As your child moves from daycare though elementary school s/he will develop a better understanding of his/her gluten-free needs and become more self-sufficient. But at this age they still need assistance from parents and school staff. It is important at this age for parents to educate the educator.
It is best to set aside time to sit with the teacher to develop a plan that is right for your child. In addition to speaking with the teacher, you may also need to speak with the nurse and the cafeteria or food service manager.
Ask the school if it will distribute a letter explaining individual student food issues and describing the school plan for snacks, birthdays, and school celebrations. The letter should not name children specifically, rather state that there are children with food issues, so as not to single out your child and draw attention that may make your child feel uncomfortable now or when they older. Some additional questions to ask your school:
- Classroom size and teacher/child ratio.
- Has this school or teacher supervised children with food issues before?
- If yes, what kinds of plans were put into place?
- Is the teacher(s) comfortable with your child’s medical condition and with making the changes necessary for your child to be safe, welcomed and included?
- Is there a full-time nurse?
- Are there other children with food issues in the class?
- Are snacks served and who provides them?
- Is there a list of snack foods and drinks traditionally provided by the school?
- Are containers used to store snacks thoroughly cleaned and are they gluten free?
- Are there safe hand and face washing policies in place?
- Are tables cleaned after snacks are eaten?
- Are children allowed to share food?
Lunch and the Cafeteria
- How and when are tables and chairs cleaned after food is served?
- Where is lunch served?
- If your child’s lunch needs to be heated, what adult will safely do so?
- Are there any gluten-free foods offered (see middle and high school student cafeteria section)?
- How are birthdays traditionally handled?
- Can a frozen cupcake be kept in the teacher’s freezer?
- Can a bag of candy or special snack be kept in the teacher’s desk?
- Can parents be encouraged to send in non-food items (e.g. stickers or pencils) to celebrate birthdays?
Special Activities and Other Celebrations
- Which holidays are observed in school and which ones involve food?
- Are parents allowed to bring in food treats unannounced?
- If food is a must, encourage fruit and cheese instead of donuts and cake.
- Ask that the teacher contact you ahead of time so that you know what will be served.
- Is there a sensory table? Instead of barley, flour, and pasta, suggest substituting rice and beans.
- Do they cook in school? If so, when and what? Suggest using a flour free recipe and/or using a gluten-free flour mixture (you can provide).
- Does counting or estimating numbers involve food (e.g., m & m’s, cereal)?
- Is food used in science projects?
- Are there non-food substitutions that can be made?
- Review all curriculum plans in detail for any areas where changes need to be made.
- Are there food materials used in art?
- Is food used in crafts (e.g., pasta necklaces, cereal collages). Suggest using gluten-free versions or avoiding the use of food altogether.
- Is play dough used? Commercially made play dough has wheat flour as a main ingredient. You can make your own “play dough” by using rice flour and corn starch (give them the recipe).
- Are stickers or envelopes used? The adhesive in many stickers and envelopes contains gluten. Suggest using self-sticking crafts to avoid any risk.
- Is pudding used to paint with?
- Is paper-mache used? Most paper-mache recipes contain wheat flour. Rice flour or any gluten-free flour mix can be substituted.
- How many field trips are taken?
- How are the students transported and supervised?
- Is there food of any kind involved?
- Ask school personnel if and how they will educate children in the class about food issues.
- Ask school personnel if and how they will educate parents of children in the class about food issues.
- Research recipes that work ahead of time for school celebrations. Most common needs will be candy, cookies, cakes, ethnic celebration foods, and traditional holiday foods.
- Prepare to volunteer for gluten-free food needs that the teacher or school may have.
- Consider giving the teachers a list of gluten-free snacks that your child can eat.
For additional information view our complete School Packet.