My son is almost 8; hard to believe that my little man is growing so fast and forming his own identity at such as a sweet, tender young age. But he is, and part of that identity is being gluten-free. It’s a life I know as an adult, but certainly not one I can relate to from a child’s eye, and yet, I’m always so impressed with how resilient and determined he is to be healthy. I’m so grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers and the community in Austin as a whole which help me to help him lead a ‘normal’ life.
As I write that, I can’t help but question what that means. What is ‘normal’ anyway? I suppose it’s a kid being able to eat a hot lunch at school. Or a PBJ sandwich. Perhaps it’s to eat birthday cake at a party, rather than the gluten-free piece your mom brings in special for you?
Well, if I’m honest, I would take our present life over that other normal version any day. Ok, you’re probably thinking I’m some crazy gluten-free fanatic for saying that, but I’m honestly not. If you’re able to eat gluten and not have any reactions and feel like you lead a happy, healthy life, then by all means keep on your path!
So why am I happy with our gluten-free life then? I guess my first reason would be that we lead a much healthier and aware life than we did before-hand. No, I don’t love having to read every label, but I do love that we are healthier, more active and generally happier than at any other time in my life. I guess that makes sense – cure the illness and life improves, right? True, but it turns out it’s more than that for us. It’s watching a 7 year old boy make a choice to pass on a corn tortilla because mommy has learned some stuff about how we grow our corn that scares her. It’s having your child ask you if he eats enough fruits and veggies to be healthy. Helping his friend, who’s newly diagnosed gluten sensitive, by offering his snacks to him. Watching him tell his friend what snacks he likes and doesn’t like since his friend’s mom is still struggling, as many are, with what to feed their now gluten-free child. I’m not suggesting my son wouldn’t be helpful if he didn’t have food allergies, but I don’t think he would have as much of a focus on health as he does.
So what is a day like for a gluten-free kid?
If your child attends a school (rather than home-schooling), they will be faced with many distractions and temptations, and its important that you help them stay on track and keep them stocked with plenty of food so they don’t stray and eat something that can end up making them sick. I send my son with a cold lunch everyday, plus some extra snacks to make sure he doesn’t worry about getting the munchies at after-care and has nothing to turn to. It takes a bit more prepping on our part, but we know that he won’t be tempted by a gluten-ful goodie and have nothing to turn to instead, so it’s well worth the extra 10 minutes it takes to get him off to school each day.
School lunches: those are a thing of the past. I do believe that one day schools will catch up and offer allergy-free friendly foods, but with budget cuts front and center, and so little done to help the schools stretch their food budgets now, there just isn’t much hope in the near future for the more expensive whole (non processed) gluten-free foods to be offered.
School snacks: you’ll be sending those in yourself – suggestions are fruit, homemade or gluten-free trail mixes, popcorn, etc.
Birthday parties: these can be tricky as they are usually in a public place that doesn’t offer allergy-free friendly foods. So what you will face is a flood of kiddos eating pizza and cake that your little one can’t touch. ‘Sucks’ is an understatement! So we plan ahead and bring a frozen gluten-free pizza and ask them to heat it up for us (we’ve never had anyone refuse, though they do warn us that they can’t guarantee it won’t touch flour, which we understand). And we bring a slice of gluten-free cake, cookie or brownie which we’ve made ahead of time. To be honest, the kids are usually more focused on playing than eating, so it never seems to be a big issue. I was concerned at first that the kids would tease him, but to be honest, they usually envy his extra special snack that he gets instead. Funny, right?
School birthday parties: hopefully your teacher will be understanding and offer to let your child store some snacks at school; we send gluten-free cookies which his teacher stores for us. This has worked out great for us and it turns out that most of his classmates typically want his snack instead. Again, kids are funny!
I know it’s a daunting prospect to help your child live a life free of a food allergen, but there are truly so many great resources and allergy-free friendly foods today! Try to focus on items that are naturally gluten-free such as fruits and veggies and trust me, your kids taste buds will adjust fast! You can browse our many gluten-free recipes here for inspiration, and remember, kids are resilient and learn a lot from our behavior. Be determined to help your children live healthy, allergy-free lives and they’ll take their cue from you. Speaking first-hand, the frustrated moments of what they can’t have will fade, and the pride in their health will prevail so long as you believe this is the best approach for them. Our children inherently want to please us, so share with them why they are gluten-free, how their health relies upon it, and how important it is to preventing a lifetime of sickness. When they’re older, you can explain that not only is this about their gut, but about their brain as well. And let’s face it, if they hope to live a long, successful and happy life, they need to know the foundation to build upon.
To raising happy, healthy kids,