In part one of this blog series, we discussed plant-based diets like veganism and vegetarianism, and how you can accommodate for these lifestyles in your cafeteria. There’s another, even more common dietary restriction you probably face: gluten. While the gluten-free diet has certainly become a fad in the past few years, there are sufficient medical reasons, like a gluten intolerance, that may prompt a student to follow this diet. Gluten intolerances vary and require slightly different restrictions for each individual. That being said, it’s easy to cover all your bases and accommodate for all types of gluten-free individuals once you understand them.

Three Different Gluten Intolerances:

1. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder. It is specifically related to gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Symptoms of celiac disease typically include gastrointestinal issues, bone and joint pain, and fatigue.

2. Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergies are different than celiac disease. A wheat allergy is not an autoimmune disorder, but rather an abnormal immune reaction to wheat. It is related to any of the proteins found in wheat – not just gluten. Occasionally, individuals with a wheat allergy can still eat gluten if it is derived from a non-wheat source. When an individual with a wheat allergy consumes wheat, antibodies are sent to “attack” the wheat, and symptoms like itching, hives, or even anaphylaxis may become present.

3. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Unfortunately, medical professionals do not have as much information on non-celiac gluten sensitivity yet. This is typically diagnosed once celiac disease and a wheat allergy are both ruled out. It’s not an autoimmune disorder and it’s also not an allergy. Non-celiac gluten sensitivities seem to be related specifically to gluten, and the symptoms are similar to those related to celiac disease.

The question that remains is “how in the world do I navigate all these different gluten sensitivities?”

The answer is to keep your meals for these individuals 100% wheat-free AND gluten-free. Steering clear of both substances and any derivatives of these foods should cover all your bases for any gluten or wheat sensitivity. Keeping these meals wheat and gluten-free can either be done through substitutes for food items (that typically contain wheat or gluten), or by offering meals that are already gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Substitutions

Classics like pizza and grilled cheese can still be safely offered to students with gluten sensitivities by using substitutes. Cauliflower pizza crust and gluten-free baked goods like bread, cookies, and breakfast muffins are all popular current food trends. It’s a great way to safely serve your gluten-free kids while keeping your menu exciting and appealing.

Gluten-Free Without the Substitutes

There are plenty of meals that can be served in the cafeteria that are already gluten-free by default. The great thing about these meals is that they’re safe for gluten and wheat sensitive children, and they’re also sure to please your other students that don’t have dietary restrictions. Chef salads are a classic that can easily be made gluten-free by removing the croutons. If you still want to offer a crunchy salad component, try sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Try Asian dishes like chicken or tofu teriyaki served with veggies and rice, or turn your burritos into bowls by getting rid of the tortilla and serving the burrito ingredients over beans and rice.

Serving children with alternative diets doesn’t have to be difficult or boring. These students are just as much your customer as anyone else, so offering delicious, creative, gluten-free options in your cafeteria is important! What are some of your favorite gluten-free options that you serve in your cafeteria?