How to Feed Your Gluten Free Child, Step 1

Below is a repost of an article that I wrote for ilunchbox.com. I’m re-posting it in honor of my new friends with a newly diagnosed celiac child, and my co-worker who’s family is just beginning down this path!

How to Feed Your Gluten Free Child, Step 1

Transitioning to a gluten free diet can be challenging for a child, and the challenge seems to increase in direct proportion to how long they’ve actually been eating gluten. Basically, the older they are, the more difficult it may be. Traditionally, children can be very picky eaters to begin with. There are many reasons a child might have focused preferences. Just the taste, texture and smell of food (gluten free or not) greatly determines what your child will eat.

Why is this important to note? Well, this is where we start. It’s important to know what your child’s favorite foods are (with gluten) and figure out what is it about that food that they like best. That helps greatly in targeting where to start with gluten free foods. For example, if their favorite food is pasta, then spend some time finding the best gluten free pasta. If they eat PB&J every day, experiment with different gluten free breads that they might like.

Without a doubt, the best places to start (and finish) is with fresh fruits and vegetables! They’re naturally gluten free! So are rice, potatoes, nuts, fish, meat, poultry and corn. It’s when you start seasoning foods, or try to serve anything pre-packaged, that’s when it gets tricky.

I do have some friends whose child will only eat pre-packaged foods. If their child needed to begin a gluten free diet, it would be extremely challenging because fresh fruits and veggies are not a staple in her diet. Thankfully, many new gluten free items are available that come pre-packaged and ready-to-eat. They can get pricey, though, so it’s beneficial to blend the gluten free pre-packaged foods with naturally gluten free food.

The easy stuff that is naturally gluten free:

· Fresh fruit and veggies
· Rice
· Potatoes
· Fish
· Poultry
· Meat
· Most cheeses
· Corn
· Soy (not tofu)
· Nuts

Some popular, favorite kiddie foods that are gluten free:

· Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles
· Rice Chex
· Little Einsteins cereal
· Most peanut butters (check the label)
· Most jellies (check the label)
· Oscar Meyer beef hot dogs and bologna (check the label)
· Most cheeses
· Fritos/Lays potato chips
· M&Ms
· Most plain ice creams

What I would recommend to ease the “shock” factor is to focus on getting the diet to 100% gluten free, while working in the healthier alternatives as you go. If your child is used to eating starchier, carb-loaded, high-fructose corn syrup-full foods, insisting they switch to “all healthy” while trying to go gluten free will most likely be met with some resistance!

1. When it doubt, Google it! If you want to know if something is gluten free, more often than not, if you enter your item into a search engine, followed by “gluten free,” you will get hits on many sites that have already done this work for you.
2. Be creative! I have found that my son won’t drink orange juice (naturally gluten free!), but when I told him it was the “drink of the Jedi’s” (from Star Wars), he couldn’t get enough. Same juice, new context! When I couldn’t get them to try my new gluten free pancakes, I made shapes with them and cut out fruit for decorations. (Turns out they loved them anyway!)
3. Moderate the junk food, but be vigilant about gluten free! For example, many of the “junk foods” on the market today actually come gluten free. Subsisting on a diet of junk food is not what I’m advocating, but what I don’t recommend is cutting out all treats. For example, most plain ice creams, M&M candies, Lays potato chips are gluten free (ALWAYS check with the manufacturer to be sure).
4. Let your child own the decision to be gluten free. Provide as much education about why they are eating gluten free (age appropriate). They need to understand that it’s their health at stake and they will be able run faster, dance better, and think more clearly when they feel good inside.
5. Research, research, research. The good news is that gluten free is “popular” these days and so many people have done the heavy lifting already with regards to passing policies, gluten free labeling etc. Visit blogs, websites and collect reference material that best suits your family and your approach.
6. Be positive. If you’re positive, your kids will be too. Gluten free is a solution to many ailments that requires no surgery, no medications and no weekly shots. It’s a change in diet that will change your life!

For more information on helping your child eat gluten free, check out the book “Wheat Free, Worry Free” by Danna Korn, www.glutenfreedom.net She addresses a lot of the transitional topics that go with eliminating gluten from your diet. For your younger child, I wrote a picture book called, “How I Eat Without Wheat,” that tells the story of a young child who goes gluten free to get his health back. www.karenfine.com

Additional information and lists of gluten free “do’s and don’t” can be found on my websites: Gluten Free Foundation, www.jackshouse.org and recipes/product reviews on my blog: www.momcooksglutenfree.blogspot.com.

To your health!

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