Back to School Tips: When Nutrition Matters Most

Aug 20, 2018

For students with strict nutrition requirements due to chronic or rare conditions, eating meals away from home can pose serious health risks. Chessica Stephney, clinical dietitian at Accredo’s Rare Disease Therapeutic Resource Centers, offers these tips.

Francie Article

These days, students are gearing up for classes, and it’s an exciting time filled with preparations for the new school year ahead. For families with children who will need to take prescription medications during school hours, we’ve provided these tips to help keep them safe and adherent to their therapy.

Yet, for families whose students’ disease or condition relies on certain nutrition requirements in conjunction with therapy, the start of a new school year can be an unsettling time. A new routine may disrupt a child’s access to certain nutrition requirements, which could result in serious health consequences.

For example, patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia must adhere to a very low fat diet, while patients with cystic fibrosis need extra calories as well as vitamin and mineral supplementation. For oncology patients, a meal plan may fluctuate depending on how a child feels and if treatments cause nausea, mouth blisters, or other side effects.

In addition to nutrition challenges, students may require flexibility in their studies when they need to miss class for doctors’ visits, treatments, or rest.

Here are some tips to help keep young patients safe and adherent to their nutrition and therapy plans:

Meet With Your Healthcare Provider: Obtain an up-to-date and detailed treatment plan that can be shared with the child’s school. The plan should specify medications the child is taking, nutrition requirements, as well as information on when and why a child may need to be absent from classes.

Develop a School Support Team: Set up time with teachers, the school nurse, administrators, cafeteria workers, and the school counselor to educate and inform the school about the child’s condition and needs. This helps to ensure your child is treated fairly and has a good support system in the school environment.

Consider Having a 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program Developed: These plans may be available to your child as a result of federal laws that help protect the needs of people with disabilities. These can help ensure your child is treated fairly, has a customized educational plan, and has access to appropriate care while at school.

Make Meal Planning a Priority: Parents can pack a healthy lunch or snack for their student or research what meal options are available at school. I often encourage parents to get children involved in meal planning or preparation so they become active partners in following dietary restrictions. When school parties are planned, make sure the administration and teachers are aware of your child’s restrictions.

With detailed planning and collaboration, parents, educators, healthcare providers, and caregivers can help ease the transition and create an environment that supports the students’ nutrition and health needs.

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