Allergies, intolerances, dislikes, religious bans: these days boarding school menus cater for a massive and sometimes overlapping patchwork of differing food requirements. Australian Boarding Schools Association chief executive Richard Stokes says most boarding schools now routinely offer boarders a vegetarian or even vegan option. The number of students with allergies and intolerances has grown markedly over the past 20 or so years, he adds, and accelerated in recent times.
“Most schools are good about making sure there’s gluten-free food and dairy-free food and a range of milks available,” he says, adding that if boarding schools are not actually banning nuts, they now take extreme care with nuts to ensure allergic youngsters remain safe.
One recent evening at St Michael’s Collegiate in Tasmania, boarders could choose from three different types of lasagna: standard meat lasagna, vegetarian lasagna and lasagna made with gluten-free and dairy-free products.
“One student reacts to gluten but is not coeliac,” says boarding director Mika Browning, adding that some of Collegiate’s students have a medical requirement for dairy-free choices yet some of these choose to eat the ice-cream on offer and take medicine to control the resulting symptoms.
One past Collegiate student with coeliac disease had such a strong reaction to wheat products that she always had to be first in the queue to ensure the tongs had only touched gluten-free foods, Browning remembers, and she had her own toaster to avoid contamination.
More than 10 per cent of the students boarding at Melbourne Girls Grammar School have differing food requirements, says boarding director Amanda Haggie. They include vegan and vegetarian students, a coeliac student, a lactose intolerant student, and a Muslim who doesn’t eat pork and observes Ramadan. The school made sure this girl’s Ramadan requirements were fully met, providing meals she could heat up for herself before sunrise.