When my daughter with celiac was old enough to enter school, I was so nervous! For those of you experiencing the same concerns as the new school year gets under way, I am going to go over some of the steps I take each academic year to ensure my kids are safe and healthy.
Advocating for yourself (or teaching your children to advocate for themselves)
My biggest tip is to be an advocate for your kid — and teach them to be an advocate for themself. My favorite saying right now is “don’t assume everyone knows how to gluten free.” I know I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what it took to “gluten free” my life, so don’t assume others know how to keep you safe. Advocating for yourself takes several steps: spreading awareness, asking questions, and standing up for your needs. So when you walk into a new school year, be sure to make your child, the teacher, the school nurse,and anyone else who may need to know aware of your health needs. Ask questions to understand what systems they have in place, and then decide what’s safe and feels right for you and your family.
Role playing is a great way to have your child practice the things they will need to be brave enough to say when navigating school. Below I have included sample prompts that can get you started and feel prepared!
Sample prompts to practice advocating for yourself
When you or a family member has a food restriction, it is so important to learn to speak up for your health and safety. Ask questions! Here are some sample scenarios you can practice. Come up with questions you would ask and/or responses, and make up even more scenarios so you will feel prepared and confident when the time comes.
- Someone offers you a homemade snack or treat.
- Someone invites you out for a meal or to their home for dinner.
- You are invited to a party.
- Someone asks you what gluten is (“isn’t gluten just like bread or pasta?”).
Planning for school lunches and safe snacks
One of the biggest concerns as a parent is making sure your kids will have safe food to eat when they go back to school. I highly recommend sitting down with your school administrators and setting up a 504 plan. This ensures you have something in place for all kinds of scenarios. My family does this, and it helps us have a clear line of communication throughout the school year with teachers, staff, etc.
With the risk of cross contact, I have it as part of the 504 plan to have my child sit in a designated space that is disinfected prior to her mealtime. I always pack her lunch and snacks, and there is emergency food stored in the classroom or with the school nurse in case she forgets her lunch or there is some other emergency. I also make sure to have special sweet treats on hand so she won’t be left out for class parties. This process is as easy as making sure that your kid always carries safe gluten-free snacks. Here are some samples of what I send for my child’s lunches.
- Almonds and other nuts
- Applesauce pouches
- Fruit leathers
- Caveman Bars
- Carrot sticks
- Celery sticks
- Simple Mills crackers
- Milton’s crackers
- Enjoy Life chocolate chips
- The Good Crisp chips
- Cheese sticks
- Gluten-free pretzels
● PB&J with Canyon Bakehouse or Schar bread
● Rice cake with peanut butter and jelly
● Rice cake with ham and cheese
● Salad in a jar
Have a good school year
I hope this gives you an idea of the steps that you can take for a safe school year! My daughter, now in fourth grade, is thriving because we have done everything over the years to set her up for success. All these years later, I am able to feel peace of mind knowing I put in the necessary work to keep her safe. To recap, It took:
- Research (yay — you are here learning!)
- Conversations (e.g., teacher meetings and 504 plan meetings)
- Documentation (a personalized information card and 504 documentation)
- Planning (school lunches and emergency snacks)
- Teaching (spreading awareness of gluten-free needs and teaching my child to advocate for herself)
All the effort put in was so worth it! With these systems and steps in place beforehand, we could then enjoy and celebrate all the new experiences school had to offer. You can do the same. My favorite part of going through the hard times in this journey is knowing I can then share my learning with you. Happy back to school!
Want to learn more about raising a gluten-free child? Check out the tips in our Kids section.