A Type 1 School Lunch Takes a Village

Columnist Sandra Henderson shares how a team of school officials make sure her T1 daughter eats well at school.



The look on Miss Ronda’s face said more than a thousand words, and when I saw it I suddenly realized what I had been asking of her this past school year.

Miss Ronda is the health paraprofessional at our daughter’s elementary school. She is a dear and we are so grateful to her for helping Lela navigate the logistics of school lunch. I was recently hashing out some upcoming lunches with her when the grandmother of another second-grader with Type 1 joined us and apprehensively shared that her granddaughter wants to eat school lunch, just like Lela.

“It’s not as complicated as you think,” I said, encouragingly.

That’s when Miss Ronda gave me that pregnant look. With it, I realized I had better say thanks to every single person buzzing around the front office that morning, from the registrar to the principal to the secretary, not to mention the other half of Lela’s elementary lunch task-force in the cafeteria and the school kitchen. And even if I thanked all of them, I would still be leaving some people out. Nothing is simple about feeding a kid with Type 1, but Lela’s school embraced the challenge.

First, it’s worth explaining why we are so dedicated to empowering our kid to eat hot lunch at school while so many other communities are fighting against nutritionally-limited school lunch options. School food in the Boulder Valley School District has already been revolutionized by the renowned Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Cooper. Chef Ann has been fighting for healthful, seasonal, organic and regional foods in schools for 20 years.

Still, until last year, I packed lunch and snacks from home for Lela every day, meticulously weighing every ounce of leftover pasta and measuring every spoonful of sunflower butter on her sandwiches. An index card with itemized carb counts was a daily lunchbox staple.

thnkstk_101718242_cafeteria_serving_child_300pxThen, halfway through first grade, Lela announced she wanted to eat school lunch. My husband and I instantly had a laundry list of concerns. Who would add up the carbs on her tray? Who would guesstimate whether our first grader, who hadn’t learned fractions yet, had eaten ½ or ⅔ of a roasted delicata squash?

We needn’t have worried. Our willful child had mobilized a small taskforce to rise to the challenge on the same day she proclaimed her right to eat the same hot lunch as her schoolmates. Just how dedicated is Lela’s taskforce? Watching the team swing into action is something to behold.

Like when the cafeteria served off-the-menu hummus wraps that my daughter wanted to try, and the school district’s head dietician not only emailed Miss Ronda and me the carb count in advance, but also emailed the two lunch ladies at Lela’s school. The note, which still makes me want to cry, said, “Can you please make sure that Lela gets the proper portion for hummus wrap on Thursday?”

One sentence concerning one child in a school district that serves 29,000 students. A quick note like this makes a world of a difference for a parent of a child with Type 1. It showed me that the dietician and her team are right there with me. They knew that if the hummus wrap wasn’t standard size, the carb count would have been off.

My daughter’s “village” is there for her so she can run along with her friends and be a kid. When the lunch lady handed her her hummus wrap that day, Lela had no clue that leading up to that moment was a string of emails between the dietician at district headquarters, her health para and her mom. She loved the hummus wrap. Time for recess. That was all.

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Sandra Henderson is a freelance writer/editor, reporting on clean technology, modern architecture and design, healthy living and more. She is also very lucky to be the mother of Lela Rose, an adventurous little girl who doesn’t let type 1 diabetes stop her from dreaming big and loving sports. The German expat shares her home near Boulder, Colo. with her husband, daughter, two cats and a wannabe diabetes dog—Zola, the chocolate lab pup.