Oh gosh, as an adult, removing gluten from my diet was hard, and I cannot imagine being a gluten-free kid! Raising kids is tough enough without them needing a special diet. Don’t despair! There are many gluten-free kids out there celebrating their life of gluten freedom!
Kids are a lot smarter (and tougher) than what we sometimes give them credit for. If your child needs a gluten-free lifestyle, nutritionists suggest the entire family get on board with the journey to gluten-freedom for the first few weeks. Family support plants a thought-seed that he is not “different”. Speaking freely about symptoms of gluten intolerance and learning to identify foods containing gluten prepares your child to eat safe foods only.
Or perhaps the entire family’s diet has changed. If so, that does not mean going gluten-free for any family member will be easy. However, it is a lot easier to switch to a diet free of gluten today than it was years ago. Many food brands are jumping on the band wagon by offering their versions of gluten-free foods, making it easier to find these specialized foods. Don’t be overwhelmed when you see the prices. I promise you can eat gluten-free on a budget!
Educating kids, as well as other people involved in your child’s life, is a big job! Where to begin??? Well, let’s break it down in three easy steps:
1. Talk To Your Children About Living Gluten-Free
Regardless of the reason you are choosing to serve a gluten-free diet, try to explain it to your child in terms they can understand. Kids understand straight talk better than you might suspect. They will understand if you put it in terms that are age appropriate. For example, you won’t explain the digestive facts to a three-year-old, but you can tell them that gluten-free foods will help their tummies to feel better. Older children will have a better understanding and you should share more facts with them. Teach them early on about proper nutrition and they will carry this lesson with them throughout their life.
2. Teaching Your Kids to Teach Their Friends About Gluten-Free
Children need to have a good understanding about what gluten can do to their body, especially if they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance. It is imperative your child know what gluten-free is. As your child grows older they will be away from home more and surrounded by their friends. They will have opportunities to eat meals or snacks and they need to know to explain to their friends why they cannot have gluten.
Share with your kids why you are feeding your family a gluten-free diet. Help them to understand the health issues that can occur if they eat gluten. Make it personal to them. Teach them the many foods that contain gluten so they can memorize it and learn to avoid them. They can turn around and share with their friends what you have taught them.
Give your child good alternatives to gluten based foods so he will not have to do without when he is not at home with you. By making sure kids know the full truth of the harm gluten does to their body, they will be armed with the right knowledge to be able to defend why they eat the way they do talk with their friends.
3. Talk to People in Your Child’s Life
Meet with anyone who may have a role in feeding your child, i.e., teachers, coaches, daycare workers, babysitters, friend’s parents, etc. Make it a point to sit down with each one and explain why your child is eating gluten-free and what it means. This will help them to understand the importance of helping you in keeping your child’s diet.
You can also help by making a list of foods your child can eat. Don’t forget to include a list of substitutes for foods as well. People who do not eat gluten-free do not understand where gluten may be found. Include a list of foods that might have hidden gluten. Offer suggestions on what to fix for your child to eat for meals and snacks. This will help tremendously to give you peace of mind. You will have a double line of defense by education those who deal with your child. Also, if you have educated your child, they can help by sharing with others about what they can or cannot eat.
Healthy Gluten-Free Food Choices
Healthy gluten-free food choices include nuts, fruits, vegetables, and meats. From the grocery store you can find packaged foods that are gluten-free but be sure to read the labels. Check your grocery store for these special packaged gluten-free foods:
Pizza (Freschetta makes a great frozen gluten-free pepperoni pizza!)
Pretzels (My favorite brand is Glutino. They are delicious!)
Tips for Helping Kids Live Gluten-Free
Education. Teach your kids about why they must eat gluten-free. If they understand that by avoiding gluten they will feel better, they will want to choose the right foods to eat.
Keep snacks on hand. Children thrive on snack time. If you only cook gluten-free meals and do not offer snacks in between, your child may have a hard time maintaining their gluten-free diet. A protein-packed hard-boiled egg and apple slices make a great snack.
Make eating gluten-free a habit. After a while (some researchers say it takes 14 to 21 days to develop a habit), eating gluten-free will become second nature. Children are creatures of habit; so always have the right healthy foods available for them. They will soon develop a taste for nutritious foods and won’t want junk food.
Bake cookies. Cookies and kids go together. Start with an easy gluten-free cookie recipe, so your child can be involved. It is also a great way to create lasting memories.
Grocery shopping. Take her to the supermarket and let her pick out a couple of fruits and veggies she hasn’t tasted before.
Get your child involved. If she’s already in big kid school, help her make a list of safe and unsafe foods. Younger kids can draw or cut out pictures of good foods and bad foods (for them).
How to Manage Bullying
We all know kids can be downright cruel. No matter how much effort you take to educate your gluten-free kid about gluten intolerance, odds are some mean kid will bully him. Perhaps, he’ll be at a birthday party, when one kid won’t quit making snarky remarks about how the yummy cake. And, isn’t it “too bad” he can’t eat a piece.
Why not throw a party and introduce your child’s friends to gluten-free foods? Meet with his teacher and visit his class explaining gluten intolerance and symptoms. Remember to bring a dozen or so of delicious gluten-free oatmeal cookies!
Your child may still worry because she must eat different foods than her peers. You can help by packing her lunches with food that looks like what her friends bring. For instance, gluten-free bread no longer tastes like cardboard. She can enjoy her peanut butter sandwich, fruit and cookies with her BFF!
Be ready for your child to experience bad eating days. He might whine, even get angry, and possibly demand to know why he can’t just eat like everybody else. When that happens, a hug and “I love you!” goes a long way! (Life really is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent attitude!) Then suggest making a gluten-free pizza for lunch!