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

This past weekend 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 almost 5 years now — forming a team for the Buffalo walk and going just as a family to the Rochester walk.

This is the 11th year for “Making Tracks for Celiacs,” which is an annual fundraising event, organized and managed by the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland. 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).

Currently there are annual events held in these states: AL, FL, KY, MD, MI, MO, MN, NY, OH 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 — this 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 this 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 this 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!”

KISS: Keep It Simple and Safe — NFCA’s 2012 May Blogger Campaign

National Celiac Awareness Month begins on Tuesday, May 1st. What gluten-free celebration would be complete without a blogger campaign? This year, NFCA (National Foundation for Celiac Awareness) rounded up 16 bloggers (including yours truly) for a series chronicling every stage of the gluten-free journey, from Day 1 basics to advanced cooking and advocacy. I am thrilled
and honored to be among the list of well-known contributors you will see below… I hope you will join us for this informative, month-long journey!

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Following this year’s theme, Keep It Simple and Safe, each blogger is offering 5 key tips or lessons related to that day’s topic. The guest posts start tomorrow (April 30th) so check this link daily…

Weekly Focus throughout the month of May:

  • Every Monday – Cooking/Baking Gluten-Free
  • Every Tuesday – Nutrition/Wellness
  • Every Wednesday – Raising a Gluten-Free Kid
  • Every Thursday – Dining Out Gluten-Free
  • Every Friday – NFCA Resources You Should Know About

Schedule and Guest Bloggers:

Week 1: Just Diagnosed (April 30-May 4)

  • Anne Byrn of The Cake Mix Doctor – Reading labels and cooking with boxed mixes
  • Shirley Braden of gluten free easily – Avoiding hidden gluten
  • Kathleen Reale of Be Free for Me – Talking to your child about celiac disease
  • Lisa Garza of Gluten Free Foodies – What questions to ask when dining out
  • NFCA – Discover NFCA’s Getting Started Guide

Week 2: Getting the Hang of It (May 7-11)

Week 3: Hitting a Roadblock (May 14-18)

  • Diane Eblin of The WHOLE Gang – 5 tips to get out of a food rut
  • Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free  – First gluten-free, now lactose intolerant? 5 tips to becoming a dairy-free diva
  • Wendy Kaho of Celiacs in the House – Gluten-free challenges at school
  • Michael De Cicco-Butz of Gluten-Free Mike – Traveling while gluten-free
  • NFCA – 5 resources to handle life’s hurdles

Week 4: What’s Next? (May 21-25)

  • Amie Valpone of The Healthy Apple – Publishing your gluten-free recipes
  • EA Stewart of The Spicy RD – Healthy gluten-free foods you’ve never heard of
  • Katie Chalmers of G-Free Kid – 5 tips to empower gluten-free kids
  • Carrie Forbes of Ginger Lemon Girl – Starting a gluten-free dining group
  • NFCA – Ready to fundraise? Here’s how to start

For more Celiac Awareness Month fun, including a chance to win a Gluten-Free Pantry Raid, visit CeliacCentral.org/awarenessmonth

When gluten-free play (and dreams) become reality

“Welcome to the Chalmers Gluten Free Bakery and Restaurant. How can I help you?” was the most popular quote around our back yard playhouse this past fall. My daughters (both gluten-free) had set up their playhouse to play their pretend game, complete with menus, notebook & pen to take orders, and a whole slew of pretend plastic food and kitchenware.

One day I just had to take a break from my yard work to go play. I came to the “drive-thru” window around back, under the pine trees, and I asked, “Is everything here gluten-free?” and the both exclaimed,
“Of course!” like I was crazy or something for even asking.

In their pretend world, every luscious-looking baked good and “Happy Meal” is gluten-free — “where food always tastes good” as they wrote on their menu.

I love it. They came up with this game all on their own, which makes me love it even more. It’s so cool to see them having fun with gluten-free, and it’s great to see them taking pride in playing games like this. It is a wonderful sound to overhear your children just having fun imagining, creating, decorating, pretending…and dreaming — totally unplugged.

The first time I really remember them playing “gluten-free bakery” was Christmas 2010 when they received a bunch of pretend play food. The next day they had set up their play closet as a bakery (below) with a centerpiece, tables, menus and ice cream, too.

They invited their cousins over. They invited parents, grandparents and anyone else who visited our house. After a few weeks they moved on to something else, and the closet was transformed into some other kind of fort, but they sure enjoyed this game while it lasted.

Last month we were on vacation in the Orlando area and went, one day, to Downtown Disney, upon recommendations from some of the awesome Moms who have come together on my Facebook page. They had told me about BabyCakes being there — an all gluten-free bakery. (In fact, I believe most everything they offered was gluten-free, plus dairy-free, egg-free and soy-free). You can imagine how excited my girls were to see this place. I’ll admit: I had them expecting a little too much (I had said we’d be walking into a big bakery and they’d be able pick out whatever they wanted) but they were still super excited to even see a small all-gluten-free bakery in the corner of a restaurant.

We each picked out a dessert and took it “to go” to eat after our lunch at T-Rex Restaurant next door. It was hard to wait (and our to-go box was opened repeatedly for sniffing noses and sneaky licking fingers) but we thoroughly enjoyed everything. Morgan chose a lemon-frosted cupcake, Lindsey picked a mint-frosted brownie cupcake and I decided on a cookie sandwich (2 large, thin chocolate chip cookies with frosting in between). Besides the goodies shown below, there was another area with banana breads, donuts, and other sweet treats. They had never seen so many gluten-free goodies together in one place before and you could tell that they thought it was a very cool place.

Since that vacation, their gluten-free bakery has been re-established in the playhouse since we’ve been having an unseasonably warm Spring. It’s much the same except for a new sign, menu and decorations. It’s wonderful how some things just never get old!
Has your g-free kid had any gluten-free dreams become reality? Are you lucky enough to live near one of these all-gluten-free bakeries?  As always, feel free to post a picture on my Facebook page and/or comment below. Thanks!

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Simple St. Patrick’s Day ideas and coloring page for gluten-free kids

March is always a busy month for our family — especially since my daughters are Irish dancers. So far they are scheduled for 13 shows this month, on top of everything else life brings. Thankfully we all love it and seeing them do their 2-hand reel never ceases to bring tears to my eyes…

Despite the crazy schedule, we like to scatter little St. Patrick’s Day treats and symbols throughout the month, just like we do for Valentine’s Day in February. There are far too many fun things to do with those holidays, than to limit it all to just one day each month.

With this first idea (which is nothing original, I’m sure) I just arranged green, white and orange veggies in the shape and color order of the Irish flag. I used snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, orange peppers and baby carrots. The subtlety of this idea may be lost on little ones, so a mini Irish flag (we made this one w/ markers, paper and a toothpick) helps make the connection.

Another simple idea just involves cutting already-baked, g-free pizza (we use Chebe for the crust) into shamrock shapes with a cookie cutter… what could be easier?

For the pizza below, I arranged Hormel mini pepperoni in the shapes of shamrocks all over the top of the (Chebe crust) pizza. Just watch that your cheese doesn’t get too over-cooked and dark, or your shamrocks won’t stand out enough.

Next I’ve created a gluten-free coloring page for your g-free kid to enjoy. Please fee free to post a picture of your child with his or her finished coloring page on my Facebook wall!

Here are some other crafty, fun things to do for St. Patrick’s Day:

And to close, here is an Irish blessing — heavily modified, by me, from one found here

“May you have gluten-free bread to do you good,
Gluten-free bread to sweeten your blood,
Gluten-free bread to do you no harm
And gluten-free bread to strengthen your arm.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
More sweet, green ideas coming very soon!

In case you missed it, check out these sweet & salty treats for St. Patty’s Day,
and be sure you see the photo album of g-free kids and g-free kids’ stuff page.
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Snyder’s Gluten-Free Mini Pretzels: Review, Ideas and Giveaway!

Way back before I went gluten-free almost 5 years ago, my husband and I used to be huge Snyder’s of Hanover (regular) pretzel fans. I remember eating Snyder’s pretzels when we started dating in 1989! Our favorite snacks were their sourdough hard pretzels, pretzel rods and sourdough nibblers. Once I went gluten-free I thought I would never enjoy another Snyder’s pretzel again — that is, until the day I discovered their Gluten-Free Pretzel Sticks back in 2010.

Ever since, our family has been their #1 group of fans — I’m the kind of #1 fan (in my own mind) of their pretzels that I feel like I’m almost a stalker or something. 😉 I honestly think that we’ve gone through one bag almost every week since we first found them at our local Wegman’s store. Even my dog begs for them and my non-gluten-free husband loves them! We bring them everywhere as snacks, and just really appreciate and enjoy their taste, texture and lack of weird after-taste (that you get with other brands of gluten-free pretzels).

So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that my favorite pretzel company just came out with a new shape…Snyder’s Gluten Free Mini Pretzels. My daughters and I couldn’t open our first bag fast enough. We almost ate the whole thing that same afternoon, eating them both plain and dipped into hummus.

They taste just like our beloved GF pretzel sticks — buttery “regular pretzel” taste with the perfect amount of salt — but we are really enjoying this new shape and texture. It’s funny how Snyder’s can make another product using the same ingredients (click here for ingredient list) but how they seem “new” to us all over again. Their texture is a little different, but in a very good way… These mini pretzels are thinner and a bit crispier than the sticks. Something about the shape, size and taste of them makes me feel like I’m eating just plain regular pretzels, taking me back in time to the days when I could have any pretzel in the world. I can honestly say that I would keep eating these pretzels even if I could ever go back to eating gluten-free. They really are that good. (And, like the sticks, the minis are also dairy-free, casein-free, egg-free, and low-fat, by the way.)

With St. Patrick’s Day and Springtime coming soon, we came up with a few simple ways to make the following cute, little salty-sweet treats, using both minis and sticks…

Sweet & salty shamrocks:

Sweet & salty dragonflies:

Simple flowers:

and M&M buttons & nonpariel buttons:

For all of the above, we preheated the oven to 400 degrees, arranged pretzels and placed colored melting disks or chocolate disks with nonpariels (round sprinkles) on top. Melt them in oven for 30-60 seconds and place in freezer to harden. The buttons only take about 30 seconds but the others take around 60 seconds to melt enough. Because ovens differ, I would suggest you do a little trial and error until you’re able to get them to melt enough to stick onto the pretzels so they don’t fall apart. I brought a big tray of these to my grandma’s 90th birthday party yesterday and they all disappeared without anyone realizing they were g-free!

Here are some other sweet ideas I found in case you’re interested:

I ask you:  Who better than Snyder’s to make our favorite g-free pretzels?  (Now in 2 different shapes!) 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. Also Certified Gluten-Free are their Multigrain Tortilla Chips in their EatSmart Naturals line. And they also offer 100 Calorie Pretzel Stick Packs now, too. Next I am pulling for them to make gluten-free pretzel rods!

By the way, please be sure to tell your child’s supporters how readily available and inexpensive ($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 that have regular pretzels 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.  🙂

Now for the giveaway: Snyder’s of Hanover has generously agreed to give away 1 full-size (8 oz.) bag of their new Gluten-Free Mini Pretzels to 10 lucky, randomly-drawn winners. All you have to do is comment below, saying what you and your g-free kid are looking forward to doing with Snyder’s new pretzels: Making a special treat with them? (If possible, include link to online recipe);  Eating them plain?  Dipping them in something? (If so, what?) 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 others. Giveaway ends at midnight on Monday, March 12th. If winners don’t respond by Wed. March 14th, 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 mini 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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Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies: Variations on a Theme

Here it is…the original recipe — given to me over five years ago by my friend, Lori — named as such because you need “a cuppa peanut butter and a cuppa sugar.” (plus an egg!)  🙂 This recipe makes (what many think are) the best peanut butter cookies ever — whether you can eat gluten or not!  I was hooked on these even before I had to go gluten-free, and I’ve never bothered to try a new recipe since then…

Whenever someone eats these cookies, they inevitably ask for the recipe, and are baffled to hear how easy they are to make, and that an egg can actually hold the peanut butter and sugar together. They are always amazed at how moist these cookies are, how well they hold up and just how good they taste!

The photos below will give you an idea of how versatile this recipe is…I usually double or triple the recipe, and freeze some afterwards. Yes, they even freeze well!

As shown here, I often add m&m’s or peanut m&m’s into the mix before baking…

Candy corns and Hershey’s Kisses work well, too!  Just press candy on top of the cookies immediately after they have finished baking.

Below you will see the amount of cookies you can make when you triple the recipe. For most of these cookies, I pressed 3 m&m’s onto the tops before they baked. Just make sure you watch them — if they’re in too long the m&m’s might crack. Others I left plain and others had m&m’s mixed in with the dough.

And I bet you’re wondering about those peanut butter cups in the back row… These are my latest creation, and one which I will make again for sure. I pressed some of the dough into 8 greased mini cupcake openings (it was a trial so I only made a few) and forked the edges a little. Then after they were baked (for 8 minutes) I spooned Nutella into the openings. After they had cooled for a while, they twisted out of the cupcake tin very nicely — all except one. That one, I discovered, had too-thick dough at the bottom which hadn’t cooked all the way through like the other ones. That being said, make sure your bottom is just as thick as your sides, and you’ll be all set. Instead of Nutella, you can also try filling the opening with melting chocolate, chocolate chips, a Hershey’s Kiss — or better yet: chocolate frosting as another friend just suggested. No matter how you fill them, they are the perfect kid-size peanut butter cups!  🙂

Some final tips:  (1) Let your kids help! You couldn’t find an easier recipe and the dough is very workable and isn’t sticky at all. (2) As I wrote in pencil on the recipe above, I don’t recommend forking them. Whenever I do this, they turn out too flat. Keeping your dough balls as round and high as possible when you put them on the cookie sheet to bake will give them the best shape. (3) Keep an eye on the bottom of your cookies so they don’t burn (mine are usually done in 7-8 minutes), and (4) let them cool on the cookie sheet before you try to move them. This helps solidify them so they won’t break apart. If you follow these tips, you should have excellent results!

Really — you must try these — even if you just do a single batch. You will be blown away by how good they are…  And, if you try any other variations with this recipe, let me know!

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5 ways to make your gluten-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 in 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 are 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!

Welcome

Welcome to g-free kid!

I am the author/illustrator of the children’s book, Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?
My twin daughters and I are gluten-free for life because of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. I am excited to have this vehicle to share my thoughts and ideas to make your child’s gluten-free journey happy and healthy. Up until now there have been way too many things floating around in my mind with no real place to share them.

As this blog grows and evolves, you will find plenty of helpful topics here, all intended to help your gluten-free child thrive — not just survive. I will be posting all things related to bringing up a g-free kid and will try to divulge everything my family has learned in the past five years, along with easy recipes, book & food reviews (complete with kids’ opinions, too, of course), giveaways and other surprise features along the way.
I’ll also be sharing craft and play ideas, too, as I believe gluten-free kids just need to feel and act normal instead of being overly-focused on their diet and condition.

What you won’t find on this site (at least from me) is: whining, complaining, feeling sorry for ourselves, wishing things were different, swearing, blaming and bad attitudes.  Please join me by helping — with your comments — to keep the tone of this blog as positive as we should all be for our g-free kids. Thanks, and enjoy!

Sincerely,
Katie Chalmers