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National School Lunch Week: Gluten-Free Needs

8 GREAT Ways to Recognize Gluten-Free Needs

During National School Lunch Week

School foodservice worker serving kids

1. Ask the School Foodservice Director to attend a parent-student lunch.

The School Nutrition Association and Kiwi Magazine are encouraging schools to host “Take Your Parents to Lunch Day” on October 17, 2012. It’s a wonderful opportunity to open the conversation between parents and the school’s foodservice team, especially on critical topics like special dietary needs. The Foodservice Director can make a presentation that addresses concerns like allergen safety, or he or she can just walk around to take parents’ questions.

2. Serve a gluten-free (better yet, allergen-free) menu during the week.

Choose one day during National School Lunch Week and serve only gluten-free food. Kids with gluten-free needs will love eating the same foods as their friends, and the non-gluten-free students won’t know the difference! Make sure to verify ingredients and thoroughly clean all equipment and utensils to avoid cross-contamination.

3. Invite a gastroenterologist or dietitian specializing in celiac disease to school.

Plan to host your special guest in health or physical education classes. Kids will learn about celiac disease, what gluten-free means and why it’s important for everyone to be able to absorb the nutrients they need from food. Ask the doctor or dietitian to bring visuals, or invite them to do an Appetite for Awareness-style gluten-free cooking demo with the school’s chef.

4. Make a pledge for gluten-free safety by registering for GREAT Schools, Colleges and Camps.

There’s more to gluten-free than just buying the ingredients. It’s critical that you prepare the food safely and avoid cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods. NFCA’s gluten-free training program teaches all of the essentials, from how to store gluten-free ingredients to how to earn the trust of gluten-free students and their parents. Register your school for training at www.CeliacCentral.org/great and announce it as part of your NSLW celebration.

5. Encourage students with celiac disease or food allergies to share their stories in class.

Kids with celiac disease and special dietary needs may struggle with feeling “different.” By speaking to their class, they can build understanding and prove that they can eat plenty of foods just like everyone else.

If a child doesn't feel comfortable speaking up, host an "I Can't Believe It's Gluten-Free!" party and invite classmates to try gluten-free foods. Then play an educational game, read a book about celiac disease or hand out brochures.

6. Post an “allergen smarts” bulletin board and show examples of lunch meals that can be made free from gluten and other allergens.  

Do students know that a veggie and rice stir-fry can be gluten-free? What about chicken tacos? Post photos of the dishes and add check marks to indicate which ones are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, etc.

7. Add a special dietary needs section to your school’s website.

Include contact information for the Foodservice Director, a list of required forms and links to resources like NFCA’s Kids Central and the 504 Roadmap for Gluten-Free School Lunches.

8. Get feedback.

Not sure which brand of gluten-free bread to buy, or which allergen-free cookie is best? Go straight to the source. Ask kids and parents to fill out a survey so you can learn about their favorite gluten-free products. Bonus: Questions can help identify areas for improvement in service and communication about gluten-free needs.

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