My daughter’s school doesn’t start classes until the day after Labor Day, but I got a great email from our cafeteria supervisor this week that’s got me dreaming about the days when my lovely children have to go back to school. The email contained the gluten-free menu for the first week of class. This reminded me of the other things I need to do to get my daughter’s teachers on the gluten-free bandwagon.

Gluten-free school lunches

This one continues to be a rarity in US public school districts. After much discussion with my school district over the last few years, they instituted a gluten-free menu for both elementary and secondary schools last year. So it was great to receive the email from Mrs. Peterson at Jefferson. It proved to me that they’re ready to start the year on the right foot with a menu ready to go.

The first week starts with two salads as the nutrition department continues to work on confirming foods that are gluten-free, and then it launches in to hot food. It’s something I, and my daughter, are grateful for.

If you want to get a gluten-free school lunch for your child, you should start the discussion with your nutrition department. My contact for my child’s menu told me earlier this summer if your district doesn’t already have a protocol for dealing with gluten-free issues the nutrition department is the place to begin.

The process will take some time. In fact my most concentrated effort involved about 15 months of questioning (and some might say nagging or annoying) people at the district-level about it. Much of our family’s journey has already been documented in a post last October. The bottom line is it may seem hopeless now, but your school could turn around by your persistence and education.

Prepping your Educators

Each fall at open house it seems like I go through the same thing. I meet my daughter’s teacher (in this year’s case it will be teachers), and I briefly talk with them about Emma’s celiac disease, her diet and that they don’t have to worry that she will instantly die if she accidentally ingests gluten (although she may vomit—but I digress). During the conversation I usually get a look from them that seems to be a combination of fear, confusion, and worry that they’re not paying attention to the other parents enough. It’s all okay. I understand.

Here’s how I approach this to make it the most efficient: I create a little bit of an “elevator speech” that is quick and to the point and then I hand off the “survival guide” that gives a brief description of celiac, the gluten-free diet and why it’s so important for her to stick with the diet. It also includes a quick list of common, easy-to-find treats that are gluten-free. Emma’s picture is taped right on it as well! The nurse, principal and cafeteria supervisor also have this document.

I also arm the teacher with a bag full of treats that can be stashed and used for birthday parties, or classroom incentives during the school year. In fact, I will have to put all of this information together for my daughter’s teachers very soon.

Concerns with younger kids

Preschoolers, kindergarteners and even possibly first graders may not quite grasp the need to question a teacher who might give them a cracker or a cookie. So these kids can often be most susceptible to accidental “glutenization”. Equipping them with a snack every day and making sure the teacher has extra treats, hopefully will help eliminate this problem. But these kids also must wash their hands after playing with Play Doh or creating something using Cheerios, pretzels, crackers, etc… Teachers may need to be reminded of the consequences of cross contamination.  A child could easily get sick after touching these items and not washing their hands after.

Keep communication going

As with anything communication can only help your experience. Keep the lines open with your child’s teacher, nutritionist, lunch supervisor, principal, nurse, whoever might come in contact with them regarding her gluten-free needs.  Good luck!

Above I have linked you to a few of my other school postings which could help you. Creating a 504 plan might be of assistance as well. I hope to have a separate blog on this for you soon. I believe I’ve said that before—but now’s the time to talk about it. Plus I’ll be exploring this possibility of a 504 plan for Emma during this year as she prepares to go to middle school in 2010. I will keep you posted on the quirks and developments.

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  1. Optimistic for a Great Gluten-Free School Year | The Savvy Celiac
  2. Gluten-Free Letter to School Teacher/School Nurse

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