School lunches for every Little Coeliac? Let’s make it happen! x

Mia’s School lunches – Our little Coeliac, Mia, is offered a hot school meal everyday.  This has been since day one of her starting Walkern Primary School two years ago.  Lisa Hayward, our wonderful school cook, uses a menu that has been created especially for Coeliacs and adapts it if Mia doesn’t particularly like a certain option.  Lisa works for Hertfordshire Catering Limited , who are able to offer special menus or various dietary requirement (as long as there is supporting medical evidence that it is necessary for the child). However, I quickly realised that Mia was in the minority and extremely fortunate being offered daily hot meals at school, as so many others in her situation are offered merely a baked potato once a week or absolutely nothing!

Being really shocked that many children were not being given their daily free school meals, on the basis of their dietary requirements, I contacted Hertfordshire Catering Limited to find out why they decided to offer this to our children and what they have done to make it easier for their school cooks to achieve the adaptations in the meals.

Meeting a Nutritionist – I had a meeting with Anka Johnston, Nutritionist for Hertfordshire Catering Limited, who was unaware of how unique their meal planning is.  She has made sure that the children’s adapted meals follow the same meals as the other children in school, so they look the same despite having the appropriate nutritional changes.  It has not been an easy job, but it was clearly important for Anka and Lisa to be able to offer every child a school meal, despite their special dietary requirement.  As a parent, it is so refreshing to hear that a school cook and catering company are striving to do their very best by your child, so there is one less barrier for our children with special dietary requirements to overcome.

Mia’s School – Walkern Primary School is a small village school, where you would imagine it may be harder to have a separate area within the kitchen for preparing foods safely to avoid cross contamination issues.  However, they have achieved it and been so successful with their catering that Lisa and her team won an award for ‘Primary School Catering Team of the Year 2016’ !!!!

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How have they achieved this?  Each member of the catering team has to attend a 3 week training course, which includes learning about the various menus, adaptations and cross contamination issues (There is also a recognised Coeliac course for cooks that the Coeliac UK suggest).  Lisa cooks all meals from scratch and the normal school menu offers a green option (vegetarian) or red (meat option), one of which will be adapted to suit a coeliac menu.  For example, on Wednesdays there is always a roast and Mia is allowed everything except yorkshires and stuffing, as even their gravy is gluten free for ease and to avoid any contamination issues. Also for a salad side option, due to the likelihood of contamination as bread is next to the salad bar, Lisa ensures that a little salad is separated for Mia and  put to one side and covered over to stop any crumbs getting in.

Within Hertfordshire Catering Limited, the school kitchens are provided with a list of ingredients which contain allergens and they follow the menus which have been adapted by the nutritionist, Anka.  If they have to make changes to any dishes or ingredients then they have all of the information in which to do so, including having Anka at the end of the phone line for additional support.

Lisa also ensures that all children with a special dietary requirement is easily recognisable to staff in the kitchen at lunch times.  She has photos of the specific children in the kitchen, labelling the foods that they must avoid.  Lisa has also developed a multi-coloured loom band for the children to wear, as an extra reminder to the staff, which is a cool way for the children to subtly show staff that they need an adapted meal.

Mia’s current school lunch menu –

Week one Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Coeliac Menu Gluten free turkey sausages and creamed potatoes Vegetable grill with potato wedges Roast beef with roast potatoes

Or

Quorn fillet with roast potatoes

Creamy chicken curry with rice Gluten free fish fingers with low fat chips
`Jelly and fruit Fruit salad with gluten free shortbread Ice cream with fruit Frozen yoghurt with fruit Strawberry mousse

 

Week two Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Coeliac Menu Jacket potato and beans Gluten free fish cake with diced potatoes Roast pork (no stuffing) with apple sauce and parliament potatoes

 

Bolognaise with gluten free pasta Vegetable grill
`Jelly and fruit Fruit salad with gluten free shortbread Ice cream with fruit Frozen yoghurt with fruit Strawberry mousse

 

Week three Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Coeliac Menu Pork strips (no Yorkshire) and potato wedges Gluten free turkey burger (no bun) with diced potatoes Roast chicken (no stuffing) and roast potatoes

 

2 x quorn frankfurters (no roll) with diced potatoes Gluten free fish fingers and low fat chips
`Jelly and fruit Fruit salad with gluten free shortbread Ice cream with fruit Frozen yoghurt with fruit Strawberry mousse

 

How can you help your little Coeliac with their school lunches?

  1. Take the information to your school from Coeliac UK to help them understand what it is and the issues around Coeliac Disease, along with a doctor’s letter/diagnosis letter stating that your child has ‘Coeliac Disease’.
  2. Ensure the school cook is aware of training courses available for the kitchen staff to help them learn about Coeliac Disease and cross contamination issues (easily done via Coeliac UK), if they are not already knowledgeable.
  3. Help the kitchen staff look at the menus and suggest slight adaptations, which can make a meal gluten free/coeliac friendly (use the menu sample from Mia’s school above).
  4. Have regular contact with your school cook to ensure that they understand your child’s needs and likes/dislikes.
  5. Remember that children in key stage one (up to the end of year 2) are entitled to free school meals, so your child should not miss out.

Children with special dietary requirements are always going to struggle at meal times. When they are at school, they should feel safe and looked after what ever their abilities or limitations. It does take a bit of extra thinking from the school and catering company, but our children should always be included and made to feel accepted especially when eating at school. Many people feel that meal times are important occasions where children interact, learn and socialise with each other and inclusion is essential throughout their formative years.

You shouldn’t have to fight for this, but hopefully this may help give a positive nudge in the right direction to any schools/catering companies who are seeming reluctant to help.

Good luck!!

Mia and Mummy x