Gluten-Free School Survival Tips

 

Amy Keller, MS, RD, LD,
is a dietitian and celiac
support leader from
Bellefontaine, Ohio.

 

Q: I started making breakfast before school, but I always feel hungry by the start of third period. I usually eat cereal if i’m at home, or a gluten-free granola bar and orange juice on the bus. Lunch isn’t until 1 p.m., so by then I’m starving. Do you have suggestions on how I can make breakfast a little more filling?

A: First off, I think it’s great that you are making your breakfast. This important skill will serve you well in the future. So many kids skip breakfast, and that affects how well they perform in school. Cereal and granola bars are great starters for breakfast, but on their own, they do not provide the most balanced meal. Choose a protein with your breakfast every morning—eggs, string cheese or Greek yogurt. Enjoy cereal, gluten-free granola, toast or a bagel as your grain of choice. Top it all off with a piece of fruit instead of juice. You’ll stay fuller much longer.

If you can snack between classes, a gluten-free protein or snack bar, a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit can help keep the hunger pangs at bay until it’s time for lunch. Just be sure whatever snack you choose doesn’t need to be refrigerated.


Q:  My 14-year-old son was diagnosed with celiac at the end of last school year. We got a pretty good handle on the diet at home this summer, but now he’s playing freshman football. I know he needs to eat before games, but the pregame meal of pasta and bread isn’t going to work. How can I make sure he gets to eat safely?

A: Most kids don’t want to miss out on the camaraderie of the pregame meal, but it can be tricky. If the meal is prepared by a football parents’ organization, you might consider talking with them first, or volunteer with the group and assist with menu planning. You might discover that you are not the only parent with a player who requires a special diet. Is pasta on the menu every time because that’s what the players prefer, or would they be willing to mix it up occasionally with rice- or potato-based dishes? One football team I recently worked with did a make-your-own-burrito-bowl pregame meal, while another had a baked potato bar. Are there other naturally gluten-free items available that your son can enjoy, like fruit or salad?

Athletes need good sources of carbohydrates in their pregame meals. If you are packing food, a generous portion of gluten-free pasta, white or brown rice, or potatoes can provide that needed energy. High-fiber foods and spicy foods may not be tolerated. High-fat foods tend to sit in the stomach for a long time, so they should also be avoided right before the game. If your son has a particularly sensitive stomach, it may be better to avoid solid foods right before a game, opting instead for a healthy smoothie or shake.

Make sure your son drinks plenty of fluid before, during, and after games and practice, because dehydration can cause gastrointestinal upset, too. Choose water and sports drinks instead of juice or soda. Most importantly, try out pregame foods on training days—never try a new food or beverage on game day.


Q: My daughter is in fourth grade. The teacher likes to give out candy as rewards for good behavior and during math games. I’m nervous because most likely not all the candy choices are going to be safe. How can I approach this with her teacher? My daughter is already shy and worried about this drawing extra attention.

A: If you feel comfortable discussing it informally with the teacher, that’s a good place to start. However, you might want to consider a 504 Plan for your child. This formal document assures that there will be consistency in all classrooms and with all teachers who work with your child. Visit understood.org for more information on 504 Plans and how one might help your daughter. All of the major celiac organizations include information about how to implement a 504 Plan on their websites as well.

You can provide a bag of safe gluten-free candy, labeled with your daughter’s name, that her teacher could discreetly keep. This is also a good tip for birthday treats. While many schools now require prepackaged treats with clear ingredient lists or have eliminated sweet birthday treats altogether, it’s still a good idea to supply an emergency stash of small, prepackaged bags of cookies or other gluten-free goodies so your child doesn’t feel left out in the case of a surprise celebration. Just be sure to note the expiration date on the packages of the items you leave in the classroom so that you can can refresh them as needed.

 

For more of Amy Keller’s advice on following and thriving on the gluten-free diet, check out these Q&As:

To read resident pharmacy expert Steve Plogsted’s advice and information on gluten-free medications, check out these Q&As:

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