Back to School Tips from a Registered Dietitian

Registered Dietitian, Allison J Stowell, shares her back to school “to do” list.

As the new school year begins, so does the “here we go again” feeling that any parent feels, and a parent of a child with severe allergies or celiac feels even more. I’ve been there….I am there. I know what it’s like to go through 5 knives trying to make a PB&J because of fears of double dipping, or washing your hands 17 times to ensure you don’t cross contaminate your safe foods. I also know what it’s like to send your child off to school and hope they keep their safety top of mind just like you do.

Your back-to-school “to do” list

1. Become BFFs with the director of food service- Ok maybe not bffs, but you definitely want them to know you, and more importantly, your child. The director can provide a list of safe a la carte items and identify meals that can be modified to fit your needs. I recommend reviewing the menu with the director at the start of each month and planning around the options that will work for you.

2. Prepare your home- A busy home can makes it tough to keep your GF foods safe. Start the year with a dedicated shelf and GF snack bowl. This is especially important if you aren’t always home after school. This works for my house and ensures that my babysitters choose the right snacks for my kids.

3. Spend some time at the supermarket- Push the school supply list aside for an afternoon and hit the supermarket instead. Look for new healthful convenience items that allow you to pull together quick lunches and dinners. Seek snacks that are wholesome, and pick up some fruit and vegetables that are new to your child.

4. Have a week’s worth of lunch ideas on hand that are GF (and super easy too!)

Monday My son is all about “deconstructed meals.” A bento box-style meal fits this desire perfectly. Try sliced cheese, GF crackers, grape tomatoes, hummus, seaweed salad, dried edamame, or any other option that works for your child.

Tuesday– Rice and beans are nutritious and simple to put together. Start with microwavable rice, black beans (low sodium canned, rinse well), scoop of salsa and sprinkle of cheese (optional), warm and pack in a container that keeps foods warm.

Wednesday– Taco “Wednesday” Salad is another common lunch in our home. Using leftover ground turkey from the night before, we create a salad of crunchy shredded lettuce, diced tomato, peppers and taco meat along with a dollop of salsa. My son loves scooping up his salad with corn chips…I love that he’s having a salad for lunch!

Thursday– Sliced pinwheel wraps are fun and inspire me to explore different combinations for my son to try. Begin with a spread like hummus, pesto, black/white bean dip, guacamole, or spicy Sriracha mayo (combine a bit of Sriracha or hot sauce with mayonnaise). Then add a thin layer of cheese or lunch meat followed by thinly sliced or shredded veggies. Once your wrap is completed, gently roll it, and slice in large pieces and enjoy the pinwheel design.

Friday– Friday pizza is a school staple, and a lunch that your child likely can’t participate in unless your school makes special accommodations. If packing cold pizza won’t do, prepare GF pizza and keep it warm using gel packs or insulated sandwich bags. For a “pizza-like” twist consider making a “pizzadilla” using a GF tortilla, tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella and other fixin’s of choice. Spread ingredients on half of the tortilla, fold and gently warm in a pan until golden brown and cheese is melted. Let cool just a bit before slicing. If preferred, make pizzadilla without sauce and pack separately for dipping.

5. Prepare for class parties- They are going to happen when you know and can plan for them….and they are going to happen without warning. Create plans for both. I have two things that work in my home when I know a classroom party is on the calendar. First is the mini cupcakes that I made on a less busy day and froze. I thaw and frost them as needed. I also keep individually wrapped frozen cookies on hand for those “just in case” moments.

Of course, there are plenty of last minute parties that can happen without your advanced knowledge. Consider keeping a bag of GF options at school for these times so that your child never has to miss out.

When I have the opportunity to visit my child’s classroom (as both a mom and a dietitian!) I usually opt for setting up a yogurt parfait bar. In addition to vanilla Greek yogurt, I offer a variety of GF toppings including fresh diced fruit, granola, seeds and the like. Kids enjoy making their yogurt “sundae” and don’t realize that it’s GF too!

As a Registered Dietitian, Allison J Stowell MS, RD, CDN empowers individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight. A gluten free kitchen consultant, she enables restaurants to follow GF protocols and assists GF families in connecting with safe restaurants. Allison lives in CT with her husband and two children, and knows all too well what’s it’s like to keep a celiac family safe.

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