Speak Up – Managing Special Diet Issues in School

Living Without Editor: Alicia Woodward

A young friend of mine just graduated from a small liberal arts college. This private school sits on a lovely, quiet campus, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia. Watching her walk across the outdoor stage in her cap and gown was particularly meaningful to me because I knew the history (her hard work and sacrifice) behind that diploma. Her story included frustrating months of dealing with dining services staff who just didn’t “get” her special diet. During much of her college career, she ate from a very short list of foods, sticking to a limited menu rather than risk getting sick.

Managing food issues today in many colleges and public and private schools continues to be a challenging prospect. Even with good preparation and the best intentions, it often comes down to a student (or parent) asking for what is needed and asking again. And again.

There are plenty of disincentives to speaking up. Who wants to be seen as “different” or “whiny” or “difficult”? It doesn’t feel good when a dining hall refuses to accommodate or a preschool declines to cooperate because providing a safe environment is too much bother. Yes, there are positive changes in the air but momentum will pick up strength only when we make ourselves heard.

I hope the articles in these pages encourage you to do just that. Culinary expert Rob Landolphi offers his advice in “Allergy-Friendly Campus,” and writer Sonya Hemmings explains her choice to homeschool her food-allergic son in “Teach Your Children.” On the recipe front, we provide delicious ideas for serving quick and nutritious breakfast fare (“Morning Glories,”) and for packing appetizing lunches that meet your child’s special dietary needs (“Lunchbox Adventures,”).

Like any graduate, my friend learned valuable lessons during her college years. But I believe one of the most important didn’t come from any textbook or academic lecture. It came from finding her voice and learning to speak her truth. She became her own best advocate, ending her senior year enjoying a variety of gluten-free meals prepared by an enlightened dining services staff.

Yes, we can change the world—one classroom, one lunchroom, one cafeteria line, one dining hall at a time.