Back-to-School During COVID

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Published August 5, 2020

Back-to-school time is here, and like nearly everything else this year it is going to be different. Families across the country will be experiencing diverse options for their school age kids, from being in class part-time to 100% remote to hybrid approaches. If you have children with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, are there unique considerations?  Read on for things to keep in mind and tips to help keep your gluten-free child healthy and safe this school year.

In-Person Learning at School

Is my kid higher risk for COVID because of their Celiac Disease?

When evaluating whether or not to select an “in-school” option, you may be wondering whether kids with celiac disease are at higher risk when it comes to COVID.


  1. There is not yet any data on COVID outcomes among those with celiac disease, but there is no reason to believe that the vast majority of individuals with celiac disease are at any greater risk.
  2. In cases where celiac disease is “active” (symptoms are present) and not well managed, and when malnutrition or other medical conditions exist, there could be increased risk.
  3. There may be a small increased risk of some infections in some celiac patients. So, it is reasonable to think there may be a small increased risk of worse outcomes from COVID among individuals with CD, but the magnitude of increased risk is thought to be very small.


Preparing for school lunch.

With part-day schedules and many cafeterias closed “school lunch” will be very different this year if it exists at all. Students may have a designated time in a classroom for a heavy snack (or “slunch” as one district calls it). This is a snack that ideally looks a little “lunch-y”, in terms of both quality and quantity.  When kids are having a later lunch than usual (at home after a long part-day in school), it’s important that the food they take to school will tide them over, in a healthy way.  To keep them fueled and focused:


Include nutritious foods that provide each of the three main nutrients: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Many foods provide two if not all three, but here are some especially good sources of each in foods that pack well.


  1. Protein: hummus, hard boiled eggs, nuts and nut butters, lunch meats like turkey or ham, yogurts & cheese.
  2. Carbohydrate: vegetables & fruits, gluten-free grain products (bread, crackers, wraps)
  3. Fat: It’s unlikely you need to focus much on fat, since many foods provide it and it’s easy to get enough. But if for instance you pack a lean turkey sandwich (without any mayo), vegetable sticks (without any hummus for dipping), and an apple, then this combo would be low in fat. A little avocado in the sandwich would take care of it though, or a small container of trail mix with nuts. (Nuts are a good source of healthy fats.)


If a child is eating at a classroom desk that was previously used by other kids, they will want to be sure that any potential cross-contact with gluten is avoided. With extra emphasis on sanitizing surfaces this is unlikely, but still worth keeping in mind. Taking their own “placemat”- type covering for the desk can provide extra security.


Remote Learning at Home 

Your child’s needs for enough quality fuel remain the same, but you may have additional flexibility on access and timing, depending on your child’s age and household set-up.


Evaluate whether it still makes sense to make a lunch in advance so neither you nor your child will need to take the time to put it together in the midst of the day’s activities.


Take advantage of the at-home option by using dinner leftovers for the next day’s lunch.


Another version of remote learning that some families are considering is forming a small “learning pod” of a few kids/families. Remember that if your gluten-free child is now spending time with kids and families that are relatively new to them, it is important to make sure they are aware of gluten-free diet basics, including the importance of avoiding cross-contact.