I’m feeling a bit demoralised today. 10 years in, and we’re still having to explain at every step …

My coeliac daughter – who has been on many residentials, with her primary school, with both Brownies and Guides, and also for week-long residential holidays, has just gone up to secondary school. As part of their induction, the Year 7 classes (180 children) are going off for a 3-day team-building session.

canoeI think that’s a wonderful thing, and she’s looking forward to it. I have no worries at all about the residential itself. She’s not going to be homesick, she’s going to enjoy the activities, she’s going to make friends. But I am worried about the food.

Usually when I send my daughter on these events, I send a pack of gluten free staples as needed – bread, perhaps pasta, some cake etc. So I asked the school to find out what I should send.

The centre the children are going to is a dedicated centre for activity sessions for schools, and advertises itself as able to cope with special diets. However – on being notified that my daughter is a coeliac, the centre says “tell us what she needs, and we’ll get it”.

Well, that’s a kind offer, but is it me, or is this just not reassuring? What are their menus? How will I know what she needs to match what they’re providing? If they don’t know what she needs, how will they understand about the cross-contamination issues? What if I provide a list, but they’re offering something I haven’t thought of, and assume it’s OK for her to eat because it’s not on the list?

Suppose they only do one of these 3-day courses each week – that is 180 children for us, but they cater for up to 300. Statistics says that here in the UK at least one and maybe three of those children each week will need a gluten free diet. Surely, surely, they’ve met this before …

The answer to that question “what does she need?” ranges from the very brief, easy answer, to the extensive, list-everything-and-explain-what-she-can/can’t-eat.

1. She needs a gluten free diet.

OK – that is too brief. Virtually nobody in the ‘normal’ world understands the extent to which gluten infiltrates the diet.

2. She needs a diet free from wheat, barley and rye – and contaminated oats.

Better – but still not clear enough, as you can’t be sure that people will understand that ‘flour’ comes from wheat, and that this will include rusk, and breadcrumbs and pastry and pasta and cake and … And that is before you get into questions about gravy, custard, soft drinks etc.

Somebody was looking for help on the gluten free diet this week, and found my site with the question “is there gluten in toast?” Well, yes there is – unless you make the toast with gluten free bread. And even then, you have to make it in a way that doesn’t get ordinary breadcrumbs mixed up with it in the cooking. So you see, you can’t assume people will understand …

3. So do we spell it out?

She needs breakfast – so, maybe special breakfast cereal, bread, yoghurt, sausages, baked beans … what are you offering the others for breakfast?

She needs snacks – so, special biscuits or cake perhaps – or at least fruit.

She needs a midday meal and an evening meal, and maybe a supper – so what are the others having? If it’s packed lunches, she’ll need special bread, crisps, biscuits …. If it’s a cooked meal, she’ll need … well, you get the idea. Every meal needs to be thought through and alternatives identified.

What does she need? isn’t really an appropriate question. Particularly if I’ve already given them answers 1 and 2, and explained the need for 3.

I feel dispirited.