Monday, August 6, 2012

The GFCF Experience Back to School Guide. Part I - The Food

Where has summer gone?  I mean, I realize I have taken a rather extended vacation from blogging, but it seems like it's only been a few weeks instead of a few months.  And yet here we are in August.  Almost time for school again.

Since 2008 I have annually posted a three part series with hints and tips to help parents and children have the best GFCF school year as possible.  While my children don't start school until the last week of this month, I know in some places school is starting soon, or may have even already started.  So I decided to try and get this series posted a little earlier this year.  In Part I below, I talk about the obvious - the food.  In Part II, I talk about the not so obvious - art supplies.  And in Part II, I talk about something of critical importance - communications.

Part I - The Food

For GFCF parents, the new school year can be a source of trebidation. While I cannot attest to the way public schools were when I was a child (I went to parochial schools), it seems like these days more emphasis is placed on schools to provide food for the kids. And this goes beyond lunches - my children's school offers breakfast and snacks as well. Not to mention that teachers like to use food as rewards for good behavior or other achievements - ice cream  or pizza party anyone? And while schools may place certain restrictions on food, like the ban on nuts in the classroom at my children's school, that doesn't seem to apply to GF or GFCF foods.

In the four years since I first posted this series, there seem to have been some improvements at my children's school.  They do offer a "veggie patch" (aka salad bar) now, and my children did take advantage of that occasionally last year.  But aside from that, the regular lunches do not have very many GFCF options.  And of course your school may not even offer the salad bar.  What I am trying to say is that what I have recommended since 2008 I believe still holds true - provide everything.

Don't trust the school to accommodate your child. BYOF (Bring Your Own Food).

Most, if not all, public schools, as well as some private schools, offer some sort of school lunch program (our school also offers a school breakfast program). As part of the National School Lunch Program, schools can receive reimbursements from USDA for providing what USDA considers a "nutritious meal" for children. USDA has even published guidelines to help schools plan healthy breakfasts and lunches.

The catch to all this is that in order for schools to receive their reimbursement, meals have to offer the following four components at each meal:

  • meat/meat alternates
  • grains/breads
  • fruits/vegetables
  • milk

This is not good for the GFCF experience, as the grains will almost assuredly have gluten, and of course milk violates every principle of CF living (although, to be fair, my children's school does offer Silk soy milk).

That is why it is most important that you provide lunch every day for your child. Doing so allows you to have control over what they eat, which, at least for me, provides great peace of mind. The typical lunch we send for our kids looks like this:

  • Some form of meat or other protein (my oldest loves peanut butter on GFCF bread or celery, and the school does allow nuts in the lunchroom)
  • GFCF chips or pretzels
  • fruit and/or veggies
  • an occasional "trail mix" (GFCF cereal, raisins, and GFCF chocolate chips)
  • a drink (we have used water bottles, 100% fruit juice boxes, and Silk soy milk or almond milk single serving boxes.).

Another area where it is important to provide food for your children is snacks. At our school, Kindergartners and 1st graders take turns providing snacks for the entire class every day. Now these are supposed to be healthy snacks, but healthy snacks can include crackers, pretzels, and goldfish. Rather than have all the other parents worry about an exclusive snack just for our child, we just send a snack every day (plus, our experience is that very few parents will knowingly provide snacks our children can have.). When it's our turn to send snacks for the class, we send a GFCF snack for all to enjoy! Some snacks we have sent in the past include:

  • the aforementioned trail mix
  • popcorn
  • freshly baked GFCF banana bread
  • fresh fruit or veggies
  • Envirokidz Cereal bars

For our older children, we have worked with the teacher to keep a box of GFCF cereal bars or a bag of treats on hand for time when the teacher wishes to reward the class or some unexpected situation arises.  I have noticed that with the incidence of celiac disease or gluten intolerance on the rise, teachers seem to be  much more accommodating and understanding of our children's dietary needs.  But again, your experience may vary.

For special occasions, such as birthday parties, we have requested a 24-hour notice so we can prepare a special treat for our child in lieu of the class treat. Often, we can find out what the parent is planning on serving, and we can make a GFCF version for our kids.

Finally, back to our school's nut free classroom policy - it's important to verify if your school has any food restrictions like that so that you can plan appropriately for your child.

As you can see, with a little bit of planning, you can have a successful GFCF school year - in terms of food. In Part II of this series, I will talk about a more insidious area where the GFCF diet comes into play - art.

As always, thanks for reading!

Do you have a special hint or tip for having a GFCF school year? I would love to hear about it! Please leave a comment to this or any of the posts in this series.

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