Helping your gluten-free kid gain independence

When your g-free kid reaches a certain age (which is different for every child) it becomes time to start easing them into being independently gluten-free. Here are some tips that will help boost your child’s confidence and know-how:

Teach them to read labels:
For very young kids who don’t know how to read, send along a list of offending ingredients for caregivers, along with a list of naturally GF items such as fruit and raisins. If you’d like your little one to be able to refer to the list, include little pictures of acceptable foods to give him a better visual idea of what’s allowed. Help little ones learn how to spot the words “gluten free”, the certified gluten-free logo or other prominent labels. Once they start to read, you can show them more things to watch for on packages, and to also read the bold allergy warnings at the end of the ingredient list, as in “contains wheat.”

labelsWhen older kids begin looking at packages, the terms “multigrain” and “whole grain” can often be confounding (even for adults) so be sure to explain to them that just reading those words on a package doesn’t mean it is automatically ruled out. My girls used to think that, until I saw their confusion and explained how corn and rice can be considered multigrain or whole grain, too, yet those are still acceptable grains & flours for g-free kids. Teach them that oats need to be certified gluten-free to be considered safe, and other similar tips.

Start label-reading lessons small, by going to Grandma’s house and showing them offending ingredients on labels. Then go home and have them read labels on their own gluten-free products so they can see what is okay.

Guide them through the grocery store:
If your child is old enough and has a long enough attention span, spend some time together in a grocery store (at a slow time of the week) and go through it aisle by aisle, explaining which kinds of food are gluten-free or not. Be matter-of-fact and show them how entire sections of entire aisles are off-limits, but linger in the areas that are full of safe foods and marvel at all of their choices. Show them how most yogurts and ice creams are GF except those with cookies, brownies, sugar cone pieces, etc. Show them all the naturally gluten-free foods and the special area where the gluten-free products are. I do this with my daughters every now and then to test them on what they know, and they, in turn, always love to demonstrate their growing knowledge.

If this sounds too overwhelming for a younger child, then just do it in small doses on a regular basis as you do your weekly shopping together. It may take some time, but it’s very beneficial for your child — and something to be proud of  — for them to be able to show you what he or she knows.

Let them speak up for themselves:
When eating out, kids of all ages can learn to speak up for themselves to varying degrees. Young kids can learn how to ask, “Is this gluten-free?” or “Is this safe for me to eat?” Let your child order for themselves in a restaurant and have them politely inform the waitstaff that their meal needs to be gluten-free. Even if you plan on discussing details with the waitress, manager or chef yourself (which I would advise in order to avoid cross contamination) it is important for your child to get in the habit of always making sure people know that he or she needs to eat g-free.

menuIf your child is old enough, test them to see if they can correctly name the gluten-free options on menus at restaurants by themselves. Explain why they can’t eat certain things like french fries, which are deep fried in shared fryers with gluten-containing foods like breaded chicken fingers. Let them ask if there is a dedicated fryer or not. The older a child gets, the more he or she needs to have these habits set in place. The more they practice, the more comfortable they will get with the necessary dialogue. Your child will be filled with pride as he learns these life-long social lessons.

Can you think of any more ways to help your g-free kid gain independence? Please comment below if you have anything to add…..thanks!

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