As difficult as it is for adults to follow a gluten-free diet, it is so much harder for children. When a child who has been diagnosed with celiac disease is very young it is hard to explain to them why they can’t eat like the other kids. Often when it comes to meals and snacks there could be many different adults looking after them, such as babysitters, daycare workers, and teachers.

It is difficult for those who are not living a gluten-free lifestyle to understand the diet, especially all the cross-contamination restrictions. People with good intentions frequently offer food to children as a treat, even when they have been told not to (especially if you have a child that doesn’t exhibit immediate symptoms). They don’t think they are hurting the child; they just think it would be a special treat that the child doesn’t always get. Even if you have made every effort to inform caretakers about your child’s dietary restrictions, it is always a possibility that someone doesn’t really understand the instructions you have provided.

Also, let’s not forget that children often share their food with their friends, so the source of the gluten-containing food could be another child.

Having a good plan is essential to successful gluten-free living. Start by taking the extra steps as needed to ensure your child’s safety at school:

  • Write a note to your child’s school and teachers explaining the seriousness of your child’s dietary needs. Children with celiac disease now fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which makes it a requirement for schools to provide gluten-free selections that are similar to their daily menu (of course, although this is a law, in many cases it is an uphill battle to get full compliance).
  • Bring in an assortment of safe snacks that are similar to those the school will be giving out to make sure your child doesn’t feel left out. Make it clear that you do not want your child sitting there watching other children having cupcakes while they can’t have anything. You need to be informed ahead of time about parties, contests, rewards, treats, and special events so you can arrange for special treats for your child (and this doesn’t mean the night before the event). It is always a good idea to make delicious frosted gluten-free cupcakes in batches and freeze them so all you need to do is take them out of the freezer whenever a quick gluten-free treat is needed.
  • Make sure you pack fun lunches.

School Field Trips and Picnics

It takes more time to plan for special events, but planning ahead will make it so much better for your child. If when you are researching an event and a busy teacher or restaurant manager tries to hurry you off by telling you not to worry—don’t accept that; you need specifics so you can cover all the possibilities. Many people will yes you, telling you there are no worries, when they really don’t know what gluten-free for health issues entails. Make sure you ask these types of questions:

  • Are they offering snacks, cookies, or treats on the bus ride? If your child is very young and the teacher will be giving out the food, make sure you send hand wipes and instructions so they deglutenize their hands before touching your child’s food.
  • Are they stopping for bagels, heroes, pizza, on the route?
  • If stopping and you provide a frozen meal, pizza, soup, or so on, will the restaurant be able and willing to heat it for your child?
  • Is there a meal included, and if so, what are the gluten-free options?
  • Is it possible for your child to get his or her food at the exact time as everyone else so he or she doesn’t need to sit there with nothing in front of them when everyone else is served?
  • Will there be more than one bus and parent helper on the trip? Can you go? If not, print out instructions for each bus and ask if your child can be on a bus with someone who has been instructed on safe gluten-free meals. Note that you don’t want your child pulled off the bus with their friends and moved to another bus; you just want to make sure a knowledgeable person is on the bus, or with your child’s group.