Back to school can sometimes mean “back to worrying” for parents of children with food allergies and intolerances. If you fit this description, you might wonder whether your child is sharing snacks with other children at lunchtime or what will be at the bake sale. What about those Halloween, Valentine’s Day and winter holiday parties? Field trips, supply teachers, pizza day, the school cafeteria— your list of concerns is probably endless.
The safety of gluten intolerant or sensitive children should never be overlooked as one can become quite ill with the tiniest exposure to gluten (even just a crumb). As a parent or caregiver, there are steps you can take to ensure your child is safe at school. Here are some you may find helpful.
Schedule a Meeting
Meet with your child’s teachers to discuss their dietary needs. Be clear about what your child must avoid, as well as the consequences of consuming those foods. A note from your child’s health professional could be useful.
Post the Information
Ask school staff to post a student health identification form about your child’s dietary needs in the office, staffroom and classroom (e.g., celiac disease and food intolerances). Request to place this form in the supply teacher’s binder as well.
Purchase a Medical Alert Bracelet
Purchase a medical alert bracelet for your child and clearly engrave any medical condition (e.g., celiac disease) and food intolerances.
Initiate a Class Chat
Ask the teacher for a classroom discussion about your child’s dietary needs. For example, you could offer to play a short video about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.
Teach your child about their food intolerance and to share the information with others. It is a good idea for kids to learn how to be a self-advocate at a young age (it was helpful for me). If your child is very young, you can teach through the use of role playing and puppets. Research shows young children learn well through the use of puppets.
Look on the bright side and teach your child to follow suit. There are many advantages to living gluten free. Remind your child that our differences make us special!
Pack a Lunch They’ll Love
Pack a lunch your child will love! Write out a list of your child’s favourite bite-sized gluten-free munchies and make a custom trail mix. For example, include healthful foods like dried fruit, banana chips, coconut chips and tigernuts, which are not actually nuts and are school safe. Another nutrient-dense snack is homemade granola bars. When you make them yourself you can eliminate white sugar, additives and preservatives. If you use oats, make sure they are pure, gluten free and free of cross contamination. Last but not least, why not pack savory French toast with Queen Street Bakery’s artisanal Cinnamon Raisin loaf or an ooey gooey grilled cheese sandwich with Queen Street Bakery’s White Bean & Millet Seed artisanal loaf. These loaves have a taste profile and a moist, soft texture that kids love.
About the Author: Living with celiac disease, Lisa Cantkier is a writer and educator focused on nutrition and health.