On August 2nd a session titled “Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Children with Special Dietary Requests was presented at the summer conference for the Nuts and Bolts of School Nutrition Programs. Educational Specialists for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education discussed solutions to common questions about serving students with special dietary needs. Featured discussion points included the documentation of dietary requests, qualifying dietary conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements for meal modifications and food substitutions.
One of the first points of the presentation that initiated discussion among audience members involved whether or not medical documentation is necessary for dietary requests. Multiple scenarios were discussed to clarify when medical documentation is and is not required. The relationship between medical documentation and IEPs, as well as meal modifications and the importance of adhering to meal requirements was also included. Please visit the JSI website for more information about the conference and to view the presentation files for the Nuts & Bolts of School Nutrition Programs Conference including the Special Dietary Needs presentation handout.
To create a successful meal accommodation based upon special dietary requests, it is important to keep three main points in mind:
1.) The need for medical documentation varies based on the situation, 2.) There are different types of meal accommodations from food allergies to texture modifications, and 3.) If applicable, ensure modified meal items meet any and all necessary nutrition standards. Be sure to refer to this excellent guide from USDA-FNS: Accommodating Children with Disabilities in the School Meal Programs, Guidance for School Food Service Professionals.
For additional resources about the special dietary needs of children at school please visit the JSI Resource Center: Special Dietary Needs and Making It Count. Additional training opportunities from JSI include Food Allergies and Gluten-Free at School Workshops to Go, Food Allergies On Demand training. The Managing Life-Threatening Allergies in Schools manual is also conveniently available online for reference.