Children with Celiac Disease: Managing What a Child Eats in School

Children with Celiac Disease: Managing What a Child Eats in School

Parents manage their child’s diet at home, but what happens when they go to school and need to eat differently than their friends? Think about the hardship of not being able to “trade lunches.” Peanut butter sandwiches on regular bread are not a part of the diet of a child with celiac disease, no matter how yummy the sandwich looks.

School lunches are not designed to be gluten-free. The cafeteria kitchen is not a dedicated gluten-free area and foods made with grains or cross-contaminated by wheat flour are not safe for children with celiac disease.

What safeguards does the school have in place to ensure there is food in the cafeteria that is gluten-free?

Let's understand celiac disease first

In celiac disease, the body’s immune system reacts against gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Those with celiac disease cannot ingest pasta, bread, or any other wheat-based goods. The villi or fingerlike projections in the small intestine are damaged by gluten and once damaged, villi do not absorb and digest proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals from food. Without these nutrients, the body will not grow properly.

Celiac is one of the most common genetic conditions. It affects 1 in every 133 people. There are three million people in the United States who have this disease, and many of these are children. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder; it is not an allergy and children will not “grow out” of celiac disease.

You must eat a gluten-free diet for your entire life to keep celiac under control.

Finding a diagnosis of celiac disease in children can be a bit difficult. Studies have found that at least 60 percent of children diagnosed with celiac disease are asymptomatic. To make diagnosis even more difficult, in 40 percent of children diagnosed with celiac disease, only approximately 30 percent develop stomach symptoms. Stomach distress is usually the most common symptom associated with celiac disease.

Other symptoms of celiac disease in adolescents and children include weight loss, poor growth, short stature, little appetite, irritability and delayed puberty. One little guy on the local soccer team is only ten years of age, but he is the size of a six-year-old. He has severe celiac disease. His demeanor, attitude, and aptitude are fantastic, however. He has the energy and will of his peers. Informed parents made sure he was taught all about his disease and the dietary restriction he needed to follow. They also took steps to ensure the school honored his diet needs

Lifestyle changes are difficult for school-aged children with a diagnosis of celiac disease. All of a sudden, they are not able to eat what their peers eat, and this can cause some ridicule and embarrassing questions. With the proper education and laws in place, however, lunchtime does not need to be a horrible experience for these kids.