This is part 3 of 4 in a series centering on the challenges of raising a gluten-free child.  Then keep watching for future posts, as I incorporate answers from my daughter about her life with celiac at home, school, and with friends.  I hope to relate our experiences and help people who are wondering about the very same issues.    

In the fall of 2004, Emma headed off for kindergarten – all day, every-other day – meaning it included lunch.  I met with the school nurse and head of the kitchen before school started.  And we figured out a way she could have tacos (without the taco seasoning), but otherwise, she would have to bring cold lunch. 

Going to School Can be a Challenge
Going to School Can be a Challenge

Gluten-Free In Class

 

As for her classroom, I printed up a guide our Raising our Celiac Kids Twin Cities chapter came up with.  It includes the child’s picture, basic information about celiac disease and gluten-free issues (including washing hands after Play-Doh), and a quick reference guide for some easy snacks.  While the teacher usually has a concerned look when I give it to her before school begins, by the end of the year, they tell me how helpful the guide was and how good Emma was at handling her diet.  I have never had any problem with the teachers or in-class activities.
But all the help that I could give the teachers couldn’t stop Emma’s and my internal frustrations that came with birthday treats, food at school-sponsored events (usually cookies), and lunch.  “Snacks are frustrating.  I kind of feel left out when that happens,” Emma said recently.  We always leave a stash of gluten-free candy with the teacher for the entire year so Emma can pick something when “gluten” treats come into class.  None of us always knows when another child is going to bring a snack or birthday treat to share, so the candy bin with Emma’s favorites have always been a hit with her and her teacher.

Gluten-Free Lunch

Lunch was a different issue.  In kindergarten the tacos didn’t last very long before they went off the menu.  So for the next few years, Emma only did cold lunches.  But as second grade wound down, Emma started to ask about hot lunch and the possibility of getting it again.  That’s when I went to work and met with the district’s nutrition department to get some lunch help for Emma and other kids in her situation.  After about 15 months (some of which felt like a battle), we received a gluten-free menu in the fall of 2008.  “I can have lots more things,” Emma said.  “I don’t have to be different and not have to bring a cold lunch every day.”  It was a long process and I think both the school district’s nutrition department and I learned a lot and we earned mutual respect for one another.

Life at school has calmed down a bit and both the cafeteria and Emma are probably starting to get in a “groove” with the gluten-free menu.  Her teacher is asking parents for specific gluten-free treats when they are needed for class parties.  So while it has been a journey, and some of it has been difficult, it has been an important experience from which all of us can learn and hopefully help others out along the way.

Here are links for you to read parts one and two of this occasional series.  Our final part is when Emma looks to the future of this disease, what may be next for her and what she can do to raise awareness.

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