Schools and Children with Celiac Disease
By Gaby Pacheco, RD, LD, SNS
What if a simple cracker or a single bite of cookie could make a child violently ill? For kids living with celiac disease, diet is a daily concern. This can mean no pizza, no birthday cake, and no Twizzlers. Tell that to a 6-year-old and you’ll understand why parents are distressed when their child is diagnosed. Manufacturers are starting to realize the need to make gluten-free food more kid-friendly.
Schools are now required to meet the needs of children with special dietary concerns, under accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Guidance/accomodation_children. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ (NFCA) webinar on “Back to School-Preparing to Educate School Administrators on the Importance of Gluten Free” www.CeliacCentral.org/Webinars/Archiveoffers a look at children’s’ needs and schools’ roles.
The Gluten-Free Diet
Celiac disease is treated with a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. Gluten is found in many foods besides the obvious offenders – bread, pasta and baked goods. Gluten lurks in such unassuming guises as soy sauce, lunch meats and some candy. Fresh foods such as meats in their natural form without breading, fresh veggies and fruits, such as blueberries, are all great alternatives.Undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease results in intestinal damage, hindering the body’s ability to absorb nutrients which can lead to dental problems and failure to thrive.
It’s More Than Just Food
It’s a lifestyle! Food is social. Gluten-free kids often miss out on activities their peers take for granted like having a cupcake to celebrate a classmate’s birthday. Fortunately, there are many gluten-free alternatives that can supplement kids’ favorite foods. Some schools have introduced gluten-free pizza so children can enjoy pizza day with their friends.
While gluten-free options have made it possible for kids to once again participate in school meals and class parties, they still may be alienated for having “special” needs. It’s already difficult for children to navigate academics, peer pressure and ‘fitting in,’ and being segregated or being served something different than the other students can take a toll on a child’s self-confidence. See www.celiaccentral.org/kids for more information. NFCA offers a training program called GREAT Schools, which school nutrition directors and cafeteria staff can take online at www.celiaclearning.com.
Gabriela is a school nutrition consultant based San Diego, CA. On a national level, she consults for manufacturers interested in entering the commodity processing arena for schools. She is also a consulting trainer for the Healthier US School Challenge (HUSSC) for the National Food Service Management Institute, part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign”. She has presented assemblies in both English and Spanish for the Latino Parent Outreach project for the “Stay Fit, Eat Right, Looking Good California Campaign”. She is also a consultant for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council on School Nutrition matters. Gabriela has several published articles in peer review publications, such as the Journal of American Dietetics Association, SNA’s Foodservice and Nutrition Magazine, and the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management.