Gluten-free diets are on the rise, especially with an estimated one in 133 Americans affected by Celiac disease, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. When your child has a restricted diet, packing school lunches can be challenging, but with advance preparation you can reduce the stress of keeping your child healthy and focus instead on readjusting to the back-to-school routine. Whether you’re packing for kindergarten or high school, here are five simple tricks for stress-free, gluten-free eating this school year:
Pack lunches ahead of time
Avoid “Is there anything in the cafeteria I can actually eat?” moments by prepping and packing gluten-free lunches the night or weekend before. With gluten-free foods and ingredients on the rise, there is always an option for lunch. Be sure to try a variety of gluten-free substitutes and snacks to show kids that a restricted diet doesn’t have to mean restricted taste. Experiment with new gluten-free products and recipes to ensure that your child is happy with the taste so that weekday lunches are enjoyable.
Provide your own snacks
While gluten-free foods are more prevalent than ever, the options can still be limited in school cafeterias, so remember to send gluten-free snacks to school each week. Work with your child’s teacher to store a few safe snack options in the classroom. You want to focus on satisfying, wholesome options that can tide you child over until his or her next meal. Some of these options include: dried fruit, nuts, gluten free minis. The resealable bags are ideal for crunchy, wholesome snacking throughout the week.
Notify the school and cafeteria staff
Remove the risk of eating unknown ingredients in the cafeteria by reaching out to school administrators and cafeteria staff before the start of the school year. Many schools are beginning to offer and clearly label gluten-free options in the cafeteria, especially when they know there is a student with a specialized diet. Work with the school staff so they’re aware of your child’s dietary restrictions ahead of time to avoid cross contamination between foods.
Plan celebration snacks in advance
Celebrating birthdays in the classroom is a common practice in grade school but it’s unlikely that the homemade treats will be gluten-free. Sending a gluten-free treat to school with your child on celebration days will allow your child to still feel included while being safe. Request a birthday list of your child’s classmates so that you can confirm and coordinate this with the other parents.
Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to the school psychologist or nurse. Many schools have gluten-free or Celiac disease support groups for students. Abiding by a restricted diet can be frustrating for anyone, let alone a school age child. If your child has the support of school administrators and classmates, it can make coping with a special diet easier.