Special Diets at School
While some pre-school through 12th grade schools might be accommodating to students with special diets, others might not be. Do not count on them to be accommodating. It could be very risky if the kitchen staff is not highly informed about cross contamination of foods. If your child attends a school that pre-packages their food in a safe environment, you might be lucky. Otherwise, it is safest to pack your child’s lunch each day.
There are plenty of ideas beyond the ever-popular “sandwich” to put into your child’s lunch box or bag. Depending on the diet they are following, here are some ideas that can be altered to fit their needs. There are substitutions for most items, if your child cannot tolerate a certain ingredient.
- Crackers and cheese, Crackers spread with nut butter, cream cheese, or other cheese spreads
- Bagels with a spread
- Hummus and chips/crackers
- Sushi, Egg rolls
- Deviled eggs
- Tortillas filled with meat, cheese, nut butters, spreads and eggs
- Spreads, meats or a fried egg between waffles, pancakes and rice cakes
- Hardboiled eggs.
- Salads, Pizza, Yogurt, Nuts
If you want to pack warm foods, use a thermos. Heat the inside first by pouring boiling water into the empty thermos and let it sit for a few minutes. Empty the water and add your hot food of choice. Here are some ideas:
- Pasta with sauce, meat or vegetables
- Ground meat added to a tortilla, taco shell, etc.
- Cut up meats in sauce
- Left over meals
- Casseroles, Beans
- Lentils, Soups
- Macaroni and cheese
- Pieces of hot dogs or sausages
- Chili, Stew, Fish
For variety, think of many ethnic choices that can make great lunches:
- Rice Bowl: protein, rice, vegetables, sauce
- Italian pasta dishes
- Stir Fry, Taquitos
- Curry or Tandoori chicken with sauce and rice
- Kabobs with vegetables
- Burritos, Falafels
Children love food that looks cute and fun. Think of all the money that companies make by putting faces of celebrities (and characters that people relate to) on their products. Arrange your child’s food to look decorative, without using artificial ingredients. Add a sweet note or put something special in their lunch. Make their lunch the envy of all the other children. Many classrooms have parties and other events where food will be present. Make sure your child’s IEP, or 504, states their food allergies or intolerances. Be sure to provide snacks that can be kept at school so that your child will not be left out if you are not notified ahead of time.
Some children are all grown up and going away to college. For some of these kids, this is the first time away and there will be new experiences regarding food. If your child has extreme and serious allergies, or anaphylaxis reactions, contact the center for students with special needs. All schools have different names for this location. You should be able to get a single, private room with cooking facilities for your child, as this is life threatening.
If your child will be living in the dorms and eating at the dorm food areas/cafeteria, they need to know what to eat and how they can be sure not to get cross contaminated. A lot of preparation before they start school will be necessary. Again, check with the center for students with special needs to see how the needs of your child can be met. You might also want to talk to the head of food services to get a list of the foods that they offer and how they can assist your child. There are some colleges and universities that are well investigated for offering assistance with special dietary restrictions.
Here are some schools that are known for accommodating special diets:
- University of Notre Dame, Indiana
- Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
- Southern Methodist University, Texas
- University of New Hampshire
- Iowa State University
- University of Arizona
- Emory University, Georgia
- University of Connecticut
- Ithaca College, N.Y.
- Carleton College, Minnesota
- Yale University, Connecticut
- Bard College, N.Y.
- Clark University, Massachusetts
- Columbia University, N.Y.
- Baylor University, Texas
- SUNY Potsdam
- Oregon State University
- Texas A&M
- Tufts University, Massachusetts
- University of Tennessee
- University of Colorado, Boulder
- Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
Investigate everything prior to accepting admissions to be sure that they can indeed accommodate you. Perhaps certain dining halls are better than others, or maybe certain times are better to dine at the facility. Maybe you need to talk to the chef, dietician, dining hall supervisor, etc. to be sure everything is handled correctly.
Also have your child keep staples in their dorm room. Some suggestions: snack bars, nut butters, crackers, chips, pretzels, 100% fruit strips, dried fruit, nuts, cereal, etc. That way, they can always have some foods and protein, if they are near one of the dining areas that do not carry their special foods. They just have to toss the foods into their backpack.
If the student goes off campus to eat in some of the town’s eateries, have them keep a list of places that offer foods that fit their special dietary needs. Here is a list that can help locate special menus in different towns. You just do a search for the city that they live in or are visiting. It is best to call first, as the restaurant may have moved or closed. You might also find that they are willing to accommodate you even though they do not actually have a special menu. There are many apps out there these days that one can download to assist you.
Dairy Free: http://www.godairyfree.org/eating-out
A variety of allergies (You can check off more than one allergen on these sites):
Barrie Silberberg is the author of The Autism & ADHD Diet: A Step-by-Step Guide To Hope and Healing by Living Gluten Free and Casein Free (GFCF) And Others Interventions. Her web site is: www.puttingyourkidsfirst.com
- Special Diets: Food Allergies
- Handling a Special Diet at School
- Ways to Advocate for Yourself While on a Special Diet
- Self-Advocating While on a Special Diet
- Staying Healthy with a Proper Diet
- Most Popular Gluten Free/Casein Free Products and Where to Find Them
- Taking Care of Your Child’s Special Food Needs
- Eating Breakfast When You Are on a Special Diet
- Family Fun Doesn’t Have to Stop Because of Special Diets
This post originally appeared on our September/October 2014 Magazine