Wednesday, May 8, 2019

MOM LIFE :: Raising Kids Gluten Free

Raising kids gluten free has its set of challenges.  We started our journey when my daughter was only nine months old.  She literally had just started trying solids.  Part of me felt sad because she was so young and part of me felt relieved that we finally had an explanation for her symptoms.  Our diagnosis resulted in huge changes in our household.  The journey has not been easy.  We had a steep learning curve at the beginning but it's gotten better.  Once our Little Guy came along, we were pros.  Wherever you are in your journey, know that it will get easier.  You will also grow a lot stronger along the way.  

Since May is Celiac Awareness Month, I wanted to share some of the challenges we have encountered and the tips we have learned along the way.  

a)   Nutrition:  Wheat products are richer in nutrition than gluten free products.  If you check the nutrition labels for gluten free products, it's hard to find something that has at least one vitamin or iron, a mineral that growing bodies need.  If you happen to have a picky eater, your challenges are amplified.  Learn your brands from the start and figure out which ones have some semblance of nutrition in them.  It takes a lot of trips to the grocery store flying solo so you can actually read all the labels in peace.  Our gastroenterologist recommended that we worked with a nutritionist and it was the best advice ever.  She had tons of samples in her office that were appealing to our daughter and also gave us the option of testing different products without having to make a lot of purchases.  Since gluten free products do tend to be more expensive, this was a huge help for us as we were getting settled.  

b)  The Sweets:  My two kids have been polar opposites on this one.  My daughter was a huge fan of all sweets early on.  Her best friend in preschool would bring donut holes to school regularly and she frequently found a way to sneak a bite of one.  This was a huge motivator for me to learn how to bake early on.  At the same time, I felt like I wanted her to have all the things that a little kid has like donuts, bagels etc.  When she was first diagnosed 8 years ago, there weren't as many brands as we have today so there really were no gluten free options for us to purchase.  

Birthdays can be another big challenge.  It's hard for them to understand that they can't have the same cake as everybody else.  My son does not seem to be bothered much by it yet. As long as he has something with chocolate in it he's fine.  My daughter is more sensitive and she's still bothered by it to some degree so I make sure I buy the most decadent chocolate cupcake for her and decorate it with fun stuff.  It helps.  

Finding a good bakery for birthday cakes is another struggle.  A lot of bakeries do gluten-free now but it might not necessarily be safe for you.  Most of the time, they are using the same oven and just baking them at the beginning of the day.  Make sure you ask a lot of questions and know your gluten tolerance levels.  I finally found one that is safe.  It's a 25 minute drive for us each way but it's so worth it.  They actually get to pick a theme for their cake!

c)  Crafts at School:  This one caught me totally off guard.  As a first time Mom, I never expected that playdoh would have gluten.  I also wasn't familiar at first with all the crafts that can involve gluten but I learned pretty quickly.  Playdoh is now readily available gluten free online or you can make your own.  The colors are never as vivid, at least in my hands, but it's fun for the kids to make.  For all the other crafts that can involve gluten like painting pasta, I found that having a good rapport with the teachers helped.  I have always done pick-up at school which gives me the chance to talk to the teachers.  It also gives  me a chance to scope the classroom and get a sense of any upcoming activities.  Be upfront with the teachers and offer to bring a gluten free substitute.  They all appreciate the help!

d)  Feeling Different:  This one is tough.  I've always tried to make sure my kids don't feel different because they eat gluten free.  They have pretty much everything a regular kid does-  it's just gluten free.  But again,  it depends on the kid.  My daughter is very sensitive and picks up on every difference.  I remind her frequently that she eats everything her friends do.  It's just gluten free.  We talk about why she needs to eat gluten free in simple terms.  She understands it but she tells me a lot that she wishes she was not gluten free.  I think with time she'll appreciate that her diet is actually healthier but for now we work on rationalizing our lifestyle and making sure we are not missing on any of the fun foods.  

I search regularly for new ice cream shops to take them to.  Last year, we found an ice cream shop in Ogunquit (Maine) that actually has gluten free cones.  It was such a treat for my daughter in particular.  She loves the ice cream, don't get me wrong, but she always longs for a cone to go along with it like all the other kids.  So when we are in Maine we make a point to go to this ice cream store in Ogunquit so she can have a cone.  

e)  Eating Out:  We literally have three restaurants around us that we trust.  My son only eats at one of them which really narrows down our selection when we want to venture out.  Talk about making it easy to pick a place for dinner!  It's important that you keep that habit of eating out as a family but you have to be selective of where you go to.  We always try to go early to make sure we avoid the dinner rush.  It's easier on everybody.  If you are going to a restaurant for the first time, ask lots of questions and make sure you tell your server right away that you are gluten free.  Also, it's important that you add "allergy" or "celiac" when you mention this because it raises their level of care.  Watch out for the food.  If they bring it on the same tray as the regular food send it back and don't return.  Over the years, I've seen it all.  Don't feel bad about speaking up if you notice something-  it's your health!  It takes you about 2 weeks to recover from any exposure-  keep that in mind!

I think this pretty much sums up some of our main challenges.  Can you relate to some/all?  What has your experience been like as a gluten free Mama?  Let me know in the comments below!   

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