Growing up without gluten
12/19/2022 by Natalie Mohammad, APRN, C.N.P.
My daughter was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Celiac disease is more than a food allergy. Eating gluten causes an auto immune reaction within the body. In children, malabsorption can impair growth. Going gluten-free is the only "cure" for the disease.
Living with a celiac kid is not unlike having a child with food allergies. As a parent, you need to be mindful of what they're eating and what they may be exposed to in their environment. Common food allergies include peanut, soy, dairy, eggs or tree nuts, like almonds, cashews and walnuts.
Food allergies in kids can be hard. But with the challenge comes some fun. Over the past few months, I've learned some tips on how to raise my celiac kid while navigating child care needs, birthday parties and family gatherings.
Do your research
Despite a large family history of celiac, I did my reading on the topic even before she was diagnosed. I had suspected her symptoms were celiac-related. Find reputable websites, such as Celiac Disease Foundation, ROCK – Raising our Celiac Kids and Mayo Clinic. Visit your local library. Grab a few cookbooks while you're there so you can "try it before you buy it." Doing my own research made me a better-informed parent and gave me ideas on how to share this with others.
Often after a diagnosis of celiac disease, you will meet with a dietitian. Come prepared with your questions. I had specific questions I wanted answered, like: "Can my child still play with Play-Doh (which contains wheat)?" or "Do food labels need to say gluten-free, or can I just read the ingredients list?" Your child's health care clinician is always available to offer information and be a resource for you. He or she may even arrange a specialty visit with a gastroenterologist.
Share your knowledge with others
Child care providers need to know about any food allergies or health conditions your child has. Our day care provides meals. I request a copy of our child care provider's weekly meal plan so I can bring gluten-free options. If your child care center does not provide meals, then bringing food from home — that you know is allergen free — is even better.
It's also important to share this with extended family and the parents of your child's friends. It's important that they know of any food restrictions at holiday meals or playtime. I always have gluten-free goodies in my child's bag when we visit friends — consider gluten-free granola bars, fruit snacks, fresh fruit or crackers. For child care events, I have a stash of gluten-free cookies they can substitute for birthday treats brought by other children. I also bought frozen, gluten-free doughnuts to have on hand for when other kids bring doughnuts to share.
Yes, it can be overwhelming after a diagnosis of celiac disease — or any food allergy. Your child will notice the energy you display. If you dread grocery shopping or fixing food, he or she will know. When my child was diagnosed with celiac disease, I considered it a challenge to find the best cinnamon bread recipe so she no longer cried over missing the cinnamon bread at day care. It has been a great excuse for us to bake together. We are gluten-free gals on a mission to recreate our favorite recipes — gluten-free. This Gluten-Free Peanut Butter KISS Cookie recipe is one of our favorites.
I want my child to feel as "normal" as possible despite her celiac diagnosis. We are having fun by baking gluten-free treats together, and being prepared at day care and family gatherings. Doing my own research to feel knowledgeable and empowered has helped our family live with this diagnosis. Read more about celiac disease on the Mayo Clinic website.
Natalie Mohammad, APRN, C.N.P., is a nurse practitioner in Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. She is on a mission to recreate gluten-free recipes of all her favorite foods. She has mastered gluten-free bread, cutout Christmas cookies and blueberry dessert.