are not gluten free to prevent cross contamination. Although it may be awkward to voice your needs to your housemates, it is not worth risking your own health.

Within your first few weeks at UCSB, you will already begin to feel at home as a Gaucho. There will be many “firsts” for you to experience, such as going to Sands, having a class in Campbell Hall, or perhaps going to a party. Enjoy these exciting moments and before you know it, your time as UCSB will fly by. As a graduating senior, I am happy to pass on this advice to all incoming Gauchos. You can now feel confident and ready to navigate UCSB and Isla Vista life while having a food allergy or dietary restriction.

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