The slightly brisk feel to the early morning air means that cold months have arrived. Whether your child is at nursery or college, this means that it is time to go back to school. Starting a new school year brings a certain amount of trepidation for everyone, from little ones on their first day to the veterans of the education system. Starting a gluten free school year can present its own unique challenges. However with careful planning, getting the right information to key people will make the process as easy as a first day of school can ever be.
No matter what school year your child is starting, the most important aspect of getting ready for school is being positive and planning ahead. It is vital that you have open dialogue with the classroom teachers, school nurse, and canteen staff. Although the issues of cross contamination, label reading, and maintaining a strict gluten free diet are of ultimate importance, emphasising the ease of using naturally gluten free foods, the health benefits of less processed foods, and the focus on good hand washing are a benefit to all.
In nursery and primary school snacks and crafts are probably the biggest hurdles. Check with the classroom teacher and the art teacher that your child is able to wash their hands after each activity. Although hand sanitizers do a great job on normal dirt and germs, they will not remove any of the residual gluten found in some craft supplies. There are really two different issues when it comes to snacks. The first is the usual planned snack. In this case, you can supply your child with a wide range of gluten free snacks. Make sure the teacher understands the only one way share policy. This is the policy of allowing your child to share their snack so they feel involved, but not letting them be exposed to gluten in another child’s snack. The second issue is the unplanned celebration. In this case, it is important to have a back up plan, for example, one that allows your child to be given a shoe box sized container. Let your child decorate the container and put his or her name on it. Let them fill it with their favourite snacks or even treats. Then, when there is an unexpected celebration that involves a snack your child can go to their snack box and pick any snack they wish.
In secondary school, the focus is on the group. Students strive to be like their peers. Being different in any way is a cause for distress. Therefore a lot of background work needs to be done. Check with the canteen staff to see if they would be prepared to offer naturally gluten free items on the menu for everyone. These choices are often healthier options like grilled chicken tenders, salad or a yogurt parfait with fresh berries. If these foods are served in the canteen instead of breaded tenders or other traditional foods, it will be easier for your child to make a safe gluten free selection without appearing different. The other areas where you need to do some background work are the local spots where children meet up. The local pizza shop, coffee shops and even the snack bar. Talk to the managers and ask them to help by either having a few gluten free items on their menus or selling naturally gluten free items. Go to each of these establishments with your child over the summer so they can practice ordering safe gluten free items and enjoy a great snack or meal with the satisfaction of knowing that they have achieved something.
For university-age students, dining halls tend to be less of a problem as the students are more self-assured and there is usually a greater variety of food on offer. Ensure that you make an appointment with the food service director as part of your usual university tour. Planning ahead with the director will ease the transition from home to university.