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I was sick to my stomach when my son Tim started school, wondering how I’d manage schools and special diets when I wasn’t there to control the environment. I couldn’t leave any stone unturned in making sure it was Schools and Special Dietsgoing to be safe.

Preparation and communication is vital. When you can pre-empt what might be a stumbling block and give clear instructions with easy alternatives for these situations, you should find that the school community is happy to help.

Here are some of the things I did that I hope might help you when you come to managing your child’s special diet at school.

  • Firstly make a rule with your child – they can ONLY eat what you send to school or what the teacher approves.
  • Talk to the teacher and ask what sort of rewards they use in the classroom. Please encourage them to use non-food rewards for good work – things like stickers/pencils. If they won’t, then give them a stash of acceptable treats they can use for your child. This is very important. You don’t want your child missing out.
  • Ask the teacher to give you a schedule for any cooking they may be doing or any topics that are going to have food attached. Ask if you can send in substitute ingredients, modify the recipe for the whole class or send in something else for your child. I didn’t realise how much food was involved in a school day –you have movie days, days where you eat food from a certain country, cooking as a skill where you make something and eat it for morning tea, rewards after sports events, pizza for the class who wins a challenge .. and on it goes. You have to make sure you have contingency plans for all of these.
  • Bake a few dozen, nicely decorated cupcakes and take them in a labeled container and leave them in a freezer near the classroom. It seems that there is a birthday every second day and there’s cake on offer! Again you want a great alternative so your child doesn’t have to miss out.
  • Make up a sheet with your child’s name and picture on it and list all the foods they can’t eat. Don’t just write gluten or dairy for example as many people won’t know exactly what that means. Spell it out – list bread, cake, biscuits, milk, cheese, yogurt etc. Make sure this sheet goes not only to their class teacher but to the office, to specialist teachers (where they go to other classrooms like music and art) and also that it’s in the files for a relief teacher if your class teacher is absent.
  • Make friends with the tuckshop convener at your school. Give them the sheet above and then go through the tuckshop menu with them and mark off what your child is allowed from there (if your school is anything like an average one, unfortunately this will be a very short list).
  • Bake your own pies/sausage rolls/meals and send them into the tuckshop in a labeled container to keep in the freezer. That way you can give your child a tuckshop order every now and then and they feel just like the other kids and you know they are getting a treat but it’s a safe, healthy treat. Buy the tuckshop ladies a nice Christmas present and they will be happy to help you out. If all else fails, take over the tuckshop in your spare time so you are in charge of what’s on the menu J

With some preparation and planning, school can be a safe and enjoyable place for kids with special dietary needs. Good luck!

Article submitted by Kris Barrett