When your celiac child is going to boarding school, it is likely you will be facing many sleepless nights worrying about her diet. How will she manage in the common mess? Will she be tempted to eat foods she should avoid? Will the school catering administration go the extra mile to keep her dietary considerations in mind? Here are a few pointers that might help. Considering I went away to boarding school (Cheltenham Ladies College), in the UK, I know a few things about remaining gluten-free at boarding school!
Of course, now that I am in a Boarding school, I have learnt how to make sensible gluten free choices. Whether I am eating outside, traveling in a plane or attending a birthday party I have learnt how to pick and choose food options right for me. When I initially applied for boarding school in the UK, I hadn’t been diagnosed with Celiac disease. However, once I was diagnosed my parents and I almost gave up the idea of applying to boarding school since we were not sure how well they would be able to cater to my gluten free requirements.
My mum emailed all the schools asking about their catering practices for special meals. They all got back with various food allergen policies which were satisfactory. When I started boarding school in 2016, it was awkward for me to have to go up to the counter, and ask for my gluten free meal. I really didn’t want to be the odd one out, but realised it was crucial for my health and well-being.
In my initial weeks, the gluten free food wasn’t amazing. I had to talk to my housemistress, who then emailed the head of catering and set up a meeting with her. She wrote down my requests and tried her best to help me. After my meeting with her, my food improved a lot, and I was glad that I had raised the issue. The kitchen staff makes sure the food which I eat is placed far from the food that contains gluten,thus avoiding any chance of cross contamination. There is a special cabinet in my boarding house kitchen where they keep a toaster marked as gluten free. One time someone accidentally used it for regular bread, but my housemistress was very vigilant and replaced it at once with a new toaster.
My friends are really kind and supportive. For their birthday parties they make sure they order a gluten free pizza or gluten free pad Thai for me, but I always remember to carry a snack with me such as a protein bar to be safe. Whenever we go on school trips, we get packed lunches and the kitchen staff makes me a gluten free packed lunch ,clearly marked. Unfortunately, there have been instances when my sandwich has been made of normal bread, instead of gluten free bread. I have learnt my lesson and now always ask properly about my food before leaving for the trip.
The long flights back and forth between school in the UK and home in India have been interesting.Though there is always a gluten free meal ordered for me in the flight, it’s not necessarily the most appetizing. I generally now get something gluten free at the airport before boarding any flight to ensure I don’t starve mid air. Overall being gluten free in a boarding school has been a really positive experience, with a couple of downs. Coping with a gluten free diet away from the nurturing environment of home can be challenging, but certainly not impossible. I I am glad not to have allowed my dietary requirements to come in the way of experiencing boarding school life, which has been nothing but enriching. I have now completed three years in boarding school, being on a strict gluten free diet. It gives me a sense of great accomplishment and feeling of strength in knowing that I can be healthy even on my own, anywhere in the world.