6 Tips to Help Your Kids Go Gluten-Free
Having a child on a medically necessary specialty diet is not an experience I anticipated would be a part of my life, but life is funny like that. There are many reasons people are on a gluten-free diet, but for our family – it’s thanks to celiac disease, which means this household is on a very strict gluten-free diet.
We are lucky since our kids have really only ever known a gluten-free diet, with the switch happening when my kids were all under the age of 3. As they got older, and started to have more control over their food choices, they are aware their diet is different from others’. We have had to make a few changes and have come across some important conversations as they become more aware, and I am still learning how to ensure they’re safe when it comes to food without overwhelming them about the whole process.
Gluten-free diets are becoming more and more prevalent. If you’re transitioning your child to a gluten-free diet for whatever reason, here are some helpful tips to ease the transition for your kids and you:
1. Explain why they’re eating gluten free.
Kids don’t like to feel different, but when it comes to a gluten-free diet, they’re going to notice limitations they have that their friends may not. Take the time to explain why they’re on a special diet – use age-appropriate language and give details you may think they don’t care about. There was a time when my kids thought that only girls had to eat gluten-free (in my household that’s true, but not for others), so be sure to talk about the diet in relation to others and why they may be gluten-free (or not!) as well.
2. Educate together as a family!
The last thing you want is for your gluten-free child to feel ostracized from the family due to their diet, so make learning all about the gluten-free diet and safety a family affair. Learn together how to make sure cross-contamination doesn’t happen if you’re not transitioning the whole family, how to read labels, and the importance of surface and hand washing. Make safety a priority for all members, not just the child who eats gluten-free.
3. Take lots of time to answer questions.
If your kids are anything like mine, they have questions upon questions – even ones I’ve already answered. While these questions can get annoying quickly, taking the time to answer and yes, re-answer is important for helping them understand their diet and the importance of sticking to it. Be sure to address the emotional impact of their new diet as well – check in to see how they’re feeling and to let them know it’s okay to feel upset and to come to you with questions and complaints.
4. Show them they’re not giving up anything by swapping favourite products.
My kids really don’t like the idea of not being able to eat their favourite foods just because they’re on a gluten-free diet. Show your kids that the new diet isn’t about giving up on things, but you’re just substituting a different brand that’s safe for them to eat.
If your child loves Oreo cookies, Kinnikinnick KinniToos is a great alternative. If macaroni and cheese is their favourite, Annie’s Gluten-Free Rice Pasta is an amazing substitution. Thanks to the growing gluten-free market, there are little products that haven’t been modified to be safe for those on a gluten free diet – you just need to know where to look!
5. Help them meet other kids on a gluten-free diet.
Introducing your kids to others who are on a similar diet can open a new world for them. They start to feel a little less different and a little more normal, which can go a long way in their acceptance of the new diet. Check your area for local support groups, or start your own. Also, you can check online for safe chat rooms where you can supervise your child in meeting kids on the diet who can share information about food safety and answer how-to questions, such as navigating school on a special diet and feeling included in birthday party settings.
6. Focus on the positives!
It’s amazing what a positive attitude and the language you’re using can do for your child’s perspective. Instead of focusing on all the changes that have to be made and all the new things there are to learn, think of it as a new adventure. Share with your child how much better they’re going to feel on the new diet and all the opportunities you’ll have as a family to cook new foods and find new favourites.
Do you have any tips on helping your children lead a healthful, gluten-free lifestyle?
Devan McGuinness is the editor-in-chief and founder of byDevan.com. Previously blogging at AccustomedChaos.com, Devan branched out to start byDevan.com — a resource for busy people who still want time for exceptional. She has been married to her high-school sweetheart for 10 years and they are parents to 4 children, who they home school. Diagnosed with celiac disease and casein intolerance, the allergy-friendly recipes on byDevan are real meals she and her family actually eat at home.