IDEA and Kids with Special Dietary Needs

IDEA and Kids with Special Dietary Needs

IDEA and Kids with Special Dietary Needs

by Wrightslaw

Our doctor has recommended that my daughter, on an IEP, be gluten and dairy free.  The school is giving me a hard time, though I know they are providing a special lunch for at least one other student.
You’ll need to do some research (and so did we).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nondiscrimination regulation (7 CFR 15b), as well as the regulations governing the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, make it clear that substitutions to the regular school meal must be made for children who are unable to eat school meals because of their disabilities.
These regulations require substitutions or modifications in school meals for children whose disabilities restrict their diets.
USDA has a Guidance Manual “Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Programs”.  It explains the school food service role in providing meals to students with special dietary needs. The Guidance Manual can be found at
Nutrition Services under an IEP
The guidance addresses IDEA 2004 and the ADA and makes it clear that if a student has a documented disability that restricts their diet, the school food service department must make the substitutions as listed by a licensed physician on a medical statement form.
The physician’s statement must identify:
  • the child’s disability
  • an explanation of why the disability restricts the child’s diet
  • the major life activity affected by the disability
  • the food or foods to be omitted from the child’s diet, and the food or choice of foods that must be substituted
If your child’s IEP includes a nutrition component, the school is required to offer special meals, at no additional cost, if your child’s disability restricts her diet. When nutrition services are required under a child’s IEP, school officials need to make sure that school food service staff is involved early on in decisions regarding special meals.  It would be wise to include food service staff on the IEP Team.
Nutrition Services under a Health Care Plan
Some states supplement the IEP with a written statement specifically designed to address a student’s nutritional needs. Other states employ a “Health Care Plan” to address the nutritional needs of their students.
Nutrition Services in Cases of Food Allergies
If you request food substitutions for your child who does not have a documented disability (as defined under either Section 504 or IDEA), the school food service department may make the substitutions listed on the medical statement, but is not required to, make food substitutions for her.
However, when a doctor states that  food allergies may result in severe, life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions, the child’s condition would meet the definition of “disability,” then the substitutions prescribed by the licensed physician must be made.
Under no circumstances are school food service staff to revise or change a diet prescription or medical order.
If your child has “life threatening” food allergies that are part of his disability you should read When a School Refuses to Protect a Child with Life Threatening Allergies at
Other Special Dietary Needs
USDA Guidelines define a person with special dietary needs as someone who” may have a food allergy or intolerance (for example, lactose intolerance) but does not have life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions when exposed to food(s) to which he/she is allergic.”
At the very least, the  Guidelines strongly encourage “food substitutions or modifications for children without disabilities with medically certified special dietary needs who are unable to eat  regular meals as prepared.”
State Regulations
Be sure to check your state regulations as well as your local district policy regarding  school nutrition programs.
USDA Guidance and Resources
- See more at:


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