Your Celiac Child at School – Seven Strategies to Stay Gluten Free

Your Celiac Child at School – Seven Strategies to Stay Gluten Free

Kid eating watermelon gluten fee food


Strategy 1: Celiac disease is familiar to you now, but don’t assume that your child’s teacher knows anything about it. Or what ‘gluten free’ really means. Arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher before term starts to explain what celiac disease and a gluten free diet are all about. Most teachers will welcome such a meeting and it is better to be done face to face rather than on the phone or by letter so that you can answer any questions and also so you can gage how much the teacher seems to understand. Take something printed with you too for them to refer to. On my blog I offer a free explanatory leaflet which explains celiac disease very simply and goes through the implications of a gluten free diet. You may also want to speak to other people in the school such as the school nurse or secretary (or whoever offers first aid care should your child feel ill).  When my son (aged eight at the time) was diagnosed with celiac disease I met with his class teacher and headteacher to discuss any implications, such as cooking, gluten-containing playdough, birthday cakes that may be brought in and so on. It was a really helpful meeting and they have been 100% supportive ever since.

Strategy 2: Send in a treat box of gluten free snacks and treats. Now you have the teacher on side, they are likely to be very willing to keep a small supply of gluten free cakes and treats in their desk, just in case they are ever needed. Vacuum packed cakes are useful for if someone brings in a birthday cake to share, and my son has had small sweets if someone brings in holiday candy. Sometimes you can plan in advance but there are times when it is good to have a back up plan and my son has needed his treat box more than once in the past term!

Gluten free assortment of packaged foods

Strategy 3: Educate the other kids Obviously this is very age dependent, but we felt it was really important for our son’s friends to understand why he can’t eat the same food as them, why he has a treat box, and different lunches, and why he sometimes has time off school for hospital visits etc. We also wanted them to understand that there are lots of things he can eat just the same too, so he still gets invited out to tea and to parties.

The teacher may have ideas of how to do this. We made up a short talk one ‘Show and Tell’ day, about what celiac disease is, what he can and can’t eat in a gluten free diet and how he feels about all this. He also took in some gluten free cupcakes for the class to try and it was a great success: they loved the cakes and are all very supportive now they understand more of what it is about.

Strategy 4: If your child is having school dinners, speak to the catering staff Again, don’t assume they will understand what a gluten free diet really means (I tend to ask people what they understand by this before I believe them). They especially need to be aware of the danger of contamination from utensils used with gluten containing food. Check their menus carefully and discuss options with them. They do have a duty of care toward your child and it is certainly worth the time to befriend them and work with them on this.

Gluten free lunchbox

Strategy 5:  If your child is taking home-made lunches to school, make them delicious.  It takes a bit of effort, and I long for the days when a quick cheese spread sandwich did the job, but it is worth it. I always worried that my son would look at the other kids’ pack-ups and envy them their bread sandwiches and the shop bought cakes and biscuits he couldn’t have any more. So my mission is to make his pack-ups more exciting than theirs (see my blog for ideas on this!). I think this has worked. He just gets annoyed than everyone wants to share with him and he can’t share back!! Again, it’s a classic make your child feel special, not different.

Strategy 6: Keep ahead on parties, trips and celebrations It’s kind of obvious but worth keeping in mind – especially if your school is a bit last minute on notices (as ours sometimes is). I would rather know a week in advance rather than a day – especially if it involves extra baking (and it usually does!) You will probably have to provide gluten free party food at christmas, and a slice of (iced) cake if someone is having a birthday and bringing a cake in. That treat box is okay for emergencies but if you can be ready, so much the better. Hopefully that on-side teacher will help with this.

100 percent Gluten Free sign

Strategy 7:Teach your child to read labels They need to know what foods contain gluten, an be able to recognise the gluten free symbol on food (great if your child is a non-reader). Practice lots at home until your child is confident and then let him go. He/she is going to have to learn to take responsibility for their own eating (obviously in an age appropriate way) and the sooner the better. My son’s friends are used to offering him a sweet then handing over the packet so he can read the label. It’s great to know he can do that when he goes to their houses for tea too.

2 kids having fun in the playground

School can be a scary prospect if you have a celiac child. Maintaining a gluten free diet around a load of peers you want to be like, and adults you can’t argue with can be tough. But it can be done and is done, by thousands of celiac children the world over. As parents al we can do is our best to prepare both our child and their school as much as possible. Then wave them off in the morning and try not to spend the day worrying about them!!


If you have found this article helpful and would like more on parenting a celiac child, please come and visit me at  (also free, easy gluten free recipes – some of them great for those pack-ups!)


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