Tips for going back to school gluten-free

Aug 31, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

Knowing how to prepare for going back to school gluten-free can ease the stress for all concerned and make for a more enjoyable school year.

Contributed by Terri L. Wallace

Going gluten-free can be quite an adjustment, but figuring out how to make a gluten-free diet work for a school-age child takes preparation and dedication. These tips can help make the transition a little easier.

Knowledge is power

You can better help the school to keep your child safe by providing your child’s teachers with a list of foods/ingredients that your child needs to avoid. Educate the teachers about the risks associated with your child ingesting gluten and what type of symptoms and reactions that your child typically experiences and what to do to help your child in the event of accidental ingestion.

Anticipate antagonism

Let’s face it, children who are “different” are frequently bullied; this includes children who must restrict certain foods from their diet. Talk to your child about the possibility and the different forms that bullying can take: name calling, mocking, and even taunting a child with a restricted food are not uncommon. Discuss with your child how he might respond to bullying, and discuss with your child’s teacher about how she would deal with such an incident.

Inspect and detect

While some schools now offer gluten-free options in their lunch room, it is wise to visit the cafeteria to see what practices are implemented in order to prevent cross contamination. If their protocol is lax, you can point out the deficiencies and see whether the school is prepared to properly address your concerns. In the alternative, you might consider packing your child’s lunch in order to avoid cross contamination or uncertainty as to what foods are safe for your child to eat.

Snack attack

Some classrooms allow for students to have snacks during the course of the day. If this is the case at your child’s school, you might consider packing several gluten-free options for your child. Many teachers also appreciate it if they are given a box of gluten-free treats which they can offer your child at classroom parties.

Protecting Pizza Day!

Some schools reward classes with “Pizza Day!” It is easy to feel left out when everyone else is enjoying a gooey wedge of pizza. Luckily, more and more pizzerias are offering gluten-free options. Often teachers are agreeable to a parent providing a small gluten-free pizza to be served to a child avoiding gluten. If no commercially prepared gluten-free pizzas are available in your area, you might consider purchasing a gluten-free prepared pizza crust and having your child help top it with his or her favorite toppings.

Don’t suffer for your art

Depending on the nature and severity of your child’s gluten issues, it might be wise to also discuss certain classroom items (especially some art supplies) that contain gluten. If your child has severe issues with gluten, it is important to pay particular attention to glues and play dough to ensure that they are safe for your child. While not as bad as studying for a calculus exam, going gluten-free does take some planning. But by anticipating your child’s needs and working to create an open dialogue with your child’s teachers, going back to school gluten-free doesn’t have to be traumatic.

Terri L. Wallace is a freelance writer in Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband, three kids and innumerable cats. When she isn’t feeding stray cats or working on her novel, Terri blogs about writing and gluten-free cooking. With two children with Celiac disease, and with 18 food allergies herself, Terri can frequently be found in her kitchen trying to concoct treats that everyone can enjoy.

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