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August 30, 2019

Back To School With Celiac Disease

Post by Cinde Little

In late August and early September people are planning for the school year. But back to school with celiac disease, food allergies and anaphylaxis requires more preparation for both parents and students. In this post I wanted to share ideas to create opportunities to talk about this. About the impact on families and the importance of this topic to be discussed in school communities everywhere.

Kids walking up the back alley on the first day of school
Back To School With Celiac Disease -photo credit Jim Little

Food has woven its’ way into almost every activity we do and no where is it more apparent than at school. From kindergarten to university, people with food restrictions need to know details about food and food safety every day. This diligence is relentless and can be overwhelming but no matter where you are I believe there is a community of people that share these concerns. You may have to look for them or maybe you’ll be the person to bring them together.

Food Allergy Club At School

A few years ago I wrote this blog post, Food Allergy Club at School. It is full of ideas to create a club of students affected by food restrictions. The idea came from what I saw happening at school and the challenges I heard from parents. The irony of special school events was that they were intended to build community yet by including food they excluded the children with food restrictions. With some direction I think kids themselves could solve this problem.

If you are back to school with celiac disease then starting a Food Allergy Club might be a fun idea for your school. Who knows, you might even find a teacher with celiac disease to provide some support.

Moving The Conversation Forward

Start the conversation and then move it forward. Introduce the topics people are interested in and keep them on the agenda. The conversation will look different in different communities and at different stages of education. The exact topics will vary but I know people are concerned about:

  • Food Allergy Awareness
  • Food Safety for celiac disease and anaphylaxis
  • Food Bullying
  • Nutrition and Healthy Living (specifically too much sugar)

What conversations do you want to have? What do your kids think?

Some educators and parents are thinking outside the box. Teachers have banned food from the classroom and reinvented the class celebration. By providing students with opportunities to share their interests they are also learning that you can have fun without food. It may only be in a small number of classrooms but it is happening.

Ask what moving forward might look like in your school community.

Comprehensive School Health

When my son was young the school council started a parent committee called Comprehensive School Health. Over time this committee took on different awareness campaigns. A few years later when I was the chairperson I met two new parents who were concerned about peanut anaphylaxis and egg allergy. Knowing they represented a small minority of students I asked if they would volunteer on the Comprehensive School Health committee. They accepted and this larger focus allowed them to include the topics that were important to them while promoting ideas about healthy living and food safety.

Now, many years later, there is a rise in children with Type II diabetes and childhood obesity. These parents may have different concerns but there is a growing interest in the topic of food and the impact it is having on us. Parents must find ways to work together and promote their messages.

Raising Awareness About Celiac Disease

Sure, we have Celiac Awareness Month and that is a good time to take action. But students, parents and educators can raise awareness anytime. Every small step is helpful and can have a positive impact on the school community. Are you in a position to take one of the following steps?

  • Start a conversation about food at school.
  • Add a positive spin to the current conversation.
  • Insert a slide into a presentation or a paragraph into an email on this topic.
  • Broaden the conversation to include a larger group and new perspectives.
  • Steer the conversation toward action.
  • Support interested parents to take action.
  • Take action yourself.

Find out how many people in your school have food restrictions. Talk about the unique concerns of cross contamination and the gluten free diet. Always be open to learning more about the unique circumstances of others with food restrictions. Together we can create safe and caring environments.

What one step can you take this year?

Post Secondary Education

With all the pressures of higher education students with food restrictions have an extra burden. They need to find safe food and advocate for themselves while still trying to fit in. For many reasons young adults going back to school with celiac disease are the most likely to not adhere to the gluten free diet. This will have life long health consequences. I wonder how we can help change that.

Some campuses are leading the way by offering safe food options and exclusively gluten free kiosks. If you are involved in the education system at the post secondary level look for opportunities and keep moving the conversation forward.

Resources For Back To School With Celiac Disease

It is inspiring to me to see the number of groups and individuals sharing messages and connecting the celiac community. These are some of the groups I follow to keep up on this growing community.

If we work together we can help others start to understand the impact dietary restrictions have on daily life. Leave a comment below if you have something you would like to share.

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