With the promise of new friends, new vistas, and exciting possibilities to come, back-to-school time is one of excitement and anticipation. For children with celiac or serious food allergies (and their parents), it can also be a time of anxiety. But with some thoughtful planning and just a little extra effort, you can rest easy that your child will have a safe and productive year!
Here, a few tips to get you started before the school bus drives away:
· Alert teachers, group leaders, and counselors to your student's dietary protocol. Be sure to update medical forms for your child if the diagnosis is recent.
· Schedule a meeting with those who work most closely with your child. This may include teacher's assistants, coaches, or other school staff members. If your child is in a classroom and/or activity wherein snacks are scheduled, work with those in charge to create a solution that accommodates your child with the least amount of attention (i.e., gluten-free snacks for all on some days; a special stash provided by you, etc.). Plan a schedule for restocking, and mark your calendar avoid any snackless days.
· Address the use of materials in class that may contain gluten, such as Play-Doh or ingredients for cooking activities. Plan to keep in touch with the teacher so that alternative solutions may be mapped out in advance.
· If your child eats the school lunch, meet with the food providers to check on safe options for children with food allergies. Most lunch services will offer a salad or other gluten-free-friendly option; however, the risk for cross-contamination may be present. My recommendation is to do your homework and always go the safest route. For us, that meant a daily packed lunch. Always pack ample snacks and meals for field trips, too.
· Let your child help plan her own snack and lunch menus. Taking part in food-planning builds confidence and adds a little fun to the challenge!
· If your child takes part in sports or after-school activities, be sure have him keep extra protein bars and/or other non-perishable snacks in his backpack to go with those fresh fruits and veggies. A gluten intolerance won't slow down a well-fed teammate!
· DON’T panic or feel you need to monitor your child during the school day (a.k.a. parental stalking—believe me, I know the temptation!). This will only add anxiety to your child and others. You will need to trust that he or she will be supported by the adults in charge, learning curve and all.
Finally, though we may wish we could hold our children's hands forever, the truth is, we have to let go a little -- to trust that our kids are learning to trust themselves, too. And, with that knowledge, we can smile just a little more each year, knowing that as the bus rolls away into this sunrise, we're one step closer to empowering our gluten-free children to drive their own destiny, one healthy day at a time.
For more on helping your gluten-free child navigate the school year—including tips on school lunch menu planning, birthday parties/social events, school field trips, community groups and events, and much more, check out The Gluten-Free Parents’ Survival Guide, now available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.