The start of a new school year can be exciting, but also overwhelming at the same time. While you’re back-to-school shopping for clothes and supplies, make sure to prepare for how a gluten-free diet will affect you or your child in the new school year! CDF Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Janelle Smith, helps you make it as easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3!
A – Attention to detail
For those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, the smallest amount of gluten can trigger symptoms, or even intestinal damage without symptoms. An example of this toxic amount is the flour that would fit under your pinky finger nail.
- Prevent cross-contamination with these sources of gluten:
- Play dough and craft glue for very young children who might then stick their hands in their mouth
- Lunch tables: advise your child to always wash hands before lunch and eat their lunch out of their lunchbox, not on the lunch table
- In high school and college dorms: avoid salad bars where croutons and other gluten-containing ingredients are mixed in
- Shared toasters in dining halls are also not okay to share with gluten-free foods
- Did you know about these “hidden” sources of gluten?
- All licorice and many “straws” or “belts” candy
- Malted candies
- Some low-fat peanut butter
- “Artisan” corn tortillas that are mixed with wheat flour for soft texture
- Almost all vegetarian meat made from wheat gluten: seitan, some tempeh
- Cereal with malt flavor or oats that are not labeled “gluten-free”
- Granola bars with regular oats not labeled “gluten-free”
- Read more sources of gluten
B – Brain food
Learning and studying requires nutrition! Fix nutrient deficiencies that may be caused by celiac disease, and get a wide variety of these foods to keep you and your child’s brain working optimally!
- B vitamins for energy and new cells – found in unrefined whole grains, leafy greens, beans, and nuts
- Protein and carbohydrate for energy – from lean meat, whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and beans
- Fats for new brain cells – fish, sashimi, flax, chia, eggs (choline) (especially for children)
- Minerals (iron, calcium, zinc) often lacking in the gluten-free diet – nuts and meat, calcium, fortified soy
C – Community
School can be a very isolating environment when you have special dietary needs that exclude you from the day-to-day activities and social trends of your peers. It’s important for children and young adults alike to find a sense of belonging at school. Consider these tips to create a community that includes people who understand and respect you:
- Join or establish a support group.
- Host a Celiac Disease Foundation Team Gluten-Free event that your friends can participate in and learn about your condition.
- Start a CDF-U Chapter at your college or university.
- Give a presentation to your class for a project that teaches your peers and teachers about your condition.
- Bring over a box of gluten-free snacks to your child’s best friend’s house so that there is always something for them to share.
- Bring gluten-free treats to share with the entire class to prove that gluten-free doesn’t taste that different!
- Give your child’s teacher some gluten-free treats to keep on hand if a classroom party comes up unannounced.
Steps for Back to School: Get into the Back-to-School Spirit
- Talk with the teacher to explain that sickness, sleepiness, or attention problems could occur from accidental gluten ingestion.
- Talk with the administration and file a 504 plan that ensures your child’s condition is taken seriously, even if you don’t anticipate it to cause any problems.
- Food-bullying should not be tolerated and should be taken seriously; even if your child doesn’t have an anaphylactic allergy, teasing and tricks with gluten-containing foods by peers are a serious health concern.
2 – Prepare your child and empower them to take their health into their own hands with these simple rules:
- No snack swapping with friends unless we are excellent at label-reading.
- If we can’t have the same foods as our friends at school, we can have our own favorite food another time with special friends or family.
- It’s normal to feel different or left out, and it’s okay to tell teachers, mom, and dad when we feel sad about it.
- If you feel sick, it’s okay to tell your teacher and go to the school nurse, or ask to go to the bathroom in an emergency.
3 – Prepare your food the weekend before so that mornings are less stressful, and complete meals are easier to fit in your schedule.