On Starting a Gluten-Free Pilot, for Samantha Mozdzierz

Samantha Mozdzierz talks about creating a gluten-free pilot program for Birmingham Public Schools.

In April Seaholm High School, part of Birmingham Public Schools in Michigan, started a gluten-free menu pilot. FSD talked with Samantha Mozdzierz, district dietitian with Sodexo, which manages the account, about the pilot.

Q. Why did you start the gluten-free menu pilot?

We started it because there is a growing need for gluten free in the schools, so we wanted to pilot it in one of the high schools to see if kids would be interested in buying gluten-free items. I speak with a lot of parents who express that their children have a gluten allergy or gluten intolerance and then we have a couple of staff members at the high school who are on a gluten-free diet as well. Seaholm High School was the pilot location. At Seaholm there was more of a need and demand [for gluten-free items]. We wanted to try it at one high school and see how it worked out and then possibly move it on to the next high school. We selected the high school because they have a deli station where we can set up a gluten-free station and we can make the items so they don’t have to be premade so the kids can come up and order them.

We hope to expand the pilot next year to another high school, and we are looking at expanding the menu as well.

Q. What menu items do you offer?

We have a gluten-free option at the deli bar every day. There are lettuce wraps with roast beef, corned beef, ham or turkey. We also have gluten-free garden salads and chicken salads. The salads are grab and go. We make the salads ourselves. We make all the gluten-free items ourselves. Gluten-free bread is not that appealing and it is very expensive, so we are focusing on lettuce wraps. We are finding that other kids who are on a vegan diet, for example, are taking advantage of the lettuce wraps also. Our salads were already gluten-free to begin with, so I just put a sticker on it to advertise that it is gluten free.

Q. Are the gluten-free items part of a reimbursable meal?

They can be part of a reimbursable meal or sold à la carte.

Q. What kind of training did you do with your staff before starting the pilot?

I did an inservice talking about the gluten-free diet and the importance of eliminating cross contamination and focusing on safe food handling practices when working with gluten-free products.

Q. What advice would you give others who want to start a similar pilot?

Use the resources available. Some of the vendors have lists of what is gluten free. Talk with your vendors to see if new gluten-free products are coming out. There are gluten-free soups so that’s an option for us. Educate yourself and your staff.