A school lunch room can be a nightmare for any kid – where to sit, who to sit with, when is pizza day? But kids with celiac disease have a unique challenge navigating the cafeteria – they have to avoid all foods with gluten. We asked Children’s National Health System dietician, Angela Boadu, RD, LDN/LD, for some lunch tips for kids with celiac disease.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. About one in 100 children has celiac disease, making it one of the most common conditions in children.

Children who have celiac disease are permanently intolerant to gluten, a protein found in all forms of wheat, rye, and barley.

Cafeteria tips for kids with celiac disease

Wheat is tough to avoid in a school cafeteria and if parents aren’t able to pack a gluten-free lunch, what’s a kid to do?

  • Talk to whoever is in charge of the cafeteria, or your child’s teacher, and let them know ahead of time about your child’s condition before they even get into the school. 
  • Emphasize the risk of cross-contamination to your child and the school’s officials. 
  • Be prepared to educate the school and your child’s peers. 
  • Encourage your kid to choose simple items like meat, veggies and fruit.
  • Make sure your child knows to avoid anything breaded, as well as pasta, hamburgers and meatloaf. 
  • Tell your child, “When in doubt, don’t try it, go with what you know.” 

If you or your child is not sure what they can eat, make sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician about healthy options. This guide to dining out with celiac will help you figure out foods your child can eat. You can also sign up for the Children’s National Celiac Disease Digest for the most up to date information about celiac disease. 

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