like ours, it was a no brainer – we wanted to be involved! The language which surrounds coeliac disease (and most dietary needs) can be quite terrifying and strike the fear of God into us (and inevitably results in people being too afraid to cater for coeliacs out of fear they might do something disastrous). To have the opportunity to talk about ways to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, showcase our favourite products, recommend our family’s ‘go-to’ free-from recipes, how to handle parties and school is amazing if it means we might help others in a similar position to ours. We hope it’s a big step towards educating the nation to understand dietary needs and intolerances, being brave enough to cater for those people in their lives with conditions like coeliac disease.
For those of you kind enough to follow my blog articles on a regular basis, you’ll know one or two things about me already. The first that the underlying driving force that makes me write about our lives, in the hope that somehow it might contribute towards a future in which individuals with dietary needs won’t be held back by their conditions, and will have the same choices and opportunities as the rest of us. The second thing you’ll know is that I bloody love cake, but my culinary skills require some fine tuning (when I say fine tuning, I actually mean discovering if I have any at all!) You’ll also know I’m on a life mission to come up with meal-time solutions which are suitable for a low fibre and gluten-free diet, which don’t always involve Aunt Bessie’s Frozen Chips (I still love you Aunt Bessie).
Being part of Asda’s ‘Inclusivity Project’ couldn’t have come at a more fitting time – back to school
time is an emotional one for many reasons. Whether you’re in the ‘Thank Christ That’s Over’ or ‘I Can’t Bear For It To Be Over’ Summer holiday camp it can be filled with anxiety. None more so than for the parents of a child with dietary needs like coeliac disease. It means preparing to let go of the control and responsibility of feeding your little (or big!) one and ‘handing them over’ to school, trusting that they’ll provide a safe environment (in both the dinner hall and classroom) which can create a feeling of unease and nervousness. This is even more unnerving if your child is transitioning up into a new nursery, school or college.
My advice to you would be;
To keep the lines of communication open between yourself and school. Inform them of your child’s condition before the first day, and if they don’t offer you one, request an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) so the school are clear on what measures should be put in place to accommodate your child (and what symptoms to look out for should an incident occur)! Join the Facebook group ‘Food for all at school’ to join the campaign for tastier meals for all kids with dietary needs.
Request a meeting with the school cook (or catering company) to see what measures have been put in place to provide a meal for your little one (and if they’ve never dealt with this before, find solutions which mean they can provide a meal in an environment which is safe). You can always provide a packed lunch if you prefer (in England and Wales every child in key stage one is entitled to a free school meal), however, it would still be worth discussing your child’s needs with the catering staff to avoid issues of cross-contamination in the dinner hall (ensuring tables are cleaned down well between sittings, for example).
Discuss with the class teacher. To ensure an inclusive and equal environment for your little one in the classroom, take time to have a chat with their teacher and make sure they’re aware of the situation. They can ensure that classes which involve food (e.g. cookery class, tasting foods from around the world, etc) use gluten-free products. They can keep an eye on situations in which food is shared or handed-out by peers such as cake or sweets at birthdays.
The Party Circuit
The return to school marks the beginning of another anxiety-riddled activity for parents; Party Season! Whether you’re the parents of a little coeliac invited to one, or organising a party where a little coeliac will be in attendance, the experience can be daunting. Try to put the terrifying language that surrounds catering for coeliacs to one side (you know the stuff; ‘Cross Contamination’. ‘Poison’. ‘Invisible internal damage caused by gluten’) and adopt a few slight changes to your preparation/serving strategy to ensure everyone is included and has a great time;
Clean Down Surfaces; Give your chopping boards a clean using hot soapy water or anti-bac spray and a clean cloth. If baking, I tend to give my tins and utensils such as the hand held whisk a clean over before using
Storage;Store any gluten-free products away from products containing gluten (for example we have a bread bin for regular bread and a sealed Tupperware box to store gluten-free bread). If hosting a party at which you intend to serve both gluten-free and regular food, keep the gluten-free items in a sealed box at the end of the table (this avoids little gluten covered fingers nicking one of the GF fairy buns you’ve kindly provided!)
Order of assembly; If making separate food for your GF guest to the rest of the party, make their food first (on clean surfaces). If you know the GF sandwiches and buns are all done and safely stored away in a sealed container you can relax and crack on with the remaining food preparation. Also, consider this if having a BBQ with meat which has gluten in (like some sausages and burgers do).
Let your Coeliac guests go first; If a buffet style arrangement or a picnic where everyone piles in to the food together, allow the coeliac guest to go first. That way no crumbs from other food gets on to their plates or contaminated fingers touch the ‘free-from’ food.
Placement in the oven; Pizza is a party favourite. I put the gluten-free pizza on the top shelf whilst the regular pizza cooks below. That way no gluten crumbs can accidently contaminate a free-from pizza. Remember to slice the GF pizza first and put to one side so there’s no chance of gluten crumbs being picked up from the chopping board, knife or pizza wheel.
Condiments;We have a separate butter and jam in the fridge which is labelled up as ‘Peggy’s’. This way, no crumbs from a knife used to butter regular bread can contaminate her food.
Back to the old routine
Later to bed, sleep ins (if you’re lucky), skipped baths, playing out past bed time, traveling, irregular mealtimes, holidays, sleepovers, no after school activities…. I don’t know about you but our routine goes out the window when it comes to summer holidays. I’m looking forward to having a little structure back in our lives and with that comes the meticulous planning that is required to ensure we eat a healthy diet rather than a never ending cycle of nuggets/fish fingers/pizza/sausages with alternate sides of waffles or chips (obvs eat all these things but try to pepper the odd fresh meat/fish/fruit/veggie in there to balance it out and ease my mum conscience).
I spend a few hours every Thursday evening writing our weekly meal plans and shopping list (with a cold glass of Sauvignon to add a little excitement to the job!) I’ve discovered a few go-to recipes which work for the entire family (sometimes mixing up the sides to accommodate a gluten-free or low fibre diet). This Spaghetti Bolognese
is a favourite (ensuring the stock is gluten-free) and if I’m organised enough in the morning, add all the ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on low for around 7 hours (adding an extra 400g tin of Tomatoes and 50ml stock). Myself and the kids have GF pasta whilst Chris has chips and white bread with his to stodge it out.
Another go to is this Italian Style Chicken
using GF bread crumbs. Served with new potatoes and green beans (no time for that peeling veg malarkey) I again prepare this in the morning and keep it covered in the fridge to throw in the oven when we walk in from work laden down with rucksacks/coats/PE kits/art work/laptop/crying toddler/kitchen sink.
A recent find in our little free-from culinary adventures are Quesadillas
using GF wraps for Peggy. I think we’re probably a hundred years behind the rest of the country in discovering these but now we’ve found them there’s no going back and we’ll probably have them at least once a week until we can’t face anymore Quesadillas and bloody hate them! What right now I love them because we can make extra for lunch boxes the next day. Anything for an easy life.
Depending on how our weekend social calendar is shaping up I’ll devote more time to trying out new recipes or making a meal which takes a little more time (if I say I do this most weekends that gives you an indication of how our social calendar is shaping up #whatbloodysocialcalendar). This one is a corker and has convinced Peggy that in fact prawns aren’t spawn of the devil; Fish Pie
. Weekends are also the time we’ll have pancakes for breakfast (having been begged for pancakes for breakfast for the previous 5 mornings). Here’s a simple but oh so delicious recipe for gluten-free Crepes
So yes, anxiety about little free-from’ers going back to school is inevitable. On that first day of school the knot in the stomach of the parents who have kids with dietary needs is probably that little bit tighter than our counter-parts. But what can we do other than plan, prepare and inform both our kids and the people who care for them and let the little chicks be free.