The "I Will Not Give Up Gluten, I Won't, I Won't, I Won't!" Guide to Feeding a Gluten Free Kid
There is nothing in the world worse than knowing that there is something wrong with your child, and not knowing what exactly it is. Doctor after doctor, test after test, you wait. You pray for an answer, and don't know what answer to hope for.
And then the answer comes. Celiac Disease.
Maybe you already know a bit about Celiac Disease, perhaps it runs in the family or a friend has it, or you've been reading anything and everything you could find about each and every test the doctor ran. Or maybe you're the one researching symptoms who demanded the test. Perhaps you know nothing about Celiac Disease except that it means your life is about to change.
The one indisputable fact you will need to accept is that the only efficient treatment is dietary. Your Celiac child will need to give up gluten and all gluten containing foods, and any food that may have come into contact with gluten for the rest of their life. It feels like forever. It feels impossible. It's maddening. But it's necessary.
Accept it in a hurry and move on, because as long as your child is consuming gluten, their bodies will continue to produce antibodies to it and they'll keep experiencing symptoms. Once you accept the Celiac diagnosis, you need to sit down with your child.
How you present information to your child is going to be the most important factor in how well your child takes this news. Remember, it may mean more work for you. But to a child, food is comfort, reassurance, nourishment, and it should be safe. Finding out that they need to give up something that may comprise a large portion of their daily calories is a lot to take in.
Some kids are bound to argue.
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You want your kids to cooperate when it comes to their new medically restricted diet. Their health depends on it. So does your sanity.
Speaking of sanity, don't forget to have the rest of the family tested for Celiac Disease. Remember, just because you don't think you're symptomatic doesn't mean you don't have it, and since there is a genetic component, Celiac Disease often runs in families. Then, consider making the household gluten free, for your own sake as well as that of your gluten free kid.
Kids hate restrictions. As soon as you tell them not to do something, the first thing they do is go out and give it a try. "Don't touch that switch" is often followed by the sound of a fire alarm and a quiet "oops". When it comes to eating gluten free, learning the hard way isn't the best approach.
Rather than sitting down and telling your kids that they can no longer eat macaroni and cheese, or toast or Cheerios again, try telling them that the doctor has finally figured out how to make them feel better. And then tell them that they need to change their diet.
Let them know that you don't like this plan any better than they do. But you are willing to do anything you need to do to make them feel better. Then tell them you need help. (Kids love to help) Explain that you want to make sure that even though they can't have a lot of their old favorites, you want them to still have lots of delicious options.
Sit down together and make a list. Let your kids brainstorm. Write down everything and anything they like to eat. Include birthday cake with lots of frosting, watermelon, even their favorite pizza. Hopefully it will be a long list, with lots of variety.
After you finish this list, grab a couple of highlighters. A nice green tinted one works well, and maybe a pink.
Highlight all the 'still safe to eat' foods with your green highlighter. This includes things like fruit and vegetables. Don't forget to highlight chips and ice cream! Of course, cookie dough ice cream may be off limits until you find a gluten free version, but most vanillas and chocolates and even mint chocolate chips are still gluten free.
Now use the pink marker to highlight the foods that need some adapting. Spaghetti and meatballs, sandwiches, and cookies will fall under the pink highlighter category. Stress that you will find alternate options for these favorites. But you'll need the child's help.
Once you have that list of favorite foods, ask your child what their one favorite that they want adapted might be. Pizza? Chicken Noodle Soup? Tacos? (Tacos are easy!) Promise that this problem, finding yummy pizza that is safe for them, will be your first priority after actually finding enough basics to keep in the cupboards, of course.
Then start researching. Go to the health food store, look online, check local restaurants (many have gluten free menus), hold a taste test week. Your child will be reassured that you are just as concerned about their taste buds as you are about keeping them gluten free.
What Can We Eat?
In order to prevent accidental gluten exposure, or simple caving to temptation, it's a good idea to take the whole family gluten free at home. (After testing for Celiac Disease, of course) Make home the safe haven, where you don't stress about crumbs. Of course, this may lead to the question "What can we EAT?"
- Fruit. Fruit is gluten free, as long as it isn't cut on a crumbly bread board or served up alongside crackers. Fruit is also slightly sweet and can be fun. Apples, pears, kumquats, pluots...buy both the old fashioned favorites and a few new varieties to try out.
- Cheese. Cheese is also generally gluten free (an exception being certain brands of blue cheese. Read labels. It's a bit of a pain at first, but you'll get used to it. You'll also find yourself putting a lot more things back on the shelf than you used to, not for gluten content but because you can't bring yourself to eat that.) Cheese also goes remarkable well with most of the above mentioned fruit.
- Crackers. What kid doesn't love crackers? So you can't eat woven wheats anymore. Thanks to the prevalence of gluten intolerance, there are a plethora of gluten free crackers available. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. Plethora is a bit strong. But there are a selection of gluten free crackers at most stores. Look for a corn or rice base. Serve them up with cheese and hummus and olives. Or deli meat. Or guacamole. Or even by themselves.
- Meat. Meat is gluten free. Your child may not be able to have a drive through hamburger bun, but they can still eat a burger. If you want to go through the drive through, check celiac.com or another reputable site for a list of gluten free friendly establishments and ask for a burger patty with all the fixings your kid prefers...and no bun. Remember to mention that this is for allergy reasons.
- French fries. Your child (and everyone else) will be happy to know those fried shoestring potatoe strands are often gluten free. Get an ingredient list from the restaurant manager, and make sure they use a dedicated fryer so there isn't any cross contamination from the onion rings.
- Potatoes. While potatoes are technically a vegetable, they are also a versatile gluten free carb and deserve their own listing. (besides the french fry bullet above) Whether they're baked, mashed or fried, potatoes add a hearty edition to most meals. Roast a chicken up with some potatoes and serve green beans on the side, no one will notice the biscuits are missing. (except the vegetarians, so either don't invite them over on chicken night or serve them extra potatoes)
- Beans. Beans are naturally gluten free. You can toss them in a crockpot overnight, or pay a bit extra for the luxury of opening pre-cooked cans. They come baked, refried (which is a fancy name for mashed) or simply cooked and ready to turn into whatever you've got in mind. They make great additions to soup and salad, and serve up nicely alongside many main dishes. Or just toss them on top of some rice.
- Peanut butter. Most kids who aren't allergic to peanut butter appear to live off the stuff. Of course, gluten bread is out. Taste test some of the gluten free options. Better yet, bake a gluten free cake and serve peanut butter sandwiches on it. It's a little on the sweet side, so buy unsweetened peanut butter and skip the marshmallows (although, those too are gluten free) Or core an apple and fill it with creamy peanut butter. Or make a peanut butter banana boat. Your child might forget that the whole point is to skip the bread and just have fun experimenting.
- Yoghurt. Most yoghurt is gluten free, but you should check the label just in case. Obviously granola toppings are out, but Enjoy Life and Udi's both have some tasty gluten free granola options available...so you can make your own yoghurt breakfast parfait.
- Cereal. Most kids munch on cereal for breakfast, and many munch on it for lunch and snacks, too. But many kid themed cereals are filled with high fiber, whole wheat 'goodness'. That doesn't mean cereal is off limits. Envirokidz cereal is gluten free, and has kid-appeal with cute endangered animals on the boxes. Koala Crisp tends to be especially popular. There are other gluten free options available, if you read labels.
Which dinner do you miss most?
But What About Our Old (Gluten Filled) Favorites?
You don't have to live without your old favorites. There are tons of gluten free options available. Not all will satisfy your craving, but a lot of them come close. Here are a few dinner ideas.
- Mac and Cheese: Annie's makes a really good rice pasta based boxed mac and cheese. Just add butter. If you're dairy free, too, Amy's makes a frozen rice mac and soy cheez option my daughter enjoys.
- Pizza: My gluten free, dairy free daughter's favorite frozen pizza option is Amy's spinach pizza on a rice crust with soy 'cheez'.
- Bagels: Our vote goes to Udi's bagels. We like the plain and the raisin.
- Bread: There is no substitute for gluten bread. But if we have to live without gluten, the affordable and edible option we prefer is Rudi's sandwich bread. It looks like 'real' bread for sandwiches at school.
- Burritos: Just use a gluten free tortilla and you'll be fine. Mexican main dishes are often naturally gluten free.
- Hot dogs and Hamburgers: What kid doesn't like barbeque? We like the Udi's brand for both. Second choice is Chebe bread mix; which can also be used to make 'pigs in a blanket' In a pinch, both hot dogs and hamburgers can be served without the bun.
Gluten Free Gameplan
While the prospect of going gluten free seems overwhelming at first, especially to a kid, there are lots of options you can eat. Try to keep your outlook positive. Focus on one favorite at a time to replace with an acceptable substitute, and let them eat a little extra safe 'junk food' (like chips or ice cream) while you work on the learning process. Try to make finding alternatives into a game. Hold a sandwich bread taste off; or a pizza party with a variety of homemade crusts (our favorite is from a mix by Chebes)
Set out a Gluten Free gameplan that includes a timeline for getting the kitchen gluten free friendly, creating a list of safe meals and snacks, and days to experiment with old favorites (like pizza or mac and cheese). Make sure you keep things positive by focusing on how much better your child feels, or will feel, with the gluten free gameplan.
Eventually, eating gluten free will become second nature. You might find yourself forgetting that there's anything different about your diet. Until then, hang in there. Remember that eating gluten free means living symptom free. It's worth it.