Back-to-School season is here! My daughter goes back on Wednesday; my nephew went back last Friday; some kids went back at the end of July. Whenever school starts for you, there is no time like the present to get prepared. If your child is new to the gluten-free diet or is going to a new school, this may seem like a daunting task. Rest assured, the gluten-free diet is more common now than it was 5 years ago, so it isn’t impossible. Below are some tips for different school levels and how to get the ball rolling.
Meet with your child’s teacher, school nurse and principal to outline the necessary adherence to the gluten-free diet. Make sure to bring a letter outlining all of the details that you wish to include. Some schools are now providing students with gluten-free lunches as well, so make sure to arrange to speak with whomever is in charge of the lunch program and staff to make sure they understand the consequences of cross-contamination. The other challenge with elementary school age children is birthday and class parties. Arrange to be notified in advance if there is a scheduled pizza or birthday party so that you can bring in the appropriate gluten-free version of that food for your child. You may consider keeping some pre-made brownies or cupcakes in the nurse’s freezer if that is an option.
Middle & High School
Kids at the middle and high school age may not want their parents involved in meeting with the school staff to go over their diet. When Jon was in middle school, I still sent in my letter to make sure the teachers and nurse were aware of his condition in case he accidentally ingested gluten. Jon chose to stick with bringing his lunch from home at this age, so there was no need to meet with the cafeteria staff. High school options vary, but often there are choices that he could safely make without much involvement from an outside source. They often stock yogurt, milk, chips, fresh fruit and salads that he could safely eat.
Many colleges are able to safely feed those needing a gluten-free diet. Ohio University has an on-site gluten-free bakery and all kinds of gluten-free options available. Also, we have been impressed with Miami University of Ohio when Jon visited for hockey camp a few years ago. For more information on staying gluten-free while going to college, make sure to check out the upcoming NFCA Webinar, a live Q&A with GF college students and grads, and GlutenFreeTravelSite.com, which includes reviews for several colleges.
Make sure that your child feels comfortable with however you choose to handle eating gluten-free at school. Involve your child in any and all talks and decisions so that he or she doesn’t feel uncomfortable or different from the other kids. There are many kids with special diets in schools these days, so chances are that your child won’t be the only one.