Having a child with a need for a gluten free diet can throw almost any dad into a dietary world he world they have never even thought about before. Dads who previously considered fast food drive-throughs and frozen meals filled with bread, cookies, and cakes the cornerstones of ‘meal planning’ find themselves suddenly expected to evaluate the ingredients in everything their children eat. If you find yourself to be one of those dads, we’ve prepared this dad’s guide to gluten free kids for you.
Dad’s Guide to Gluten Free Kids
The thought alone is enough to make many dads’ heads spin. But just because a gluten free diet may be out of your wheelhouse, does not mean a dad can simply bury his head in the sand and proceed as though nothing has changed. If you have a child who needs to adhere to a gluten free diet and find yourself dumbfounded by the gluten free lifestyle, read on to find out how to go from dumb dad to confident dad when it comes to mastering your child’s gluten free diet.
Learn the Gluten Free Lingo
The first step in moving from your own gluten filled world into your child’s gluten free world is to learn the language in this dad’s guide to gluten free kids. A gluten free lifestyle brings with it a whole new set of terminology that you have understandably never needed to use before, but to successfully navigate the world of gluten free living it is important to know not only what gluten is, but also other key terms you are likely to hear frequently in association with a gluten free diet.
Gluten refers to a mixture of specific proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and any hybrids of these grains. Additionally, because of commonly used growing practices oats are also considered to contain gluten unless they are specifically labeled as being certified gluten free. Gluten is what gives foods made with it their characteristic doughy, elastic texture. It ranges in being difficult to impossible for many people to properly digest.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body sees gluten as an invader and attacks it. Symptoms of coeliac disease include a range of gastrointestinal problems.
Cross contamination refers to an otherwise gluten free food being contaminated with a source of gluten. Depending on your child’s level of sensitivity to gluten, something as minor as your having touched bread (or any other source of gluten) before touching her food could cause and adverse reaction. For this reason, it is important to keep gluten free foods safely away from any contact with even trace amounts of gluten.
When doctors and health experts suspect that gluten may be problematic for a patient, they often recommend trying an elimination diet. During an elimination diet, a patient avoids any and all sources of gluten to see if symptoms are alleviated. Typically an elimination diet needs to be followed for a minimum of 4-6 weeks to assess if gluten is indeed causing trouble for your child.
Gluten intolerance refers to somewhat of a catchall term for people who have adverse reactions to gluten, but do not test positive for the autoimmune condition of coeliac disease. Though some diagnostic tools exist for determining gluten intolerance, it is largely diagnosed through practical measures. If your child’s symptoms improve after being on a gluten free diet, it can be assumed that she suffers from some level of gluten intolerance.
The popular paleo diet is not strictly related to a gluten free diet, but because of its strict avoidance of gluten containing grains (and all other grains as well), the two diets are often linked together. While not all gluten free foods are paleo approved, all paleo foods should be safe for a gluten free diet.
A wheat allergy refers to having an allergic reaction to wheat. Unlike in the case of gluten intolerance, mere exposure to can cause symptoms to surface. Symptoms include hives, coughing and wheezing, runny nose, and, in severe cases, trouble breathing. Though often referred to as a gluten allergy, a blanket gluten allergy does not exist. Rather, the allergy is specifically related to wheat and not to other gluten containing grains.
Understand the Risk
Ultimately, the most important thing dad’s guide to gluten free kids that you can do for your child is to understand the risk she is exposed to each and every time she ingests gluten. In addition to the range of immediate symptoms your child may experience, gluten can cause long term damage. For a child with coeliac disease, the autoimmune reaction can potentially lead to malnourishment, additional autoimmune conditions, and increased risk for other diseases. For a child with gluten intolerance, the difficulty of digesting gluten can lead internal inflammation and problems with gut permeability.
Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
- Gastrointestinal Problems: stomach discomfort and cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting
- Skin Rashes
- Mood changes
Practical Tips for Dad’s with Gluten Free Kids
When you are out and about with a hungry child, it is all too tempting to hand him or her whatever is available, even if a gluten free option is not among what you have access to in the moment. The problem is these quick fixes can have major consequences (see above). Instead, prevent these dilemmas with just a small bit of advanced planning.
Keep a bag of unsweetened dried fruit and nuts in the car, grab a piece of fruit for your child to have later, or do some research on gluten free options available near the areas of town you frequent. Just a few minutes of planning ahead can make the day much easier for you and healthier for your child.
Be Your Child’s Advocate
Depending on his age, your child may not fully understand the importance of carefully avoiding gluten. Be prepared to step in to advocate for your child as needed. Talk with school officials about a plan to keep your child safe at school. Explain the dietary concerns to other parents at birthday parties. Let waiters know your child’s limitations when ordering meals at restaurants.
Be the voice that speaks up for the best interests of your child when he can’t. In doing so, you both will protect him and teach him how to advocate for himself.
Become an Avid Label Reader
As you read over the list of ingredients in many packaged foods, you may be shocked to see all the places that gluten is lurking. Many unwitting dads (and plenty of other folks) have unintentionally handed their little ones a snack packed with gluten when they skipped reading the label.
Sauces, soups, nuts, chips, shredded cheese, and dips can all contain gluten filled ingredients. Make a habit of reading the packages of any foods or drinks your purchase.
Stock the Kitchen
Be sure to keep plenty of tasty and nutritious snack and meal options stocked in your kitchen. Having plenty of safe options increases your child’s odds of successfully sticking to a gluten free diet. Aim for fresh, real food choices rather than packaged and processed gluten free options. You’ll save money over these heavily marketed options, and provide your child with healthier options in the process.
Maybe you would never miss a sports event or skip a school show for your child, but are you showing the same level of support when it comes to your child’s need to follow a gluten free diet? Whether your child needs to remove gluten from his or her diet due to medical conditions, behavioural concerns, or as part of a healthy diet, he has probably felt a bit different from his peers because of the need to follow a diet that differs from the norm.
Having full support at home can go a long way in bolstering confidence that a gluten free diet is ultimately a good thing when your child feels like the odd man out in the school lunch hall or children’s birthday parties. Small efforts can express your commitment to your child’s diet.
1. Keep the Comments Positive
Admittedly, at times it can be inconvenient to meet the requirements of a gluten free diet. Regardless of how you may feel about the confines imposed by a gluten free diet, keep any and all comments you make about your child’s dietary restrictions positive. Your child is constantly watching and listening to your attitude about everything. Sensing your support will go a long way in helping to make navigating a special diet easier.
2. Go Gluten Free Yourself
This idea may sound extreme, but if your child is having a hard time adjusting to a gluten free diet going gluten free yourself can go a long way in easing the transition. Adopting your child’s diet conveys your support through not just words, but actions as well. Consider going gluten free, at least when you are with your child. Because gluten is difficult for virtually everyone to digest, you may be surprised at how much better you feel!
If you have taken your child’s nutritional needs too lightly in the past, there is no time like the present to get a fresh start. Let your child know that you regret making mistakes and are looking forward to making a fresh start together.
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