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Gluten-Free Teenagers at School

Learning to Live Gluten-Free

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Updated February 02, 2012

Teenagers with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity don't need to worry about Play-Doh or paper maché in the classroom, as do younger kids with the condition.

But teens do face some school-related concerns, ranging from gluten in the cafeteria and in the classroom (yes, it's everywhere) to their school performance and even their grades.

It's definitely possible to stay safe and do well as a celiac/gluten-sensitive teenager in school, but you may have to work at it, especially if you've been diagnosed recently. Here's what celiac and gluten-sensitive teens need to consider to optimize their school experience.

1. School Lunches

There's really no getting around it — teenagers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should pack their own lunches. It might be possible to get a safe meal in the school cafeteria, but doing so will involve working closely with cafeteria staff members ... which takes time most teens don't have.

Bringing a homemade lunch, meanwhile, can allow you to craft lunches that don't look dissimilar to those from your peers. It also can help you eat healthier — which may help the recently diagnosed to feel better.

It's possible to buy decent gluten-free bread, or even to make your own homemade bread using a gluten-free bread mix. Teens also can consider bringing salads, and there are plenty of pre-packaged gluten-free snacks on the shelf these days, including gluten-free pretzels and potato chips.

In the meantime, if you really want the convenience (or the experience) of the school cafeteria, you probably can find something you can eat, especially if you stick with fresh fruit.

2. Classroom Projects

Even in high school, it's still possible to run across a classroom experiment that involves flour. Your biology class might breed flour beetles (which feed on flour), for example, or your chemistry class might experiment with a flour-fueled baking soda and vinegar volcano.

No one with celiac or gluten sensitivity should be in the room when flour is used, since the airborne gluten guarantees cross contamination (and potentially bad symptoms).

It's easier in high school, where you have a choice of elective classes, to avoid classes that involve outright baking. But teens with celiac and gluten sensitivity will need to talk with teachers of their other classes to see if flour will be used in the classroom — home economics, agriculture and science classes are particularly suspect, but it can happen in virtually any class.

3. Classroom Performance

Some teenagers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may find they struggle in school due to their condition.

If it took you a long time to get diagnosed, you may have missed a fair amount of school while your doctors were trying to puzzle out your condition. You might still miss some school while you and your family learn the gluten-free diet, since mistakes are common in the early days.

Even if you've been following the diet for a long time, you still may get glutened occasionally. For many people, a glutening brings brain fog — fuzzy thinking coupled with fatigue — along with its various other symptoms. This can pose problems at school, and some teens find they don't do as well on tests and assignments when they've been exposed to gluten.

The solution? Follow the gluten-free diet as carefully as you possibly can, and never, ever cheat.

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