It’s back to school season! Armed with shiny new backpacks and fresh clothes, most kids are eager to start their new school year. But for kids or parents of children with special diets, going back to school and away from home can be stressful. However, Nima can help kids stay gluten-free at school so they can focus on what’s important – getting good grades and having fun!
This week, we talked to three Nima community moms with kids who use Nima. We asked the moms about their experiences and tips for navigating the new school year while being gluten-free. See what Kelly, Dena and Michelle have to say about their daughters, who range from kindergarten to high school.
Nima: As a parent, what have been your concerns about sending your child to school?
Kelly: I’m concerned about the bathroom and potty issues since that is a major issue with Allie and her celiac disease. She needs reminders to use the bathroom and to try and go after she eats. Luckily she got a teacher that has a bathroom right in the classroom so it’s very close if needed. I’m also concerned about her getting any gluten during the day through food, arts/craft products, etc. I also feel like she goes in spurts where she’s really hungry and so I’m hoping the teacher will be able to accommodate that issue. I guess, just having her gone all day for eight hours for the first time in her life is a concern since I won’t be right there.
Dena: One concern I have with sending my daughter to school is the actions of other kids. Thankfully, my daughter is old enough to be aware of anything she puts in or near her mouth, but we can’t control other kids. At the lunch/snack tables other kids reach in and touch her food or pretend to sprinkle something on her gluten-free food. Then she doesn’t trust it anymore and chooses to not eat it. I don’t think the kids are trying to be malicious, they are just not aware of the potential severity of their actions.
Michelle: That there would be no food that is safe for her to eat. Also the social aspect of being different with food, like birthdays celebrated at school where we had to bring her own treats.
Does your child’s school offer safe cafeteria options?
Kelly: The school does offer gluten-free food items on their menus. The computer crosses off all items on that day’s menu that contain gluten, and what’s leftover is what is gluten-free. Now this doesn’t account for cross contamination. The nurse at the school says that by law the school does have to provide a safe lunch for Allie and that we can meet to discuss this more if Allie is wanting to buy her lunch (I told them to start the year, she would just pack). I’m planning to meet with them later in the school year if Allie becomes interested in buying. So for example if it’s pizza day, then the school has to be able to provide Allie a safe, GF pizza that day. It is a small school system, and I’m not sure if there is anyone else in the district that has celiac disease so it may be a learning process for both of us!
Dena: Yes, her school does offer a gluten-free “hot lunch” option.
Kelly’s daughter Allie was diagnosed with celiac disease an year ago. Allie is entering kindergarten this month.
If you pack a lunch box instead, what do you recommend packing in a lunch bag?
Kelly: Allie isn’t a huge sandwich eater so we do a lot of sides to make a meal. GF pretzels and hummus, strawberries and cottage cheese, skewers with pepperoni, black olives and cheese cubes, string cheese wrapped in pepperoni/salami. We also make GF penne noodles with red pepper, black olives, cheese and ranch dressing (cold pasta salad meal). Allie also likes salads, pirate booty, popcorn, applesauce squeezies, GF chocolate bar, yogurt/granola, yogurt squeezie.
Dena: Even though my daughter has a hot lunch option, she chooses to take a lunch from home most days. What I do for lunches is on the weekend I prepare small containers of fruits, vegetables, protein and carbs. I prepare enough containers for her to choose one from each category every morning. That way she takes a part in preparing her own lunch, yet I have a say in the items in the container. My daughter has never been a huge fan of GF bread/buns unless they are toasted. So to work with her, I give her carb options like pretzels, crackers, etc, instead of always a bun.
Michelle: When she was in younger grades I tried to be more creative. I would cut up fruit or cheese into shapes to make it fun. Now she packs a salad and protein nearly everyday.
How do you teach your child to know what she can eat and can’t?
Kelly: Haven’t really done anything yet. I try to educate other parents and kids when I’m around Allie and there is food involved. People are usually really receptive to the information, especially parents whose children also have special dietary needs (i.e. peanut allergies). I had another mom in preschool whose son had a peanut allergy, and she went above and beyond to make snacks and special treats for Allie at the holiday parties that were GF.
Dena: Thank goodness my daughter is old enough to kind of be aware of what is GF and what is not. But she basically trusts nothing without Nima testing first, asking me or looking for the GF label.
Michelle: She now is old enough to ask questions and she doesn’t feel well after eating gluten, so she is careful.
Is there anything you give to your child so they can talk with other students to know what they can eat and not eat?
Kelly: No there isn’t really anything I give to my child so they can talk to other kids. I just try to educate the parents myself.
Dena: My daughter is super good about telling her friends she has an allergy. Her teachers have also been very helpful and sent out class emails to parents about gluten-free for school treats. Not all parents know what to look for so I usually send a snack for my daughter in case she is not sure.
Dena’s daughter Kaylee was diagnosed with celiac disease in November 2016. Kaylee is entering the 4th grade.
What tips do you have about teaching children to use Nima?
Kelly: At this point, I put the food in to test but Allie likes to wait and see if the smiley comes or not. I’m guessing in a few years I will have her start putting the food into test, but not at this point. We talk about not touching it when it’s being read or moving it and that it needs to sit flat on the counter to do its “magic!”
Dena: The tip card that was recently sent out is a huge help. That stays right in the pouch with the sensor. It gives a nice visual for my daughter on how much food to put in the capsule. Also having the green line on the capsule is a great way for her to know how hard she has to twist the top.
Michelle: She’ s watched me use Nima since the beginning of the year, and she’s excited about it. She has a song she sings while it’s processing 🙂 My biggest tip is to not over fill it and to touch everything you can on the plate.
Does your child take Nima to school?
Kelly: Not yet. I have a feeling that I will take it in during the year for holiday parties (i.e. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day) to test treats or questionable items brought in for the class from other parents. I also think if Allie sees food items in the cafeteria that look good to her, I may take it in to test to see if she can have it.
Dena: Yes, my daughter takes Nima (she has named it Nemo) to school and daycare.
Michelle: No because she brings her own food.
What can other parents do to help keep your kids safe?
Kelly: I did a lot of texting over the past year with Allie’s teacher at preschool and a few other moms that had Allie over for playdates at their house. They would text a pic of food or describe a food item being eaten or used in preschool to make and would text to see if Allie could have it. That was always nice to double check and a good learning experience for the other parents.
Dena: We frequently visit and eat with several families. We visit about the menu before we get there, and I offer to bring as much as I can. They try very hard to make sure they cook things that are GF. Most of our friends use a scanning app on their phones to check labels.
Michelle: If she is going to a friend’s house, I send food with her. If they are ordering food she knows how to order gluten-free and I always send money because gluten-free items are often more expensive. Often her friends come to our house, which is easier.
What conversations do you have with teachers/administration?
Kelly: Had a long one already with the school guidance counselor. Allie may need a 504 plan, which is a medical plan for Allie in writing in regards to school making accommodations for Allie due to her medical diagnosis of celiac disease. Will have a sit down meeting with the school head cook/nutrition services when we get to the point that we feel Allie can try to buy some food items at school for lunch. I know her teacher personally so she is already aware of Allie’s diagnosis but I have a feeling there will be ongoing weekly phone calls, texts and emails regarding food in classroom, snack time, being safe in classroom with GF art/craft items, etc.
Dena: Her school and daycare is very well aware of the allergy and they have learned a few things as time has gone on. I am usually the first one to jump at supplying treats for the classroom parties. And I tell the teachers to email me at any time during the day if they have questions about anything. Working with the teacher from day one is essential. Letting them know that you are prepared to go the extra mile for your kid so they don’t have to is helpful. Even though they care about my daughter, they also have 20+ other kids to think about, too.
Michelle: When she was younger we talked about how celiac can be genetic and that we didn’t want our kids eating gluten. It was hard. We asked about bringing our own birthday treats in and if they could keep a gluten-free cookie or treat in the desk in case I forgot on the day of a celebration.
Michelle’s daughter Monica has been avoiding gluten for 2 years. Monica starts 10th grade this year.
How do you make sure your child can feel included among peers?
Kelly: I try to offer her a GF version of whatever food item the rest of the class would be getting. So, say they are making brownies for the holiday party, I would make sure she had GF brownie packed that day. Or if they are doing cookies for Valentine’s day, I would pack her a GF cookie. Trying to make sure she feels she can enjoy all the same food items that all the other kids are enjoying. Also, try to provide GF food to the whole class so they are all eating the same thing (for example, sign up to bring fruit skewers for the whole class).
Dena: When my daughter is invited to birthday parties, I always call the mom and ask what they are having. Then I try to send the matching food with her.
Michelle: I tried to find out what kind of treat parents were bringing and make or buy the gluten-free version of it.
What are some progress in rules or changes schools have made to make it safer for children to be allergen-free or gluten-free at school? (i.e. “no more food items in classrooms for birthdays or holiday events”)
Kelly: They do offer a peanut-free table for kids at lunch that have peanut allergies. When you pull up the food lunch menu/calendar online you can narrow your search by typing only GF items and they cross off all items on the menu that Allie can’t have. School had gotten rid of bringing in food to celebrate birthdays for kids; all celebration items need to be non-food items. I met with the nurse at kindergarten screening; very receptive to what needs Allie has in relation to the upcoming school year, food, potty, etc. Having a 504 plan in place for children with medical needs/issues that affect school.
Dena: Having the school provide a GF hot lunch option has been great. Even though the menu isn’t very diverse, it is still a good option to have.
Michelle: Quite a few high school events still have food brought to them, but she’s old enough to know not to eat them or to bring a gluten-free option for herself.
Thank you to all the students – Allie, Kaylee, and Monica – and their moms – Kelly, Den, and Michelle – on sharing your stories with the community. Good luck on your new school year!