Sweet ways to surprise a g-free kid this holiday season

Supporters, this one’s for you!

Is there a g-free kid in your life?  Are you this child’s teacher, “Room Mom”, aunt, uncle, neighbor, Sunday School coordinator, friend of the family, or relative?  Well, all it takes is a little bit of effort on your part to make this g-free kid feel welcome, valuable, and loved for that upcoming school, church or family party.

Your event is likely just one of many that he or she will attend this month, and I can almost guarantee that many other party planners will not think ahead to include gluten-free treats. Sure, there may be fruit, veggies and other naturally g-free foods — which is great — but kids are kids, and a sweet, safe, great-tasting treat is always a welcomed sight. Especially when the “other kids” are gushing about how amazing the donut holes, cupcakes and cookies are, while all the g-free kid is allowed to put on his or her plate is the healthy stuff…

This is where you come in — to light up that g-free kid’s eyes, and to see the gratitude come shining through… So take a bit of time and a few dollars and be the one to make that kid’s day!

Most likely, there is a gluten-free section at your local grocery store. If so, check it out. This time of year there are multiple seasonal offerings that you can pick up, such as these ready-to-enjoy treats:

storebought

There are also several brands of peppermint & chocolate-drizzled popcorn available right now, and plenty of other year-’round goodies. These types of ready-made treats are your safest bet, as you can bring in the package for the child or their parent to read, so they can feel secure that they can indulge safely. Make sure you see the words: “certified gluten-free” or “gluten-free” on the label. Whatever you end up buying, please remember to bring the packaging, as many g-free kids are (understandably) wary of eating anything they can’t prove is gluten-free.

If you’d like to add a little something extra to a plain food, just clean your countertop, spread out some wax paper and drizzle chocolate over plain Snyders of Hanover GF pretzels, “Boom-Chicka-Pop” popcorn, or dip marshmallows in chocolate (you don’t need sticks) and decorate with sprinkles, like you see in the next three photos:

pretzels

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If you’d like to take it to the next level and bake them something, it’s probably best to check with the g-free kid’s parent first to make sure you do it safely. There are things you need to know and certain ways of doing things in order to make the end result a safe bet. And, no, these are not hard things to do…

Things like cleaning your counter work space well of all crumbs before you start the recipe. And using wax paper, aluminum foil or parchment paper on your cookie sheets, so you are not baking where wheat ingredients just were. Believe it or not, even a small amount of cross contamination can really make super-sensitive kids (like one of mine) sick, so please trust in simple measures and go along with it. Use squeaky clean bowls & utensils for mixing, scraping and removing cookies after baking — or better yet: buy and keep separate ones designated only for GF foods.

Here are some more tips on avoiding cross-contamination. Read it over and let the g-free kid’s parents know you understand the importance of following these measures, or whatever additional measures she requests. As one of these parents, I can tell you how uncomfortable and awkward it is to ask other adults to do these things, and how much easier it is when someone shows that they are happy to do whatever it takes for their awesome, generous & thoughtful gesture to work out well in the end.  🙂  I can also tell you how extra awkward it is having to decline something I don’t trust to be safe…

If they give you the go-ahead, here are 3 super-easy, gluten-free cookie recipes:

3cookiesA) Four ingredient cake mix M&M cookies (You just need GF cake mix: Aldi’s Live G-Free brand is good and cheap, eggs, butter and M&Ms)

B) Flourless Fudge Chunk Cookies (Calls for dark cocoa powder, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla extract, egg white and choc. chips)

C) Three ingredient peanut butter cookies (peanut butter, eggs and sugar) (not for school parties, for obvious reasons)

There are many things you can do beyond these ideas to make that g-free kid in your life feel special, and to bring a tear of gratitude to their parents’ eyes. Whenever anyone in our lives does any of these things for my g-free girls, they earn some serious bonus points from all of us, and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.  🙂

Any more ideas or tips?  Feel free to comment….

Snyder’s of Hanover New Flavors Review and Giveaway

IMG_0567When Snyder’s of Hanover contacted me about sampling some of their newest pretzel flavors, I was all over it. I’m a Snyder’s pretzel lover from way back in 1989 when my husband and I were first dating and used to dip pretzels into salsa for a late night snack. Once I was diagnosed w/ Celiac in 2007, I discovered Snyder’s gluten-free pretzel sticks and have been eating them ever since, plus their twists which were recently introduced. But I never dreamed I’d be once again eating flavorful seasoned pretzels like the flavors they just came out with!

IMG_0574IMG_0551My girls & I LOVE the new Honey Mustard & Onion flavored sticks. What an awesome flavor combination! My girls ask for these all the time, but we stick with eating them at home. That way their bad breath won’t be making other kids back away at school.  🙂  We think these are the perfect pretzel to make “The Big Game Chex Mix” with, using all GF Chex cereals, of course…

We liked the Hot Buffalo Wing flavor, too, although it was a tad spicy for us wimps at first….but once we dipped them into blue cheese (or ranch) dressing, that was the ticket. It cools them off nicely and the combination of the two flavors & textures is sure to be a hit. These would be great to use in the “Buffalo Chex mix“, also substituting GF cheese crackers, using all GF cereals and omitting the hot sauce since these will already be adding a certain amount of spiciness.

IMG_0625Another way we used these pretzels is crushing them up, adding a little parmesan cheese and coating chicken with them. They are the best eaten right away while the pretzel pieces are still crunchy. We crushed both flavors separately and dipped them into blue cheese dressing (or honey mustard or ranch dressing or whatever your g-free kid prefers)….what a simple and convenient way to make a flavorful meal.

I ask you:  Who better than Snyder’s of Hanover to make these great new flavors for g-free pretzels? Which other company makes gluten-free pretzels right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A?  None that I know of — other brands are imported. The fact that they are Certified Gluten Free (with that sight-for-sore-eyes logo printed right on the bags) is a huge plus, too, and I commend them on making the effort.

Have you seen these new flavors in stores yet?  Below is a list of the retailers that have approved placement so far. If your favorite store isn’t on the list, contact them to ask them to carry these awesome pretzels…

Wal Mart • Weis • Tops • Shoprite • Shop N Save • Price Cutter • Piggly Wiggly • Mars • Lowes • Harris Teeter • Ingles • Giant Eagle • Great A & P Tea Co • Albersons
Also available through Snyder’s online store.

By the way, please be sure to tell your child’s supporters how readily available and inexpensive (plain ones are $2.99 for an 8 oz. bag at my Wegmans) Snyder’s gluten-free pretzels are. I don’t know how many times my kids have been to parties where regular pretzels are sitting out as a snack, when (had the host known about Snyder’s GF) maybe they would have been willing to just put GF ones out instead. It’s a simple way to make g-free kids feel “thought of” and included.  🙂  I even know some non-GF kids who prefer GF Snyder’s over regular pretzels, believe it or not!

Below, my pretzel hounds are putting on their serious faces, to show that they are pulling for Snyder’s to make gluten-free pretzel rods next!  (hint, hint)

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Now for the giveaway: Snyder’s of Hanover has generously agreed to give away 1 full-size (8 oz.) bag OF BOTH FLAVORS to TEN lucky, randomly-drawn winners. All you have to do is comment below, saying why you and your g-free kid are so excited about these new flavors and what you plan to do with them if you’re a winner. Let’s share some ideas and inspiration — and if you’re already a Snyder’s fan, feel free to add reasons why you prefer their pretzels over other brands. Giveaway ends at midnight on Monday, December 9th. If any winners don’t respond by Tues. December 10th, new winners will be picked to replace them. Good luck!  -Katie

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Keep coming back for more things for g-free kids, and don’t forget to check out the photo album and kids’ stuff page!

[ Disclaimer: Snyder’s sent me free samples of their new pretzels, as I could not find them available in stores at the time. The opinions I expressed are my own, honest feelings about their products and I was not coerced into writing a positive review.  🙂 ]

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The road ahead

The road of parenting is a long one…..and for a parent of a child on a special diet, it may seen endless…

Aside from their diets, I sometimes feel like my daughters’ “phases” are endless, and I’m helping them “work on” certain things for years at a time…. Right now they are both trying to focus on a Fruit of the Spirit: self-control for one and kindness for the other.

This morning I was trying to get some advice from online articles about children and maturity, when I came across a phrase that hit home. It went something like this: “Prepare your child for the road, rather than prepare the road for your child.” Right away I could see how this would apply to so many things in life, and I felt moved to create a graphic reminder for myself. This is what I came up with:

PREPAREroad

How many aspects of life does this simple phrase encompass?

Can we clear the road of bullies — or can we prepare our children with how to deal with them?

Can we eliminate the risk of stranger danger — or can we teach our kids what to do if they are ever approached?

Can we protect our kids from getting their feelings hurt — or can we teach them how to keep everything in perspective and get past it?

Can we get rid of all gluten in our kids’ world — or can we teach them how to be prepared and deal with different food situations?

You get where I’m going with this…

When you first find out your child has to maintain a gluten-free diet for life, your first reaction is to get out there and totally clear the road for him or her….to make sure all bases are covered and everyone in their life knows about every last detail. That is all very necessary for a young child and one who is new at eating gluten-free. There’s a lot that comes with the new territory…

But as they grow, you won’t always be there to plow away the snow, salt the icy spots, and maneuver them around the road hazards. Little by little, you will want them to learn to become self-sufficient. There is no magic age at which this happens — it is just something to keep working towards….

For specifics on how you can prepare your child for living in a gluten-filled world, please read this article on helping your gluten-free kid gain independence.

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and be sure to check out the online photo album of g-free kids and g-free kids’ stuff page.

Supporting the Center for Celiac Research through “Making Tracks for Celiacs”

About this time last year, my family and I participated in “Making Tracks for Celiacs” along with extended family and friends, most of whom join us every year for this event which means so much to us. We have been doing this twice a year for 5 years now — forming a team for the Buffalo walk and going just as a family to the Rochester walk.

2013 is the 12th year for “Making Tracks for Celiacs,” which is an annual fundraising event, organized and managed by the Center for Celiac Research at Mass General. These events around the country have raised almost $2,000,000 to date. The money is used to increase awareness and support research (75% of funds) as well as national and local celiac projects (25% of funds).

This year there are events held in these states: AL, MD, MI, MN, NY and VA, and are usually planned by a local gluten-free diet support group such as the one I belong to.  Check out the main website for “Making Tracks for Celiacs” to learn which cities hold events, which locations are walks versus run/walks, and how you can get involved! Some will be happening soon but others aren’t held until Autumn, which leaves you plenty of time to put a team together — or just enter yourself and/or your own family.

We choose to get a local team together because it is a really great way to show support and love to g-free kids, and it’s important for them to see the “regulars” who attend and donate year after year.  It’s cool to show them how the numbers don’t dwindle off, either — last year we collected the most money we ever have, and had more walkers than any other year, including many who join us annually. My girls know they are not forgotten and that they are backed by many friends and loved ones on their gluten-free journey. It’s something they look forward to every year.

Our team last year was called “Team G-Free Kid” and together we raised $545 to donate to the Center for Celiac Research, along with entry fees paid by over 20 team members. Even though that seems like a lot to us, other “go-getters” have already collected thousands of dollars each for their teams! If you’d like to collect donations (it’s not mandatory) you can easily start your own personal donation page or team page through CeliacWalk.org, and email your friends and family about it. Registration is simple as well. Everything you need to know is in the green column on the lefthand side of that site.

For the first few years, Morgan was the star of our team, but now Lindsey shares the spotlight, too, since she’s been gluten-free for over a year now. We also had a newly gluten-free and casein-free friend (below) and his family join our team for the walk last year, plus dozens of other kids in attendance.

At both of the walks we attend, there is always a ton of stuff for kids to do….clowns, balloon artists, face painting, fake tattoos, stickers, bounce houses, games, local mascots in attendance, special kid goodie bags, story time and all kinds of things. Obviously, different locations will have different activities, but from what I hear, most, if not all, are very kid-friendly.

At this year’s walk, the organizers were also selling these awareness bracelets which support the Center for Celiac Research. For more details on these, please read this post.

There are also a good number of local and national gluten-free food vendors at these events as well, giving out free product samples, coupons and learning material… Many thanks to the generous companies who donate goods towards these walks!

And if the other events are anything like the two we attend, rest assured that you will bring home a crazy amount of gluten-free samples, bars and full-sized product packages. And, if your friends and family are anything like ours, much of their food (from their own goodie bags) will be passed back for your family to enjoy.

All in all, we get a lot out of these walks. When you are among so many other gluten-free folks, there is a huge sense of camaraderie, and you know you are supporting a great cause: celiac disease (and non-celiac gluten sensitivity) research and awareness. Our daughters feel special — especially at the walk where we form a team, and they are always excited about all of the samples they get to try and take home, knowing everything is gluten-free and there’s no need (for once) to question anything. The walk itself is good, healthy family time that you can really soak in and enjoy, knowing that you’re making a difference and that your kids are swelling with pride.

If you are nowhere near any of these walks, you still have three options…
#1: Get some people together and start one (see “How to start your own walk” on CeliacWalk.org) in a new location; #2: Donate online towards the cause; or #3: Try something different: Join Team Gluten Free for any race around the country. How does it work? Read more about one family’s experience here.

Whatever you do, don’t just sit back and let everyone else take action…

As we like to say, “Celiac disease isn’t contagious, but awareness is.
Please help spread it!”

5 ways to make your g-free kid feel like a superstar

When children are first diagnosed with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy, their lives will change. So will yours as a parent. That is inevitable. Food is such a huge part of our lives, and being on a g-free diet means that you can no longer just go to any restaurant or party or social occasion without first planning ahead. Spontaneity may take a back seat for a while, but just until you learn the ropes and gain confidence.

The great part, though, is that how you view those changes is entirely up to you. You can either act like you feel sorry for your child and talk incessantly to anyone who will listen about how hard the diet is and how expensive the food is — or, you can make your child feel lucky and blessed to have been diagnosed, and show gratitude for all of the awesome choices of g-free foods that are now available. The #1 thing you can do for your child, right from the beginning, is to introduce them to their new best friend: a positive attitude. It is absolutely essential. If you haven’t shown one yourself, forgive yourself and just move on to helping boost your child’s morale and feelings about being g-free.

Here are some great ways to help your g-free kid feel like a superstar:

Start a “#1 Supporter” contest. Enlist all of your child’s supporters to help. Have them read about how vital they are to your child and start a contest to see who can win the #1 Supporter prize (whatever you deem the prize to be: a hand-painted t-shirt, a certificate, blue ribbon
or whatever). This gives supporters the chance — and extra incentive — to show how much they care by the positive words that they use around your child, and by
the actions that they take, like: writing the child a letter of encouragement, buying them a g-free treat, taking them out to dinner at a restaurant with a gluten-free menu, making them a gluten-free dish (with your assistance)
and other ideas listed at the bottom of this article. Through this contest your child will feel so loved and cherished. Set a time limit on the contest (a month maybe?) and then encourage everyone to keep the support coming even after it’s over!

Try to find gluten-free replacements for all of their old favorite foods and celebrate each new discovery. I honestly can’t think of one type of food that we haven’t yet found a g-free version of. (Here are some examples: To replace Cheezits, try Wellaby’s Mini Cheddar Crackers; to replace fish crackers, try Schar’s Cheese Bites; to replace chicken nuggets, try Ian’s brand or Wegmans’ version if you are in the NE; to replace pizza crusts & breadsticks, try Chebe mixes; to recreate old favorite baked goods, substitute regular flour with a GF all-purpose flour like Jules.) With each success, celebrate with your child by giving a loud “woo-hoo!” and high fives (or however you want to express yourselves) and make sure you include the rest of the family in the celebration, too.
It feels so good for kids to know that their whole family cares about them and is happy for their successes — plus, their acceptance of the diet
will grow, knowing there are great-tasting GF alternatives to old favorites.

Let them be included in the g-free kids online photo album. Many kids feel like they’re the only ones in the world on the g-free diet — so let them know they’re not!  They will take pride in seeing their own face in the album, knowing that they are part of an ever-growing group of g-free kids from around the world. Imagine their face lighting up as they look around at all of the other happy faces, see where everyone is from and read about what they enjoy doing. They will begin to feel a sense of camaraderie and kinship with other kids who eat the same way they do and will feel included in something special.

Arrange to have your child be “star of the day” at school. Make plans with your child’s teacher for a special day of learning in his or her classroom. If your child is very young, bring in a children’s book to read to the class. If your child would rather do it solo, send a book in for your teacher (or your child if they’re able) to read aloud. If you can be present, allow time for Q&A afterwards, emphasizing how lucky your child is to be diagnosed, how it isn’t contagious, how it differs from an allergy (if applicable), and that
his or her foods taste great, too. If your child is older (and comfortable with the idea) let him field the questions himself — as long as you know he is relatively prepared. Then let the class enjoy whatever delicious GF treat (giant cookie cake, cupcakes, brownies, etc.) you made and sent in, so that they can see how good your child’s food tastes, too. Your child will enjoy being the center of attention that day, and will feel good knowing that his peers now better understand and accept his diet.

Put your g-free kid front and center in a photo frame. Here is a printable frame that I designed for your g-free kid. You can download, print it and tape your child’s 4×6″ photo from behind. Buy one of those inexpensive clear, plastic magnetic document holders for your fridge and put your child’s photo in the middle. Every time he sees it, the words on the frame — “gluten-free is good for me” … “I’m a g-free kid” … “proud to be gluten-free” — will start to stick with him and grow his sense of pride. Plus it’ll remind everyone to be careful to avoid cross-contamination as well. Hope you and your child enjoy it!

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Before I close, let me just say that, as a parent, I am not one to spoil my children or let them act as if they are the center of the universe. But, if your child is struggling with being gluten-free or is newly diagnosed, I think it’s a fine time to boost up their self-esteem and do whatever you can to help them feel better about themselves. These 5 ideas should go a long way in helping your g-free kid gain confidence and begin to embrace the gluten-free diet and the changes that come along with it.

Have you tried any of these ideas already?  What effect did they have on your child?
Feel free to comment below about any of these ideas and add more of your own for other families as well. Thanks!

School Presentations Help Teach Classmates About Celiac Disease

When a new school year rolls around, how do you make things as easy as possible for your g-free kid? How do you make peers and a new teacher understand why your child has to be on a special diet?  It is helpful for a child if people are understanding and sympathetic (in a positive way) of why he or she is on a restricted diet and not able to eat certain birthday treats that are sent in, etc.  One option is to write and send everyone letters and lists and hope that they read and understand everything you’re alerting them to. A better option is to get right in there yourself — with a simple classroom presentation — and teach them what Celiac and the gluten-free diet are all about. That is what Erin A. did for her daughter, Eilea, and we both hope that her positive experience provides inspiration for more parents to follow suit.

Erin is one of those stand-out Moms I have met online — through g-free kid’s website, Facebook page and by email. Erin first got in touch with me when she sent in her daughter’s photo for the g-free kids’ online photo album, and one of the things she mentioned was a classroom presentation she was putting together. I could already tell she was an amazing advocate for her gluten-free kid, so I asked her to let me know how it went. I hope you enjoy her summary and photos below. She writes:

“My daughter and I were first inspired by the “Super Celiac costume that you created for your daughter, Morgan, last Halloween. I made a similar costume for my daughter, Eilea, who enjoyed choosing her favorite colors of material and gemstones to decorate the costume with. She also wore one of the Tribandz awareness bracelets to complete her ensemble.

I then took it a step further and decided to make a presentation to my daughter’s first grade class, to let them know a little about Celiac and being gluten free. As I was thinking about what to do, I realized that most of the information that Eilea and I wanted to share with the kids was included in the children’s book, “Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?” so I decided to make it the focus of our presentation.

I first got in touch with my daughter’s teacher to arrange the presentation date and time. (A presentation like this might take all of 15 minutes, give or take, so it should be easy enough to fit it in).  When it came time to make the presentation, Eilea was excused from class for a few minutes so I could help her put her costume on over her school uniform.  Eilea then waited in the hall until I gave her the signal to come in.

I went back into the classroom and helped the teacher gather the kids around for the presentation.  I pretended to wonder where Eilea was, then decided to start without her, welcoming the kids and thanking them for letting us share this information.  Eilea came in the room then and I said, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s SUPER CELIAC GIRL!!”

Eilea came to sit next to me and we proceeded to read, “Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?” together to the class.  (The book is written with a dialogue so that a parent can read their lines and a child can read theirs, too, if you wish to read it aloud together.)

When we finished the book, we answered any questions the kids had and helped explain some of the things in the book.  Everyone particularly liked the part where the grass being flattened down is like the villi in her intestines.

Super Celiac Girl then served some gluten-free snacks to her classmates and teacher.  Everyone was able to enjoy a small Dixie cup full of Snyder’s GF Pretzels, Annie’s GF Snickerdoodle Bunny Snacks and Annie’s GF Chocolate and Vanilla Bunny Snacks.  The snacks got rave reviews, especially the Snyder’s pretzels.

I also created a handout for the kids to read over and bring home to share with their parents about Celiac disease and being gluten free, which Eilea proudly handed out to her classmates.

The presentation was a hit, Eilea felt so special being the center of attention, and her peers and teacher learned a lot about Celiac and the gluten-free diet through the book, our Q&A session and the handout. It was totally worthwhile.

We hope that we’ve been able to help spread awareness about Celiac and the gluten-free diet. This year I also plan to give all of her teachers a letter explaining her diet and the need for diligence in keeping her snacks safe.  She’s very good about not eating something questionable but we can use all the help we can get.  I’m planning on leaving a box of non-refrigerated GF snacks that can be left in the classroom for those unexpected treat days.  I also plan to communicate with the teacher in order to get a list of birthdays and planned celebrations so that we can be ready with treats when they’re needed.”

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Many thanks to Erin for sharing her experience. Please comment below if you have done something similar for/with your g-free kid — or if this gives you just the push you needed to get out there for the first time and do it yourself!  🙂  You can do it, and your child will thank you for it!

As we like to say,
“Celiac disease isn’t contagious, but awareness is. Please help spread it!”

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Please note:  As a mom of a daughter with Celiac and another daughter with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) I also believe that helping spread awareness of the latter condition is equally as important as Celiac. Just because your g-free kid is GF for reasons other than Celiac doesn’t mean you couldn’t hold a presentation like the one above. There are a number of other children’s books (that don’t focus on Celiac disease) that you could use instead. The most important thing is that you are helping those around your g-free kid to better understand why he or she is on a special diet. I will continue to try to fill this website with helpful resources that will allow you to do just that. Thanks for the support.

5 tips to empower g-free kids

As parents, the best thing we can equip our g-free kids with is a positive attitude when it  comes to being gluten-free — right from the start.  As soon as that optimistic attitude is in place, the next thing to help them cultivate is a budding sense of independence. As our children grow, we can help empower them to start taking the lead. Here are 5 tips that have helped my twin daughters (one with celiac and one with non-celiac gluten sensitivity) start to be g-free advocates:

Help them champion their own cause:
Show them some ways in which they can help spread the word and raise money for celiac disease awareness. Help them start a team for an upcoming celiac walk and let them help keep track of donations flowing in and asking friends and family to physically be there to walk together as a team. We have been doing two Celiac walks (“Making Tracks for Celiacs”) a year for the past 4 years — one with friends and extended family, and another one further away from home by ourselves. We take group photos, wear team tags and hang out before and after the walk. We usually win a gift basket for the amount of money we raised and the girls help pick it out. Going home feeling supported by loved ones, with a prize and tons of free gluten-free samples in tow — plus a sense of pride in knowing we helped raise money for a good cause — is always a great boost for self-esteem.

If you don’t have one of these annual walks in your area, learn how you can raise money through Team Gluten Free or NFCA instead.

Nurture their creativity:
Make your g-free kid feel like a champ by helping them design a “Super Celiac” or “Gluten Free Girl” costume. If your child is still young enough to enjoy dressing up and playing pretend, letting him or her play make-believe Superheroes with a cape and power bracelets (see photo) is a fun way to “zap gluten” or whatever they want to play.

If your child is old enough, let them have their own cooking show. Have them don an apron and chef’s hat and talk through a cooking demonstration while you videotape them. This will be good public speaking practice, and it will help them organize their thoughts, follow recipes, read aloud and use good eye contact. Have them practice what they plan to say and do on the video until they are comfortable enough for you to start taping. Post it on YouTube to get them excited that they made a “real” video, which the whole world can watch and learn from.

Do your kids enjoy music more than cooking? Together, come up with some new lyrics to go with a familiar tune — all about being gluten-free. Put it to music, videotape it and send it to friends and family.

Or let them start a pretend bakery where everything is gluten-free. Help them set up a place to play with pretend food, aprons, toy cash register, fake money, paper plates, etc.  Let them make their own signs, menu and decorations. Be their best customer and encourage the rest of the family to stop by with a smile and place an order.

Being gluten-free becomes natural and fun when you bring all of these types of creative play into your g-free kids’ lives.

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. Help little ones learn how to spot the words “gluten free”, the certified gluten-free logo or other prominent labels. When looking at packages, the terms “multigrain” and “whole grains” can often be confusing for little kids (and 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. Corn and rice can still be considered multigrain or whole grain, too. 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 gluten-free products so they can see what is okay. If your child is old enough and has a long 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. Show them how many 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.

Let them speak up for themselves:
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 inform the waitstaff that their food 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.

If your child is old enough, test them to see if they can correctly name the gluten-free options on menus at restaurants by themselves. Teach them 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 they need 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.

Let it become their “normal”:
Find other gluten-free families that live near you. Get together. Let the kids get to know each other and play together on a regular basis, which might also mean snacking together — gluten-free. Get involved in a kids’ support group and the activities that go along with it. If you can’t find one, be your kid’s hero by starting one and making it happen.

If your child is old enough, let him attend a gluten-free summer camp. There are nearly 20 options in the U.S. alone!  How cool would it be for a g-free kid to be able to do all the regular camp activities with other children on the same diet, without anyone needing to ask if the food is safe or not?

Lastly, fill his or her bookcase with children’s books about being gluten-free. If your child loves dinosaurs or princesses, count how many books he or she has about them. On the other hand, how many books does your child have about being gluten-free — something your child is going to be for life? There are a bunch of great books out there now about celiac disease and being gluten-free. You can never have too many!  As they read the books, they will take pride in knowing that they are “just like” the main characters, which will help them feel understood and cherished. And consider all the people your child can share their books with — teachers, classmates, friends, relatives, etc.  What better way to help spread awareness than lending books? For kids, it doesn’t get any easier…

These empowering tips will take our children far by teaching them knowledge and positive social skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. The wonderful thing is that awareness of celiac disease and gluten intolerance is growing rapidly, which in itself is pretty empowering for all of us!

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This post was originally part of NFCA’s 2012 KISS campaign for Celiac Awareness Month.