Middle School and High School is often the time when students become most concerned with assimilation.
For this reason, spending the time to determine what, if any, foods provided in the cafeteria are gluten-free may be very important for your child’s emotional well-being. Eating the “same” foods at lunch as their peers often is especially important to the student with celiac disease. Some students may bring their own lunch from home, however, many middle and high school cafeterias will have an increased selection of foods and snack items and, hopefully, some of these options may be gluten-free.
While the use of food within the classroom may decrease because of fewer parties, it can still be present in the curriculum. The use of food as “rewards” may also continue. Bake sales or other foods for purchase for fund-raising events can exist. Unlike in elementary school, your child may now be hesitant to have a parent approach the teacher or the school. The middle or high school student may decide to handle this issue on their own, or simply bear with it and eat nothing.
Some things a parent can do at this stage:
Exploring options in the cafeteria
Contact the head of food service during the spring prior to your child's entry into the school and explain the dietary restrictions. Request the opportunity to read the ingredients on food labels and the ingredients used in the cafeteria. Contact the companies yourself to determine the gluten-free status of questionable ingredients. Learn about the preparation techniques of potentially safe items, (i.e. are the French fries baked or fried? If fried, is the oil contaminated? Are the French fries coated with any unsafe seasonings or flavorings?) Read the labels of anything you think your child might consume (a note of caution, some hamburger patties contain oats or other fillers).
School trips are often a part of the middle/high school curriculum. Start early to research the places the school may take the students to eat on these events. Provide portable foods to supplement your student’s diet, if necessary. If you are lucky, you may be able to encourage the selection of restaurant choices that are able to provide a gluten-free menu selection (however, if they go for pizza, the options will be slim at best). Contact the restaurants yourself and supply the student with the gluten-free options in advance, if possible.
Establish open lines of communication
Although your student may want their independence and feel that you no longer have a role, establish open lines of communication with the teachers and the administration. Gently remind them to avoid singling out your child so that the student will be less embarrassed. Work as a team and don’t forget common courtesy when arrangements are made to accommodate your child’s diet.
Each one of these items is explored in detail in the School Packet.