Child struggling with eating different foods at school

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: My child has been struggling in school especially with being different and eating different foods around snack time. This was not a problem when he was younger. Do you have any advice?

Answer


It is very common that children struggle in social settings (as do adults), they do not like feeling different and often feel left out during situations involving food. In the early stages of life such as the preschool years, kids are usually pretty easy going and not so bothered about being different, but once they get into elementary school it is very common that these feelings increase. Educating your child on celiac disease and the GF diet and teaching them to advocate for themselves is key.

Here are some tips:

  • It’s ok to be different! We all know that kids want to fit in, especially older kids. Be sensitive to their needs, but at the same time reassure them that it is ok to be different.
  • Keep information age-appropriate.
  • Explain to your child in simple terms what CD is and what happens when they eat gluten. Check out our Raising Our Celiac Kids - ROCK website for simple explanations and our newly diagnosed course, Gluten Free in 1,2,3.
  • Explain that it is ok to ask questions and that their health is important; it is better to question than to get sick. To be as healthy as possible it is important to stay away from gluten, which will help their body grow strong.
  • Get them involved with the gluten-free diet, the more involved they are the more accepting they usually become.
  • Let your child shop with you for food and help you read the label.
  • Let your child pick out favorite foods and snacks to bring to school.
  • Cook and bake with your child to get them involved with food and ingredients.
  • Read books about celiac disease, my daughter really liked these:

Adam’s Gluten-Free Surprise by Debbie Simpson

Eating Gluten-Free with Emily: A Story for Children with Celiac Disease by Bonnie J Kruszca

Suggestions for issues with school:

  • Get a 504 plan that outlines accommodations for celiac disease, such as foods, snacks, food in the curriculum etc. Have a process in place where you have to be notified in advance of any treats being brought into the classroom. Check out our ROCK School Packet for more info how to initiate and implement a 504 plan.
  • Some parents provide snacks and treats for the school to keep for unplanned celebrations. However, keep in mind that all snacks and treats need to be stored properly to prevent cross-contact with gluten. Also, make sure that they are labeled clearly with your child’s name.
  • Visit the school to talk to teachers and school staff, communicate about any issues surrounding staying gluten-free or feeling left out.
  • Assign a “safe person” at school, preferably someone in the classroom that he can talk to about his feelings and concerns with celiac disease. (This should be included in the 504 plan.)
  • Volunteer in the classroom and read a book about celiac disease to all the kids in class, so everyone can get more of an understanding of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.
  • Seek help from the school therapist or other therapist that specializes in children to provide strategies to cope with anxiety and feelings of being different.

Finally, reach out to our support network, sometimes it can be very helpful for children when they are able to connect with another child who also has celiac disease. You can search for a support group near you here. If you do not have a group near you, we have a monthly virtual ROCK group, check out the next meeting here.

References:

ROCK School Packet. https://www.raisingourceliackids.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ROCK-School-Packet-PDF.pdf https://www.raisingourceliackids.org/

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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