Gluten-Free School Meals During COVID-19

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN

Q: Are schools required to provide GF meals during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer


The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has enabled the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO) across all 50 states, as well as DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, to serve non-congregate meals at school sites during school closures related COVID-19. Those who are eligible for free or reduced meals are still eligible to receive assistance under this provision.

National Celiac Association (NCA) reached out to the  Massachusetts Department of Education in regard to specialized meals, and their response is below. This should apply to other states as well unless they have special waivers for not serving specialized meals (or medically necessary dietary accommodations):

“School Food Authorities (SFAs) are working hard to provide meals to children living in areas of food insecurity during these uncertain times.

  • Identifying Food Allergies:

Despite unconventional meal service sites, programs are maintaining food safety protocols including allergen awareness. Given the open nature of sites, where any child under 18 can walk up and receive a meal at no cost, food service staff will not have information on allergens prior to, or at the point of service. We have noted districts communicating this in many different ways through signage encouraging children and parents to alert a staff member of any food allergies.

  • Meal Accommodations:

SFA’s are still required to provide meal accommodations to the greatest extent possible. Given the unexpected and unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on meal service operations, this will require additional communication with food service staff. “

As of March 30, there are no waivers about not serving specialized meals in any of the states, so the above should apply, but this may be subject to change. To check current status of your state, click the link below:

https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19/cn-waivers-flexibilities

NCA recommends that you communicate with staff on site that your child requires a gluten-free meal. You likely have to communicate about the need for a GF meal in advance. If you encounter problems, we suggest you contact the food service director or dietitian for the school district to resolve any issues in regard to specialized meals.

For more information on school meals during the COVID-19 response click the link below:

https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19

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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