Well the change is on. My elementary school, gluten-free daughter is moving on — whether I like it or not. Next year she’s off to Middle School, which means a whole different ballgame for me when it comes to lunch.
Beginning the Gluten-Free Menu at School– All Over Again
Let me first say, it should be easier for me because my school district already has a gluten-free menu. We’ve been using it at elementary school for two years. But the Middle School has not needed to use it — or so they thought. But I’ll have more on that in a minute.
I had a meeting with the Anoka-Hennepin district nutritionist who works with me (and designed the gf menu) and the head of the cafeteria at the school recently. The meeting went very well, but the Middle School hasn’t had to experience this menu and — more importantly– the issues with cross contamination. So we went through the menu, which is essentially an offshoot from the elementary menu, but in secondary schools the kids get a lot more to choose from: hamburger line, salad/sandwich line, daily entree line , pizza. What the three of us mainly discussed were Emma’s options and that they would do to accommodate them.
There will be a learning curve here for the folks at the school (just like at Emma’s school before), they need to learn more about gluten-free foods and cooking them, checking on new foods that might come in and most definitely — cross contamination. It part is my biggest worry.
While going through the menu, I noticed on soft shell taco day, Emma’s menu also noted she’d be getting tacos but on a hard corn shell. Great! But I asked the cafeteria supervisor, “How will that be distributed to her? Will she go through the main line as everyone else and someone who’s been touching the soft shells will just reach back and touch her hard shell tacos?” While there was no immediate answer to this, I did get this question from her, “Well she can have regular pasta right?” “No, she can’t.” I said.
So I asked the cafeteria supervisor “Do you know what a gluten free diet is?…No wheat, barley, rye, some oats…?” She said that was about all she knew. The district nutritionist jumped in and said she would be working with them on this as the new year gets closer. I do trust my nutrition liaison with the district, she really does get the gluten-free diet and the concerns about cross contamination, I am very thankful for this.
I don’t expect everyone to know about the gluten-free diet and cross contamination all the time. Heck, most of us didn’t know anything about the diet until we had to come face-to-face with it ourselves. So I’m giving her a little slack. But I warned her that Emma would be asking a lot of questions of her those first few weeks because she doesn’t eat anything that she questions. Which means she’ll have to be ready on that first day of school!
Flying Gluten-Free Under the Radar
Here’s what was kind of interesting about this trip. I was under the assumption that the Middle School did not use the gluten-free menu. I was right. But I also assumed that because they didn’t use the menu, they didn’t have anyone with celiac disease at their school. I was wrong.
Six weeks ago I went to an orientation at the school, where I met the nurse. I told her that Emma was coming and she has celiac disease. She told me they had four kids there already with it and one teacher!! Wow! This is great I thought. But when I went to the meeting last week to discuss Emma’s menu, I learned that three of the four either aren’t “out of the closet” or don’t know the district has a gluten-free menu. The cafeteria supervisor explained that she knew about the fourth child, but her mom just pulled the supervisor aside and said she’s eating gluten free. But never made any arrangements. Apparently this student is just figuring it out for herself ??– which I think can be dangerous. There are too many unknowns with the commercial food that comes in (and doesn’t need to declare top allergens in their product like everyone else does), and cross contamination in the kitchen. If the cooks don’t know not to cross contaminate, then it probably happens without anyone realizing! (Again, another lesson learned when my own child went gluten-free).
When I told them about the four kids, they were surprised. I recommended to my district contact that she market the fact that they do gluten-free menus for kids prescribed the gluten-free diet. It’s not right that these kids don’t have access to the gluten-free menu. They need to know about it. If the district is already going to the trouble of accommodating some — it may as well accommodate all.
I am a firm believer that as a parent, you cannot do it alone in schools. If you want to have a gluten-free menu for your child in school it will take work. In a post last summer, I discussed how you can start the conversation with your district, and now’s the right time to do it for next year. But, as in most cases, adding a gluten-free menu won’t begin without someone starting the discussion — that person may need to be you.