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The GFCF Experience Back to School Guide. Part III - Communications

Posted Aug 09 2012 11:06am
I talked about the food in  Part I . I talked about art projects in  Part II . Now, in the final part of the GFCF Experience Back to School Guide, I'll talk about what ties this all together - communications.

Making people aware of your child's GFCF needs at school may be the most important thing you do. You can make their lunches for them and provide GFCF art supplies, but what about special occasions, or what if there is a substitute who may not be aware of your child's needs? These and other situations make communications essential. Here are four ways you can communicate.

The IEP

If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with the school, make sure that your child's special dietary needs are explicitly written into that document. This is your contract with the school, and adhering to your child's dietary needs is one of the services that the school provides. In our daughter's IEP, we not only have language outlining her dietary needs, but when she was younger we also put in a requirement that she takes two snack breaks a day, as at the time this helped her in school. Now in middle school, there are no "official" snack times, but we still provide a box of GFCF cereal bars or a bag of GFCF treats for when unexpected situations arise. And GFCF is still a part of her IEP.

The Letter

When our oldest was diagnosed with autism, and we started the GFCF lifestyle, we made a conscious decision to make all of our children GFCF as well. We believe that the GFCF lifestyle holds benefits for all of them. Since our oldest is the only one of our four in school that requires an IEP, we needed another way to communicate our dietary requests for the other three.

What we do is draft a letter each year to our children's teachers, outlining their dietary needs and addressing any special request issues. Here is what our letter looks like in general
Dear [Teacher],

Here is some information concerning [child], including dietary needs and contact information. Please share this with all who may work with [child] in the classroom, including parent helpers and substitutes.

[Child]'s is gluten free, casein free, which means no food or other things (such as Play Doh) made from gluten-containing grains, and no milk-based (cow, goat, etc) dairy products. The list of unacceptable products is quite long, but there are also a lot of acceptable foods. A good resource for this diet is  http://www.gfcfdiet.com/ . They have lengthy lists of acceptable and unacceptable items.

We will provide all snacks for [child], as well as any treats for birthday parties. We will also provide substitutes for Play Doh and any food that is used in arts and crafts projects. We request at least 24-48 hours notice so we can prepare what is needed.

If you would like to keep something on hand that [child] can have, here are some suggestions
· Any fresh fruits and vegetables
· Skittles or Starburst
· Sorbet, or 100% fruit popsicles (with the exception of Haagen Daz)
· Envirokids cereal bars (except chocolate)
· 100% fruit leather
· Marshmallows
· Corn or rice-based pasta (for use in crafts)

In terms of drinks, water is preferred, but we also do 100% fruit juice. Obviously, no cow or goat milk, but rice, soy, and almond milk are acceptable substitutes.

We also request that you make our child's dietary restrictions known to the other students (and parents of students) in the classroom, and emphasize the importance of not sharing their food with [child] unless specifically permitted to do so.

If you have any questions concerning a particular product, please do not hesitate to contact us. [insert your contact information here].

We are looking forward to working with you this school year.

Sincerely



This letter is important because it is written instruction that can be included in the information provided to substitutes and others who may work with your child. We have had success working with all of our children's teachers concerning the GFCF lifestyle.

Labelling

Bec at  Mainely Musings , the person who compiled the terrific list of GFCF art supplies that I used as a reference in Part II, also posted some tips she uses in her GFCF school situation. You can read her post  here .

One of Bec's great suggestions is the use of labels. She labels her son's lunch box and backpack to let people know that her sons is gluten free/egg free. She places the labels in several places, just to make sure people get the message. In Bec's words, "I figure it is okay to hit people over the head with the fact that he has a special diet as long as it means he stays healthy."

Make Your Children Aware of Their Diet

Finally, make sure your children understand their dietary restrictions, and the importance of only eating the food specifically provided for them. This will hopefully lessen the desire to share food or accept unacceptable foods from others.

This is definitely not easy, though, especially with younger kids. On more than one occasion over the years, our now 10-year old would come to us crying because a few days earlier she had eaten some food her friend had brought which was not GFCF. She knew the food was not on her diet, but she did it anyway.

One thing that helps is to provide specific GFCF substitutes for what the other kids are having. If a child is bringing cupcakes to school for a birthday party, send a cupcake with your child too. If kids are making pizza for a class party, then make sure you send pizza for your child. If they are having an ice cream party, be sure you send GFCF ice cream and not popsicles. In this way, they are having the "same" thing as the rest of the class.

_____________________

I would like to close this series with a couple of tidbits
  • Collectively, my children have spent 24 years in school. Over that period of time, we have had only one parent who has actively taken an interest in the diet, and has actually gone out of her way to make sure that when it was her child's snack day or birthday, she provided a snack that our child could eat. So please don't expect other parents to be mindful of your child's GFCF needs.
  • One of my best memories was when our oldest was 4 years old and was invited to a birthday party at a classmate's house. We always call ahead and alert the parents about our children's dietary needs, and they are usually more than understanding. But on this occasion, the father was unaware, and was giving out non-GFCF candy to the kids. When he went to give some to Helena, the rest of her classmates screamed "NO!" as loud as they could. That's the power of telling classmates about the diet.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and have found the tips I presented to be useful. I would love to hear from you! Please leave your comments on this series, as well as any tips of your own you are willing to share.

As always, thanks for reading!


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