Celiac.com 08/02/2016 - One thing I have noticed since becoming a parent is how every place we go there are treats and candy. Even cashiers hand out candy at the checkout. Food is everywhere. Our kids are constantly being bombarded with sugary baked goods and salty snacks.
The diagnosis of celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a huge eye opener for many. I think one of the hardest things for a family starting a gluten-free diet is how different our diet is from the way most people cook and eat. Since the 1950's we have morphed from TV dinners to buying entire meals from the grocery store deli, and our breads, cakes, and rolls from the bakery. And we've moved from a dinner out being a rare treat to the drive-thru being the norm for many families. Some parents never learned how to cook themselves, so it can be quite a shock to go from a world of just picking up dinner at the drive-thru or the deli, to a world of cooking from scratch at home. I know. I was a processed foods kid, and now I am definitely a "semi-homemade" cook.
Going gluten-free can be overwhelming at first. It will get easier. Here are a few tips and resources for raising a gluten-free child.
Take advantage of the internet and your smart phone. I love subscribing to digital gluten-free magazines, finding new recipes and reading books from my Kindle App. Make grocery shopping easy by using The Gluten-Free Grocery Guide by Triumph Dining (1). They have produced an app that tells you which foods are gluten-free at the grocery store. The app features popular brands and even includes store brands. They have done the research for you by calling brands and manufacturers to create this resource. I know how hard it is getting through the grocery store with kids in tow. It needs to be as easy as possible!
Know that you are not alone. There are many other parents facing the same obstacles as you. Surround yourself with support. R.O.C.K, Raising Our Celiac Kids (2) is a support group that can help you with the challenges ahead. Two other support groups you may look into are The Gluten Intolerance Group (3) and Celiac Sprue Association (4), while these are not groups for kids, they still provide valuable help and information.
Talk to family and friends about the seriousness of your child's needs. A lot of people don't understand how celiac disease or gluten sensitivity effects someone. Educate them. Make it clear that foods can't just be given to your kid, even a food that one may think of as gluten-free. Tell them about hidden sources of gluten. Let them know why a gluten-free menu at a restaurant may not actually be gluten-free. If your child spends a lot of time with a relative go over items in their home, like their toaster, that may be sources of cross contamination.
Teach your child the effects of cheating on their diet can do. Short term and long term. There are going to be many times of temptation. They are eventually going to be teenagers and have their own transportation and money. They need to be able to make smart choices as young adults.
Be prepared for class parties and classmates' birthdays. I suggest making it easier for yourself by giving a good supply of treats to your kid's teacher and having a good store of treats at home. Some yummy pre-packaged treats are Jelly Belly Snack Packs, Enjoy Life Cookies, and Lucy's Cookies. These are great choices for multiple food sensitivities. I also recommend packing snacks for around town, play dates, and after school activities. Having healthy gluten-free snacks on hand is important for when there may not be any allergy-friendly snacks available.
I try to stick to as many natural foods as possible, but occasionally, I like a treat or an easy meal. Thanks to the huge growth in gluten-free consumers there are a ton of food choices available. Gluten-free pizza, mac 'n' cheese, chicken tenders, cookies, pasta, even gluten-free toaster pastries. If you live in a rural area, with stores that don't carry a lot of gluten-free items, take advantage of online shopping. I like the ease of shopping from Amazon, Vitacost and The Gluten-Free Mall. As a busy mom I love that I can get items delivered to my door.
Get your kids in the kitchen. Teaching your kids to cook is an invaluable resource that will serve them life-long. Learning how to make a meal from whole natural foods can be fun and it teaches them how to eat a healthy diet. You can do this yourself or there are a lot of kids' cooking programs at local culinary centers, grocery stores, and community centers.
Kids will adapt and adjust. If they are older and have been eating gluten-containing foods their whole lives, it will be more difficult because their palates have been formed. Try to ease the transition by having them go grocery shopping with you so they can learn what is still available to them, and then do something fun like chocolate gluten-free waffles. Or pick up some gluten-free ice cream cones and ice cream. Let them know they don't have to give up everything. Having a positive attitude is essential. Children will model what you show them.