Spooky parties and their gooey treats spell Halloween fun but for parents of children with celiac disease, this time of year can be downright frightening. Every school party that comes with food will also come with obstacles for a child with celiac to overcome. As parents we want our children to be able to participate in the same activities as their classmates. But we also have to find the best ways to do that safely. Here are some tips.
Talk to the teacher and home room mom
The first thing you need to do as Halloween nears is talk to the person in charge of planning the party. In some cases it will be the homeroom parent, but in most the teacher is the best place to start. You will want to know what foods they have planned. Be sure to remind them that your child has restrictions on what they can eat and provide your information so they can contact you if they have any questions on party day.
Join the party
What I found easiest for my children with food restrictions — before they were old enough to speak up for themselves — was to attend the school parties. While this might not be possible for everyone, it can be really helpful. There will always be food items sent from home that the teacher didn’t intend or ask for, and if you are there, you can quickly react to avoid your child getting sick.
Provide alternative treats
If you have talked with the teacher and you know what will be provided, it can be easier to supply alternatives that are as close as possible to what the other kids are eating. For example, a pizza party is likely not going to be great for your gluten-free kid. But if you know this ahead of time, you can always grab a gluten-free pizza from a place like California Pizza Kitchen or Brick Oven Pizza. Check your local area and these tips on pizza places to use.
A lot of times a gift bag of candy may be sent home with your child after the party. Some candy is gluten free naturally but you will likely have to go through your child’s bag of treats on your own at home. Be sure they know to wait to eat any candy and have equal trades of gluten-free candy available so they don’t feel slighted.
Avoid singling out your child
This may be the hardest thing to do in a classroom full of nosey kids — they never miss a beat.But, most of the time it depends on the age of the child. Older kids may be more comfortable discussing why they are eating something different from their classmates, while a first- or second grader may not want to be singled out. If you attend the party and know what they are having ahead of time it can be easier to slip your child a plate of alternatives that are gluten free. If you are unable to attend, talk with the teacher about the best way to prevent your child from being singled out. Always provide your child with a response in case someone does ask them why they are eating differently. For example, simple answers like: “There is something in that food that I can’t eat because it will make my stomach hurt,” are usually fine for younger children. Older children have likely heard of celiac but may not completely understand it. Teaching your child how to explain celiac when they are ready can be especially helpful in these kinds of situations.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.