Socializing on a GF diet

Don’t let your newly-g-free child become the next “Bubble Boy.”  With a little planning, you can let your child get out into the world and feel like a normal kiddo. Here are some thoughts on a few different scenarios:

IMG_4467Friends & Playdates

  • Call or send a letter explaining CD (or other reason for being GF) to the parents of your child’s closest friends
  • Make sure other parents know that you are ready, willing & able to send gluten- free foods to playdates & sleepovers. When in doubt, send something.
  • When friends are at your house for playdates, take the chance to explain why there are separate toasters, spreadable condiments and other things in your kitchen.
  • At snacktime, show them foods that are gluten-free and talk about those which are not. This will give kids a better understanding of what their friend (your child) can and can’t eat. Above all, make it a FUN lesson and keep it light.
  • Remember that your child is always listening, so make sure there isn’t any pity or negativity in your voice. Always think about how you will explain things before you actually do, so that your words and demeanor come off the right way.

Grandparents & Caregivers

  • Be patient:  Just as parents have a learning curve in understanding the gluten-free diet, so will others. Parents should gently reinforce the types of foods that are safe for their child, and reasons why others are not.
  • IMG_1578Make copies of helpful material and provide them to anyone who has the g-free kid in their care.
  • Always send some sort of gluten-free snack. If they visit Grandma often, buy a box of Panda Puffs or other GF cereal, a box of NutThin crackers, Cheetos, etc. and keep them in her pantry for your child to enjoy when she visits.
  • Print out a list of GF snacks and tape it on the inside of a cupboard door for caregivers to reference.
  • Try not to have your child stay with anyone that belittles the importance of your child staying on a strict gluten-free diet, until they begin to understand the importance of supporting your child’s health.

Teachers/School

  • Download and print this handy Guide for a Safe and Healthy Gluten-Free School Year from Delight Gluten Free Magazine
  • Write a letter to your child’s teacher explaining Celiac disease (or other reason for being GF) and what it means for your child. Or meet with her in person to discuss it.
  • Give teacher printed literature about CD and a list of acceptable foods. Make sure she e-mails you about any questionable foods they might be arranging for snacks, and ask that she gives you a few days notice for birthday parties and special occasions for which you’ll need to send your child a GF substitute.
  • Send in a bag of GF treats for those times when parents send in treats unannounced, so your child will always have something. Keep frozen treats (clearly labeled) in the faculty freezer, if possible, for last-minute needs.
  • sidewalkIf necessary, ask that your child be allowed special bathroom privileges, especially if they are in the initial healing phase where potty problems still exist. Make sure your teacher lets your child know that he can go to the bathroom whenever he wants, instead of trying to “hold it” which may prove impossible.
  • Consider purchasing an extra copy of this book and/or other books, and donate it/them to your school’s library to increase awareness. Lend it to your child’s teacher to read to the whole class, or visit the class and read it to them yourself, along with other teaching tools.

Other school staff

  • Write a letter to the school office about your child’s dietary needs and diagnosis, so they can put it into your child’s official records.
  • Make sure that the school nurse and cafeteria monitors are well-informed as well. Speak to each person directly or write a letter, with your child’s photo on it.

School birthday parties

  • Option 1: Send a letter to all class parents to inform them of your child’s dietary restrictions and ask them to please let you know when they are bringing in treats for the class, so that you may bring something comparable.
  • IMG_0141Option 2: Work something out with the teacher where she makes sure parents give her notice before allowing treats to be brought in, so that she can, in turn, give you the notice you need.
  • Keep a bag of treats at school in case something falls through and you are not alerted. If she comes home saying someone brought a treat and she had to have something from her bag, keep it positive. Say something like, “Oh, good, I’m glad you were able to do that, and that we had extra treats there for you!”
  • But be proactive with the teacher if she is not keeping her end of the plan. Let her know if your child is feeling left-out. Keep a few pre-made frosted cupcakes or brownies in the freezer so you are always prepared. Add sprinkles the morning of when the cupcake is being sent in so the top looks fresh and different every time.

School reward parties

  • Kids’ “reward” parties at school and church often include pizza. We make a Chebe pizza here ahead of time and I send in a big slice for my girls. There are also frozen pizzas you could keep handy.
  • Consider helping to plan certain parties and see if others would agree on doing something different — like hardshell corn tacos or nachos, or an ice cream party instead of pizza.

IMG_3075Let your child choose

  • Generally, when my girls are invited to a party, I talk to the parent when I RSVP, asking which foods will be served so that I may bring something comparable for them that is GF. I usually send a cupcake and slice of pizza, or the closest match to whatever is being served.
  • As your child gets older, sometimes he or she may want to eat something at home before going out to a social event. You might find that a person or people make it uncomfortable for your child to bring her own food.
  • Try to make them feel proud of themselves and to feel lucky that they know they have to be g-free. Try to get your child talking about it, and make sure that you keep the talk as positive as possible.
  • Let it be your child’s choice as to whether she wants to eat something beforehand and just sit & chat while everyone else is eating pizza and cake, or if they’d like to bring pizza and a cupcake of their own. As hard as it is to think of your child going to a social event and not being able to eat while there, the most important thing for older kids is ownership of the diet. Support them by telling your child that whatever works for them is fine with you.

IMG_4962Holidays

  • Easter & Halloween: Let your child “trade in” all suspect candy (often there are no ingredient labels on candy and it is NOT okay to just guess) for gluten-free candy after all their loot is collected. Same goes for pinata candy and goodie bags. Or just get rid of the off-limits candy — they are sure to have plenty left…

Holiday meals

  • Make sure everyone understands that you cannot stuff a turkey with gluten-containing bread and safely serve a slice to your child. It will be contaminated.
  • Regular stuffing should be prepared separately and you can use gluten-free bread to make a GF version. (See our recipe PDF for an incredible stuffing recipe.)
  • Make an alternative side dish such as rice, GF cornbread, or GF dinner rolls. There are countless recipes online and products in the store. Make something special for your g-free kid, especially if there is a food he or she is really missing.
  • Delicious GF gravy can be prepared with cornstarch and pan drippings rather than wheat flour, or special brands can be purchased.
  • Keep all GF food items clearly marked together in a special spot and let the GF person get served first. Every dish should have its own serving spoon. Make sure that everyone helping out knows the importance of avoiding cross contamination. 

IMG_5749Family parties

  • Make sure family members know that cheeses should be kept on one tray and crackers on another.
  • Provide your child with GF crackers and keep them separate. Our extended family still bring regular crackers but everyone makes a conscious effort to keep things separate.
  • As far as dips go, make sure there are spoons in every dip and ask people to spoon dip onto their own plates instead of dipping crackers into it. Keep regular crackers away from dips and keep corn tortilla chips nearby instead, for safe dipping.
  • Let your child know which foods are okay to eat, like fruits, veggies, and anything else you know is GF. Ask about ingredients used in dip recipes and read packages whenever possible. Otherwise go without and just eat what you brought yourself.
  • Make sure your child knows which Doritos, etc. are GF and which are not, or to ask you, (or ask to read the bag) instead of guessing.

softballSports teams

  • Find a way to tell the other parents that your child is gluten-free, in case they are willing to send in GF snacks for the whole team. I usually volunteer to help in some way which makes it easier to put the word out, via email, printed handout or word of mouth.
  • Whether or not you follow the tip above, never expect most parents to comply. Always bring your child a snack just in case you need it.
  • In my opinion it’s best to be matter-of-fact with your child about having to have a different snack than the rest of the team sometimes, as it will be a life-long occurrence that they will need to come to terms with in a positive, realistic way.
  • Don’t act mad at other parents for not thinking of your child — but show your thanks if they even attempt to bring a GF snack. Maybe more will follow suit.  🙂

Can you think of some other scenarios where g-free kids & parents might need some tips? If so, please comment below. Thanks!

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