Updated: Jan 21
When I was growing up and going to school over 20 years ago, no one was aware of the gluten free diet much less the need to provide gluten free meals for students. It was simply unheard of to be concerned about packing a gluten free lunch for your child. There was, however, an awareness of other major food allergens such as an allergy to peanuts, but only if it was brought to everyone in the school’s attention by the child’s parents.
When I was around 7 years old, there was another child I went to school with who suffered from a peanut allergy. There was a day where the entire school was called into our assembly room to talk about the dangers of having peanuts in school around a child who suffered from a peanut allergy. The child’s mother even came in to speak to the staff and students to explain the importance of why her child couldn’t even be in the same building as peanuts. She talked about how her entire home had to be 100% peanut free along with the hardships that entailed of maintaining an peanut free home. That same day, all students were sent home with a letter from the school notifying parents about this child’s peanut allergy. The note requested parents to “please no longer pack any peanut butter sandwiches or peanut containing items in your child’s lunchbox anymore due to the risks it posed to this child’s health.” I feel like any parent who has a child with a peanut allergy could relate to this parent and the understanding of the severity with this allergy.
A few days later, the child’s Mom came back to the school to have lunch with her child. I was in the lunchroom that day when I had noticed her sitting on the stage in the cafeteria waiting for her child. I decided to go up to her and talk to her about what she was dealing with. There was an inner part of little 7 year old me at the time that felt compassion for her. I wanted to sympathize with her. As I was talking to her, someone had placed a peanut butter sandwich near us where we were talking. I did not think this was funny at all. We had no idea where it came from but I remember watching her reaction and feeling right along with her how scared she was feeling. I watched her grab a pair of food-prep gloves from the cafeteria along with a napkin as she safely discarded the sandwich outside of the school. I thought to myself at that moment, “Wow. That must be really hard to have to avoid peanuts. There’s no way I could ever avoid anything major like that.”
Yes... Ironic isn’t it?
It’s ironic because little did I know that I was suffering from a very serious health issue related to food myself except in my case it was about the SANDWICH BREAD, not the peanut butter! I mean, during that moment I was sympathizing with her, I was completely oblivious that something extremely serious was happening inside my own body. As a child, I wasn’t growing, gaining weight, thriving, nothing, as my body was perceiving wheat-gluten as harmful. See, to me what is truly incredible is how everything comes full circle later on in life. How everything seems to happen for a reason. Now that I look back at that instance, I know that happened for a reason.
Instances like that from my childhood are the reasons why I am so passionate today about helping others who suffer from food allergies and Celiac Disease. It was as if that moment was a premonition for my purpose to come later on in my life. Although my reactions to wheat-gluten are not anaphylactic like a peanut allergy, they are damaging and very internally dangerous to my health in other ways. I need to clarify right now just how dangerous: Celiac Disease can lead to cancer or lymphoma of the small intestine and can even be deadly in other ways. I am sick and tired of Celiac Disease being underrepresented as well as misrepresented as something that leads to a mild stomach ache and some unpleasant after-affects that can be settled with some antacids if you eat gluten. That is extremely false information. That stomach pain is what causes the damage that leads to malnourishment and lymphoma of the small intestine. For reference, you can listen to my interview here.
I think dedicating classrooms to being gluten free is absolutely necessary, especially if there is even one child in the room who has Celiac Disease or even a wheat allergy. If you are a teacher, you never want to leave any child behind for any reason. If you bring a package of cookies made from wheat flour to your classroom to give to your students to enjoy and exclude even one child from this enjoyment, you are not demonstrating inclusion and acceptance of all children in your class. All working teaching professionals need to set an example and it's not okay to leave even one child out, ever, especially if they're a child in your classroom. Nowadays there are TONS of options for gluten free snacks out there! There is just no excuse anymore as gluten free snacks are readily found just about anywhere these days. Don't believe the nonsense out there that "things don't taste as good because they're gluten free." Not true. Otherwise, you have no idea how leaving one child out impacts that one child and how it appears to the rest of the students in that child's class. In addition, you could notify parents through email or letter that you have one child in the class who has Celiac Disease, or a wheat allergy, or whatever condition they may have that is affected by gluten, and ask them if they could kindly donate gluten free snacks for the classroom. I guarantee that parents will not be opposed to this. Either way, don't let it stop you from doing what's right to include everyone in your classroom! So, yes, in my opinion, classrooms that have students with Celiac Disease and wheat allergies should become dedicated classroom environments and I stand very firm with this.
This is all coming from a former teacher, by the way. :) I am full of knowledge from my Masters of Education and am very aware of the concept of inclusion and acceptance. I am no longer teaching as of right now because my true calling is to be a teacher in other ways and to educate and inform the world about Celiac Disease. I feel like I can educate and inform others because I live with the condition myself. I consider myself an expert now after 12 years of being on the gluten free diet.
In addition, what I would like to see is for each school cafeteria all around the world to have a dedicated area for wheat-allergy sufferers and those who have Celiac Disease because the need to avoid wheat-gluten is extremely necessary for millions of people, including millions of children in the world. Wheat allergies and Celiac Disease sufferers are simply not taken as seriously as they should be. The gluten free diet exists for a reason. It's not to lose weight, and it's not to be cool or trendy, it's because people need the diet in order to live and thrive.
It breaks my heart that even to this day, that the main items served at school lunches are pizza, pasta, sandwiches, chicken noodle soup with crackers, and other unhealthy things of the like. You have GOT to be kidding me! This isn’t even healthy for students who don’t suffer from wheat-gluten allergies or Celiac Disease!
Until every school develops a system for ensuring no child gets sick from cross-contamination and ends up in the nurse’s office with severe stomach pain after lunch instead of being in class learning with all the other students in their class, I have put together some fun, colorful, and creative 100% gluten free children’s lunches that not only all kids will love, but adults are sure to enjoy making making as well! Fellow adults, you might even enjoy eating these meals yourself. I know I did!
MAGICALLY COLORFUL BENTO BOX LUNCHES
What's on the Unicorn Lovers Menu: Unicorn shaped turkey and cheese sandwich, magical deviled eggs, colorful fruit shapes, pastel chocolate rocks, and gluten free pretzels
To make the Unicorn Lover's Box, you will need:
1. Gluten free sandwich bread
2. Unicorn cookie cutter
3. Slices of turkey and cheese
4. Colorful candy of choice (I used pastel chocolate rocks that are gluten free)
5. Fruit of choice
6. Mini Star cookie cutters to cut fun fruit shapes with
7. Gluten free pretzels
8. Eggs (instructions below in printable)
9. Food coloring (natural or regular)
What's on the Dinosaur Lovers Menu: Dinosaur shaped turkey and cheese sandwich, “dinosaur eggs”, colorful fruit shapes, earthy chocolate rocks, and gluten free pretzels
To make this recipe, you will need to have the following available:
1. Cookie cutter shapes
2. Gluten free sandwich bread
3. Food coloring, regular or natural
4. Colorful candy of choice (I used earthy colorful chocolate rocks that are gluten free)
5. Gluten free pretzels
6. Fruit of choice
7. Eggs (recipe instructions below to make hard boiled marbled "dinosaur" eggs)
What's on the menu: Sushi rice Panda animal shapes, Rainbow Chicken Stir Fry, veggies, gluten free pretzels, fun fruit shapes, and chewy candy
As for the little rice pandas you see above... that's from a little panda sushi rice set! I had so much fun making these little panda rice shapes and I think parents will have just as much fun right along with their kids making these as well.
*Disclaimer: My opinions are my own, of course!