For young people of any age with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, school can be full of potential gluten pitfalls, as well as temptations, if they’re not coached on how to avoid gluten and given the tools they need to succeed.
As if parents didn’t have enough to think and worry about when their children attend school, the following list provides ideas to think about as well as processes to implement for any parent with school age, gluten intolerant children.
• Cafeteria lunches will be hit or miss, but more often than not they will have gluten in one or more menu items on any given day. Provide balanced and nutritious gluten-free lunches for a child to take daily, as well as snacks to eat during breaks.
• Consult the principal and cafeteria manager on which foods are regularly gluten-free and which foods to avoid. Also, discuss potential cross-contact issues to avoid. Let them know who your child is so they can watch out for them.
• Let every applicable teacher know that your child must avoid gluten when food is brought into the classroom.
• For preschools, playdough must be off-limits for your child and the teacher must know.
• Regardless of age, children may be tempted into consuming foods containing gluten that are offered to them by others, and the foods probably aren’t offered out of malice, but of the child wanting to be polite and share or through sheer misunderstanding of the disease. Make sure your child understands the importance of not consuming gluten, and it’s probably best to have a teacher watch a young child and make sure he or she does not eat anything dangerous.
• Teach your child how to read ingredient labels and to recognize foods with gluten. They must become vigilant and watch out for hidden gluten.
• Consulting with staff and advance planning will be necessary each time a field trip or sporting event away from school takes place.
• Vending machines should be off-limits unless certain foods have been confirmed gluten-free.
• Every young person needs to be prepared to know how to explain their gluten intolerance and what they must avoid to anyone when the need arises.