Gluten-Free Diet for Kids: 5 Secrets to Success
The results are in: your child has to follow a strict gluten-free diet. For many families, making the switch from a traditional diet to a gluten-free diet is time-consuming, stressful, and overwhelming. And with good reason: it’s difficult to teach young children the complexities of a truly gluten-free diet, and the new restrictions may cause them to feel alienated and different from their peers. Despite its challenges, your child’s increased health, mood, and new diet solutions will far outweigh the obstacles along the way. We’ve gathered five essential tips for making your family’s transition to a gluten-free diet simple, effective, and – dare we say it – even fun.
1. Teach kids the basics.
After a child’s diagnosis, most parents immerse themselves in gluten-free resources. Many join support groups, pour through books and literature, and attend informational events trying to determine the best gluten-free diet for kids. It’s crucial that parents find creative ways to pass this information on to their children, even when they don’t express interest. For young children, incorporate lessons about gluten-free living into their normal playtime activities: play “house” with real gluten-free menus and cleaned GF grocery items (empty cereal and noodle boxes, fruit cartons, etc.), check out gluten-free books from your local library, and make gluten-free meals together as often as possible.
2. Make family menus together.
Allowing your child to plan and help prepare their own meals motivates them to take ownership of their new diet. Spend time each weekend preparing the coming week’s menu together, making every effort to build meals around the gluten-free ingredients that they suggest. For younger children, include pictures on the menu so they can read the menu on their own throughout the week. Making menus together is not only a great literacy builder; it’s also an opportunity to discuss health, nutrition, and gluten-free do’s and don’ts with them. Building in these simple supports will keep kids comfortable and confident in their new gluten-free lifestyle.
3. Focus on healthy, home-cooked options.
With the gluten-free industry booming, it’s easy to get in the habit of buying gluten-free substitutes of your child’s former favorite foods. Grocery store shelves are lined with gluten-free cookies, breads, pastries, and crackers, and having your kitchen stocked with some of these items is a good idea. However, children with Celiac Disease and other related conditions often have a higher risk for deficiencies, and gluten-free substitutes are notoriously low in nutrients and high in sugar. Research the healthiest gluten-free products in the market (our GFB Bars are high in protein and fiber), and avoid the rest. Focus your child’s diet around naturally gluten-free items like fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free grains, and keep the store-bought goods on reserve for special occasions.
4. Don’t forget about class parties.
Speaking of your store-bought reserves, there are few occasions more momentous in a child’s life than Cupcake Day at school. In most classrooms, student birthdays mean treats for the whole class, and those treats are generally not gluten-free. Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s gluten-free diet and create a plan for these occasions. Teachers may be able to keep a stock of your child’s favorite gluten-free treat in the school’s kitchen, send you a list of the classroom’s birthdays in advance, or connect you with other families in the classroom dealing with allergies. No matter your plan, plan ahead. There’s not a kid in the world who likes missing Cupcake Day.
5. Educate your child’s community.
From teachers to coaches, to other parents and family members, include your entire community in learning about your child’s specific condition and gluten-free diet. Surrounding your child with well-informed, attentive adults will reduce the amount of diet mistakes and gluten incidents they experience down the road. For many, the concept of gluten is entirely foreign, so practice patience and utilize your resources. Consider creating a gluten-free information card for your child to carry with them at all times: type up the basic facts on what your child can and cannot eat, include your contact information, and have the card laminated for durability.
What are your tips and tricks do you have for a gluten-free diet for kids? Let us know in the comments section below!