One of the toughest issues I’ve encountered with gluten-intolerance is what to do when faced with a cafeteria or group meal situation. In a sense, I guess I am lucky to have realized my gluten-intolerance later in life, as sometimes happens. I went through the school years and college dorm years eating what was put in front of me with no real association between various symptoms and the food I was eating.
For children and young people with food sensitivities, it is different. At a time in life when eating in the cafeteria with everyone else may be part of fitting in, they need food tailored to their system. I suppose one option is for parents to pack lunches for children with food sensitivities, but what if the family needs the support of meals and snacks provided by public subsidy as many do?
The latest is this, schools are struggling with providing gluten-free meals to students with sensitivities, to the point where some are considering dropping out of the National School Lunch Program.
Of course, celiac disease/ gluten-intolerance is only one food sensitivity. Lactose intolerance is another, and the eight highly allergic foods—shellfish, bony fish, eggs, dairy, soy, wheat, groundnuts (peanuts) and tree nuts—are another category of food sensitivity that can effect children, in particular. In addition, some children may live with cultural food restrictions or strong preferences (halal, parve, Lent), that while not life threatening, are valued and protected by our government.
So, to meet population goals—improve public health, human nutrition, and raise children into successful adults—we create a program to provide lunch, and sometimes breakfast and snacks, in schools. Imperfect and incomplete—fails to reach under four year olds, misses school breaks and summers, weekends, etc But without question, this is certainly a goal which is valuable, sensible, and subsidized lunch in school is better than the alternative for many children and communities.
How does one achieve the goals of that program in a cost effective manner, and also treat each student as an individual? Failing to recognize individual need can cause death (in the case of those who may experience anaphylaxis), aggravate chronic conditions (like celiac individuals), simply interfere with learning if a child needs to leave school because food has made them sick or they skip meals because the food presented might make them sick, is something the child has been taught not to eat, or perhaps is something the child doesn’t understand?
I suppose the “cheap” answer is look at the qualifier “in a cost effective manner”, and then provide the age old solution—throw money at it, qed. If you believe in living on a budget—or if you don’t have a choice? Well, . . . ., I would say, that honestly, I don’t know the answer. I would have to research it and get back to you. What I do believe, is that there is an answer. Because Democracy. Because Individual. Because problem-solving. Because New World Order. Because there is always a solution.