As September approaches I wanted to talk about how to make the pre-school experience both physically safe and emotionally positive for the celiac child.
As a parent, your first mission is to secure a gluten free environment for your child. The typical pre-school classroom holds several hidden dangers to beware of.
Start by sitting down with the teacher before the beginning of the school year. Give her some literature about Celiac Disease (GIG prints brochure for teachers). Ask her to have every adult who will be serving as an instructor or an aid read this information before school starts. Have her post a notice about your child's food intolerance's for any substitutes who might be in the class room during the year. Talk about the various
OK snacks and offer to supply GF snack or ingredient substitutions.
Request that on occasion GF snacks be offered to all of the students instead of constantly singling out your child as different by giving him a separate snack from the rest of the class. I think this issue is incredibly important to children with celiac disease. Their first preschool experience is a chance for our children to develop their own identities and a sense of self confidence. Our job as parents should be to make this experience as emotionally secure and positive as possible. We should attempt to minimize the isolation our toddler must feel at being singled out as different from his peers during one of the most social periods in his day.
True, our children will always have to think before they eat but the preschool experience can also reassure them that they can eat the same things as all the other children too. There must be a balance between the differences and the similarities. My personal solution to the issue was to supply a GF snack which could be enjoyed by the entire class once or twice a week.
The following list of GF snacks may be served to the typical preschool class:
l. fresh fruit slices together or separately
2. most canned fruit
3. cheddar cheese cubes
5. pumpkin or sunflower seeds
6. nuts (but other children might have allergies)
8. Corn chips and corn nuts (If kids are over 3 yrs)
9. peanut butter on rice crackers or with carrot sticks as a dip
10. GF yogurt
11. Cinnamon apple rice chips (Hain's)
12. Fruit popsicles (Always check to see if still GF )
13. Dietary specialties makes a cracker bread my daughter loves called
Bi-Aglut Swedish cracker bread*
14. Dietary Specialties sells a 'saltine 'like cracker called Wel-Plan
15. Health Valley Fat free rice bars in three flavors (Orange Date,
Raisin Apple & Tropical Fruit) are currently GF*
16. Bette Hagman's Mock Graham Crackers are a huge hit with my
daughter and anyone else who can get their hands on them -the recipe
is found in the More From the Gluten Free Gourmet.I sprinkle them
with a little cinnamon sugar.
17. Mini muffins from any GF mix
Most of the time the school will provide juice for all the children. Ask the teacher to purchase only 100% fruit juice and recommend several Gluten Free brands. It is also possible to send in a safe bottle of juice for your child's drink.
The other major gluten minefields in preschool are birthday cupcakes and holiday treats. The best technique I've worked out is to bake chocolate and vanilla cupcakes at the beginning of the year and to freeze them inindividual zip lock baggies then I can quickly defrost the appropriate flavor and either mix up homemade frosting or use some Duncan Hines Homestyle frosting* in the same flavor as the birthday child. Don't forget to put a few sprinkles on top just in case the birthday cupcakes have them too. As your child matures this exact matching game will become less important. There will come a day when they realize a cupcake is a cupcake whatever the color/flavor.
Have your child's teacher supply you with a list of birthdays at the beginning of the year so that if a parent has not given you warning before they plan to bring in a treat you can give them a quick call to see if they were planning anything special.
Finally, give the teacher a box of 'just in case' cookies at the beginning of the school year. This way your child won't be the only one without a special treat 'just in case' Sarah's grandmother bakes some valentine cookies for the class or 'just in case' Jack's brings in treats to celebrate Groundhog day.
One play area in most classrooms is the sensory table into which sand, water, beans etc. are placed for the children to play with. Request that the teachers do NOT use wheat, rye, oats or barley in the sensory table. It should be obvious that little fingers often find their way into little mouths. Recommend cornmeal, rice, beans, sand, or water as safe alternatives.
Stickers and envelopes are often used in classroom play. Ask that the teachers use only peel-n-stick varieties wherever possible. If envelopes are being used have a damp sponge available for sealing them. The reason for this is that some envelope companies do not confirm that the Gum Arabic used to create the seal is gluten free. (My source for this information is Bette Hagman, The Gluten Free Gourmet).
A popular pre-school project these days is stringing cereal into necklaces, usually a gluten containing brand. Unfortunately I have not come across a gluten free alternative to this type of cereal. As not all cereal always ends up on the string you should consult the teacher about skipping this activity altogether. A safer alternative to the
stringing project would be to supply the classroom with gluten free pasta product in the shape of tubes so that the class could paint the noodles as well as string them. (This type of pasta is available through Dietary Specialties (1-800-544-0099)
Playdoh is a standard item in every preschool. Playdoh is made from wheat flour base. Request that the Playdoh in your child's room be made from a cornstarch base instead. The following recipe is from Tim Meadows :
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 tsp. cooking oil
Cook and stir on low heat for 3 minutes until it forms a ball.
(If your child is older or can remember NEVER to put his hand in his mouth than you can tell the teachers to let him use the regular Playdoh,however, always ask that the teacher have your child wash his hands right after playing with it.) If the preschool does any cooking projects Playdoh is a fun recipe to cook up.
On the subject of cooking, my experience is that every pre-school uses baking as a basic part of it's curriculum. In order to incorporate your child into this activity go over the general baking projects at the beginning of the school year and suggest or supply a GF alternative.
For example: If the class is going to make blueberry muffins replace the recipe with a package of GF blueberry muffin mix. (Dietary Specialties has a great one). Go the next step and actually supply a list of GF baking ingredients for the teacher i.e.: GF butter or margarine, GF food colorings.
GF vanilla extract, GF chocolate chips, whatever ingredients are required. Now your child can roll up his sleeves and lick the batter off of his fingers with the rest of the kids.
In addition to supplying the class with a variety of GF muffin mixes (The Really Great Food Company [516-593-5587] is a good source of both muffin mixes and a pizza crust mix which doubles as a bread stick recipe: fun for the kids to make as they can roll their own bread sticks.) There are a lot of other fun GF cooking projects the class can do and
here are a few suggestions to share with your child's teachers:
1. Fruit Kabobs or fruit boats
2. raisin and nut and sunflower seed gorp
3. peanut butter on celery sticks or rice crackers (be sure to supply your own
4. jar to be used only for GF snacks)
6. popcorn from a dried corn stalk
7. home made fruit popsicles
8. cheese cubes on sticks with fruit
9. Bette Hagman's peanut butter cookies (ingredients include only peanut
butter, sugar and eggs)Gluten Free Gourmet
10. Meringue cookies (Egg whites, sugar & cream of tarter)Gluten Free
A note to parents of school aged children. My daughter is now in Kindergarten and old enough to go to the Cafeteria for lunch. At first glance it would appear that no foods could be considered safe at a school cafeteria however, with a little research, your child may be able to purchase at least part of her lunch just like everyone else.
I went directly to the cafeteria at the beginning of the school year and actually read the labels of the juice, milk, & popsicles offered for purchase after calling the companies I was able to let my daughter pick out a drink and a piece of fruit or an Italian ice for desert. Due to the nature of kid friendly foods it would be very unlikely that any main course would be safe for consumption on a GF diet.
These precautionary measures should go along way to insure an emotionally successful school year for your child. We must be diligent in training our children to be on guard for that hidden enemy, gluten. The pre-school environment, however, should be a safe haven in which to grow and explore the world unencumbered by the social restrictions a
gluten free diet will always demand.
* Please call any brand name manufacturer to confirm current gluten free status of any of the products I have suggested here. I know it is difficult and time consuming to continually research product safety but I cannot guarantee the Gluten Free status of any of the aforementioned commercial products beyond October 25th l995.