Food at school

Once you have your child on a restricted diet, school adds a new element of difficulty. Every week–sometimes nearly every day–is someone’s birthday or some special day when parents want to bring in “treats” for the kids. Here’s how I navigate these waters.

First, I love when teachers encourage non-food celebrations. For example, some teachers invite parents to bring the child’s favorite book and read it to the class and then tell the class a few special things about the child as a celebration of his/her birthday. Love that. Or what about children getting to bring in a few favorite items from home to show their classmates and teacher on their special day?

Second, I also love when teachers limit what types of foods can be brought to class. And they should!–Teachers directly benefit from reducing the sugar, processed food, and junk intake of the kids in their class. Teachers can say, for instance, that only fruit and popcorn are allowed. This pleases parents like me, who care about what their kids eat, and also prevents most issues for children with allergies. Parents who really want to give their kids treats covered in colorful frosting can surprise the children at pickup at 3:00 with a single cupcake.

When these ideals aren’t reality, though, here’s my best tip: stock your child’s classroom with acceptable “treats.” I don’t just mean bring in a treat on the days you know another parent is bringing something in. I mean stock at least 10 treats, because I can’t even count the times I’ve found out after the fact that so-and-so’s parent brought in cupcakes and “healthy store-bought muffins” (really? healthy?). So I get my child’s teacher on board, explaining briefly why Nate can’t have sugar, wheat, most dairy, processed foods, etc., and then I provide a bunch of items to keep on hand in the classroom for when they’re needed.

Treat ideashoneymints

Here are three of my favorite nut-free treats to stock at school. Many of our favorite treats have nuts in them (almond flour, almond butter, etc.), and since most schools are nut free, I have excluded those treats from this list.

  • Trader Joe’s honey mints – these are definitely a treat, but I love them because they can last a long time at school, and Nate loves them. He usually gets to have two if everyone else gets muffins or the like. Ingredients: honey, chocolate liquor, oil of peppermint.
  • Easy banana-oat cookies – two of my kids like these, and it’s easy and economical to make a huge batch and keep in the freezer in the kids’ classroom. The add-ins I do are cinnamon and a couple tablespoons of raw honey. NOTE: to be healthiest, definitely soak your oats first, then dehydrate before making your oat cookies. (You can also try without dehydrating but might have to adjust the recipe to account for extra moisture.)
  • Buttermintsbuttermints – pretty much my favorite treat of all time. These will work in classrooms with a refrigerator or freezer. Even though my kids consider these “treats,” they are filled with such goodness that I offer them often.

But what if your child is a sneak? I have one of these (not Nate), who occasionally likes to sneak bites of things not usually allowed. At my kids’ particular school, this isn’t too much of a problem, because kids are not allowed to share or trade food with each other, and generally, teachers encourage healthy foods to be brought in to class (if at all). But if this is a problem for you, I would recruit your child’s teacher to assist. Explain how important staying away from certain foods is for your child, emphasizing behavioral implications that could even affect your child at school. Ask for the teacher’s assistance and buy-in, and then be proactive about stocking acceptable treats that your child loves and doesn’t often get. (Back at a previous school, when Nate was in special ed and had an IEP, I included his diet requirements as part of his official IEP! Teachers or other parents were not allowed to give Nate any food without my permission; I had to be that strict because those teachers were not on the same page as I was and often thought something was “fine” when it wasn’t. Example: one teacher didn’t know goldfish crackers had wheat/gluten.)

Do you have any treats you like to stock in your child’s class?

This post is part of the 31 Days writing challenge, during which I’m detailing our family’s journey through autism as it relates to the one lifestyle change we made that had the greatest impact on our son’s recovery: nutrition. Click here for a list of all this month’s entries as they are posted.

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