Back to School - A Mum's Experience

Vicky shares her experience of catering for her twin coeliac boys…..

When Evan and Isaac were diagnosed 3 years ago, it was a steep learning curve for all of us. They were 7 at the time so luckily old enough to understand a little bit about a gluten free diet. And as part of my learning journey, I involved them so they could learn alongside me! Once they understood a bit more, the boys embraced their new diet (most of the time) – partly because they realised how poorly they had been prior to diagnosis!

It doesn’t meant they were happy about being coeliac as they were also very conscious about being different from their friends and didn’t want to feel excluded from things.

As a mum, I obviously felt I had to do as much as possible to ensure that they were not excluded and above all, to ensure they were eating safely at school and after school club. 

I spoke to school and the kitchen staff, who were really helpful and accommodating. There is a separate gluten free menu, and I was promised a copy of the menu from the local council but had to chase them numerous times to get this – so although I knew the boys were being safely catered for, having a copy of the menu gave me more reassurance of exactly what they were eating too!

I admit that I can never fully relax but have to put my faith in the school – and also in the boys. They are great at asking questions and are very aware about avoiding cross contamination – there was a recent incident where the same spatula was used for the standard battered fish and then used to pick up Isaac’s salmon – he spotted this and told the kitchen staff that he now wouldn’t be able to eat it!

Aside from this, the kitchen staff have been brilliant – lots of reassurance and a tour of the school kitchen (I am not sure that all schools will offer this!). They showed me the separate area where they prepare the boys food and also have a picture on the wall of the boys with information about their diet.

It goes without saying that you do need to be a little more organised and plan in advance….when the boys are on the school trip for example, where school provide a packed lunch, I tend to send them with their own packed lunch as I know they won’t eat the one provided by school! Again, just peace of mind that they have actually eaten!

They also occasionally have food tasting sessions in school and it very much depends on the teacher as to whether I am aware of this in advance – sometimes they have phoned to let me know and check that Evan and Isaac can eat everything; other times, I have found out from the boys, but luckily they are very vigilant!

The hardest thing to manage at short notice in school are cake sales – the boys have felt left out on numerous occasions, which is really tough when you are little – and I can’t help feeling guilty! I have spoken to school and asked them to try and give me advance notice so that I can provide some gluten free cakes – for the boys to then buy back!!

Then there are occasions like the school summer fair – I am involved in helping with the BBQ – and again, as part of the boys feeling involved, I buy a disposable BBQ and take along some gluten free rolls so they can enjoy a burger too without any worry of cross contamination!

After school club – as myself and my husband work full time, Evan and Isaac go to an after school club. A slight blessing is that the owner is also coeliac so obviously the awareness is there! But obviously I have to put my trust in the staff – they have been great on the whole, but there have been a couple of mistakes – which I appreciate can happen.

I have provided a toaster which is bright green and labelled ‘gluten free’ so its pretty obvious that it is only for the boys toast. The club buy gluten free cereal and pasta, and I provide the bread that we get on prescription.

All in all, with a little planning and preparation, we are in a really good routine. The boys cope really well, and their friends have been really caring and are all very aware of their diet – always checking whether they can share snacks or sweets with the boys, which is lovely to see!