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Information for Parents of School-Aged Children

Young children with backpacks running in a hallway.

At Beyond Celiac, we understand just how stressful it can be to send your gluten-free child to school. You may feel torn between keeping your child safe and helping them to not feel different. Don’t worry! We have the resources you need to get your child accommodations at school while making sure they are included with their peers.

Know Your Rights

In certain situations, your child may be protected under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This act applies to all institutions receiving federal financial assistance, such as public schools. Under this law, public schools must provide a free, appropriate public education and not discriminate against disabled students. The law accommodates special diets, including the gluten-free diet for children with celiac disease.

This law acknowledges that the disability may not require special education services, but a plan is needed to ensure the student receives an appropriate accommodations in the classroom. You can work with your child’s school to develop a 504 plan (the name stems from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). A 504 plan is meant to “remove barriers” to learning by providing a specific outline on how to make accommodations or modifications on a student-by-student basis.

Packing a Gluten-Free Lunch

Many parents choose to pack a lunch for their child instead of having them navigate the school cafeteria. This can help alleviate many concerns surrounding ingredients and preparation practices of the cafeteria, but many parents say they get stuck in a rut when packing lunches, gluten-free or not. Use the following tips to keep your child’s lunch both gluten-free and delicious!

  • Spend two weeks experimenting with new products and recipes. Have three envelopes in the kitchen labeled “like it,” “love it,” and “didn’t like it.” Each day, your child can put the name of the meal or the recipe in one of the envelopes. 
  • Get creative with spreads, dips, jams, etc. Celery paired with peanut butter is a different experience than celery paired with pepper hummus.
  • If you have a picky eater or a child who needs to gain weight after their diagnosis, nutritional shakes, power bars and calorie powders can pack a punch. Make sure they are labeled gluten-free, and consider consulting a registered dietitian to help with your meal plan.
  • When you find a winning combo, send enough with your child to share. That will show your child’s peers that gluten-free food is not “weird” and your child will have the opportunity to feel part of the group.
  • Get more food ideas from the recipe section of our website.

Download the Back to School Toolkit

Inside you’ll find:

  • More information on creating a 504 plan
  • Tips for eating gluten-free during field trips, sports and extracurriculars
  • Phrases or elevator speeches your child can use to talk to peers, teachers, coaches, etc. about celiac disease and eating gluten-free.
  • Recipes for packed lunches
  • And more!

Fill out the form below to instantly get access to this helpful guide.

Additional Resources

Think you may have celiac disease?

Symptoms Checklist