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Celiac Exchange Student Prepares to Leave: Lessons Learned

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Amy Leger

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Ida our 17, turned 18-year-old, exchange student from Norway will be leaving us in 9 days. As I look back the year has gone by so fast. It has been a year of growing in the celiac lifestyle - with a teenager who doesn’t need me hovering over her all the time. Although not to say she couldn’t have used it once in a while.

I introduced you to Ida in one of my first posts back in November. I explained how we were blessed with her presence for the school year and  about some of the challenges we faced, including with school lunches. As the year has gone on, you’ve heard about prom, a pizza party for her birthday, planning a trip to Hawaii, and Ida’s first Thanksgiving dinner (never had pie before).

But besides that I do feel like I’ve learned more about managing a teenager with celiac disease.  While this may be old hat for some veterans, I thought I would let you know what I found:

  1. Save your pennies for the teen years! The older they are the more they eat! Even my trim Norwegian teen went through a lot of gluten-free food! Way more than what I’m used to.
  2. They don’t want to be a bother when they’re at a friend’s house. Ida humored me when I’d ask her what she’s eating at her friend’s house and I would send food along or get more information from a parent. I’m sure when it’s Emma’s turn I’ll get an eye roll or a sing-songy “Mooom!”
  3. Try to prep them for restaurants. Teach them to do research on line. Empower them to be strong enough to recommend a gluten-free friendly place to their friends and then hope and pray they follow through.
  4. Teach them kitchen etiquette that will keep their food gluten-free; AKA don’t put your gluten-free bread on the counter next to the toaster that’s designated for regular bread (and bread crumbs)! A few paper towels will keep your food prep nice and gluten-free!

What has she learned? I would say her overall take is the gluten-free world in America is not even close to being the same as in Norway.

  • She can get McDonald's cheeseburgers on a gluten-free bun in Norway, but not in the USA. Ida says thee gluten-free buns are “really good”. Ahem..Isn’t McDonald’s an American company? Please don’t tell me someone at the headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois is ordering gluten-free buns for Europe and not here!
  • All pizza places have gluten-free options in Norway but not here. She says they have to because so many people in Norway have celiac.
  • And other just-because-it’s-gluten-free-in-Norway-doesn’t-mean-it-is-here cases. Case in point: Airheads Extreme candy. Regular Airheads appear to be gluten-free as of this post. But one day we were talking in the kitchen and she was eating Airheads Extreme Rolls. Emma had never even seen these before let alone tried them. She said “Are those gluten-free?” Ida replied, “I think so, I can eat them in Norway.” But sure enough on the back in bold letters - Wheat flour.

I am sure one of the things she’s looking forward to in going back is enjoying the food that is known and she hasn’t had in a year. However, I’ve had the pleasure to make her first Juicy Lucys, pies, Thanksgiving dinner, pasta with cream sauce, baked beans, just to name a few.  She was a good sport and while she didn’t love the cream sauce, everything else she either really liked or tolerated.  Hopefully she’ll bring some of these things she’s learned home with her.

In the meantime, I’ve had a look into what my future holds for my daughter with celiac. I am feeling at least a bit more prepared than a year ago at this time.

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Hi!

I'm a 14 year old girl from Norway with celiac, and I also want to become an exchange student in USA! I have one more ''problem'', I have diabetes too.. So, it is going to be a hard job finding someone who want me, but do you think it is possible?

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