Me: “Mmmm, Nora. These pumpkin bars are so good. You are the luckiest keto-kid on the block.”
Nora: “No, I’m the only keto-kid on the block.”
And that pretty much sums up the social issue with starting school. Nora has been so amazingly compliant about her diet that the last 20 months has been relatively easy emotionally. Also, she has been home with her beloved Laura while I’m at work, socializing mostly with other families that we know and who know Nora. And if someone offers her food, our assertive little Nora clearly states: “no thanks, I can’t, I’m on the ketogenic diet for epilepsy.” I have heard it with my own ears. But I was also there to step in if Nora did not assert herself. When she is at school, she is on her own.
Starting kindergarten means that everything is new. All new people and kids who eat together 3 times per day. Nora is in school from 8:15 to 2:40, where they eat breakfast, snack and lunch together. Of course, Nora’s teacher and school staff are informed about her diet (I will address that in part 3), so it is not up to a 5 year old to explain it to the adults.
But she is her own advocate with her peers and she is well aware that she is the only keto-kid on the block. Other kids have other food issues to navigate, such as nut, dairy and gluten allergies. Plenty of other kids bring their own lunches and a few opt-out of breakfast. But after just the first day she was aware that *everyone* was drinking milk with their breakfasts and lunches and she wanted milk too.
I was trying to avoid liquids in her school meals, which are only asking to be spilled. But when she really wanted to have “milk,” I felt like it was more important to honor her wishes than avoid the risk of spilling. We’ve been giving her “keto milk” made with cream (an amount needed to achieve the ratio in the meal), diluted with water and with a drop of vanilla or other flavoring (she also likes banana). Our standard packing method is an 8-oz mason jar, the kind you use for canning jam. This summer I punched a hole in the top of a lid to fit in a straw. To make it spill-proof in a lunch bag, you just add a second solid lid under the screw cap, then to serve remove the second lid and insert a straw.
The straw is great for avoiding big spills while drinking, but I think that the changing of the lids is a bit much for a 5 year old who has 25 minutes to eat while surrounded by other kids. After the first day of school I tested her on unscrewing the lid to drink directly from the jar like a cup, which worked fine for the few days that we tried it.
I also started searching for small travel-and-kid-friendly cups that we could send to school. We came up with these reCAP mason jar lids and have used them successfully for the last week. They are plastic and have a rubber gasket to create a good seal. Nora can pop open the pouring lid herself. I am still nervous that the pour top will not stay closed in a lunchbox, but so far, so good. I check and double check it before I send her off.
I also brought in 6 of her Mexican Chocolate Protein Cupcakes with frosting and put them in the school freezer, so that she has a snack on hand if the class has a special treat. The question will be whether everyone remembers that she has a treat in the freezer. But if I tell Nora about it, she will be sure to inform everyone. Next I have to figure out how I will be informed that she had the extra snack at school. I suspect that I will hear it from Nora first, and they are at-ratio so if I don’t hear about it the ratio is fine, she just gets lots of extra calories that day.
She has been to school for 8 days now, and every day she comes back with empty food containers and no stories of spilling. It all seems to be working so far from her end. I feel pretty confident that Nora will tell me her wishes so that her lunches are appealing and easy to eat with her class, because the top priority is to keep her happy and independently choosing to stay on the diet.
The only mishap so far was one day when the whole class did not get morning snack because their schedule was rushed. When I picked her up the teacher reported that she had an emotional day, then when we got home I discovered that she had not touched her morning snack. She was adamant that no one ate snack, so the next day I told her teacher that if they don’t eat snack she needs to get that food at lunch time. Her calories are apportioned over the day, and missing some will make a girl cranky. It’s in everyone’s best interest to feed Nora.