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Kids and Celiac Disease

Having a child with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity presents a unique set of challenges beyond what adults may encounter following a gluten-free diet.

School parties, eating in the cafeteria, Birthday parties, dining out, traveling, attending sleepaway camps, and choosing a college are all areas that require thought and planning.

School Parties and Birthday Parties

Many schools are no longer allowing food to be sent in for parties, due to the growing number of kids with a wide range of allergies and food intolerances. However, if your child’s school does celebrate birthdays or organize other holiday parties, sending in a special gluten-free snack or treat with your child is very simple and merely requires communication with the teacher so you know when the parties will take place. The same goes for Birthday parties outside of school. Try to find out what will be served and send something comparable for your child whenever possible. Most kids are happy to have a favorite gluten-free cupcake or cookies – which are often tastier than many of the chemical-laden store-bought cakes anyway! So many kids have different allergies these days that it’s likely your child will not be the only one with their own special treat.

Eating at School

In terms of buying school lunches, some counties across the country have made an effort to provide healthier foods and choices for kids with food allergies and sensitivities. But schools are not yet (and may never be) as well equipped as some restaurants to provide an environment free of cross-contact with potential allergens or gluten.  To be safe, it’s best to plan on sending a lunch with your child each day.   There should be no need for your child to sit at an “allergy” or “peanut free” table, however, unless their school insists on it. Reactions to gluten are not immediate, anaphylactic, or life-threatening in nature, as certain allergies are. Simply teach your son or daughter to eat their own food and avoid touching other people’s food or accepting anything from friends’ lunchboxes.

Dining Out and Traveling

We discussed dining out and traveling in prior sections, but it’s worth mentioning that even restaurants that have fantastic gluten-free menus may not have many GF options on their KIDS’ Menus (which too often consist of burgers, pizza, grilled cheese, mac-n-cheese, and other gluten-filled choices). You can always order a gluten-free meal from the (adult) Gluten Free Menu and share it with your child – or take leftovers home for lunch the next day.

When traveling with kids on gluten-free diets, taking favorite snacks and non-perishables in your suitcase is even more important than it is with adult Celiacs. Even though your hotel or resort (or the restaurants you dine at) may offer plenty of gluten-free choices, you may find they might not please a child who’s a picky eater or simply not very adventurous.  This is especially relevant when traveling to a foreign country where many of the foods may be gluten-free but unfamiliar to your child.  

Sleepaway Camps

If your child longs to go to sleepaway camp at some point, have no fear. There are now about a dozen camps across the country that cater to kids with Celiac Disease. Whether the camp goes completely gluten-free for a week each summer so that kids with Celiac can attend – or they dedicate an area of their kitchen to accommodate kids with Celiac or allergies -- there are now plenty of options to choose from so your child can experience the fun of summer camp. Visit our Camps page for a listing of camps throughout the country that welcome gluten free campers.

Choosing a College

Finally, if your child is gluten-free, that can add another dimension to his or her college selection process. Again, this is an area that has made great strides in the past few years, with many colleges creating safe options – and even designated refrigerators and freezers – for the growing number of gluten-free students. To see a list of colleges that have been reviewed for their dining services’ degree of gluten-free knowledge, visit GlutenFreeTravelSite’s College Reviews page which also has links to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness's online resources pertaining to college-bound Celiacs.

Certainly, if your child has the option to live in an apartment on or off campus that has a kitchen, this is ideal. They’ll be able to stock the fridge and cupboards with safe foods and have control over most of their meals if necessary (if they don’t mind cooking!).