At first it is enough to learn how to feed your gluten free child. As most parents know, kids cannot be controlled and have a mind that is very much their own. So teaching them that they need to be gluten free and to make gluten free choices when they are away from you is very important.
Start by teaching kids that gluten hurts their body. Next, teach them to ask the person giving them food if it is gluten free. If your child is very young, this is especially important. For older children or teens, teach them to look for “gluten free” on boxes of food and how to explain what gluten is concisely to people. Tell them that fresh fruits and vegetables as well as most plain cheese and meat are gluten free.
1. Teach Kids That Gluten Hurts Their Body
All the steps will need to be adjusted based on the age when you attempt to teach them about eating gluten free. I have found that casually mentioning it is gluten free is a great starting point. You can point out who in the family needs to eat gluten free or maybe what foods other people cannot eat.
Watch a YouTube video on it! Sometimes kids learn best from someone who isn’t their parent. It also helps to see that other people need to eat like this as well.
For older kids, choose a video that talks about exactly what gluten is, and how it hurts their body. This will of course depend on the reason for being gluten free. What Celiac does to the body is very different for example than Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but both are prescribed gluten free diets by doctors.
2. Teach Kids To Ask If A Food Is Gluten Free
One of the most important things you can do is teach them to ask before they accept any food. While this could apply to most kids taking food from other people, it is especially important for gluten free kids. They need to know that even if they know and trust someone they need to ask if it is gluten free.
Sometimes grandma can forget. Sometimes people they love and trust do not have all the information on gluten free either. So having them always ask will help other people around them keep gluten free in the front of their mind when it comes to feeding your child.
If your child is on a gluten free diet starting when they are very young, that first time they ask in the little kid lisp about “gwooten” is absolutely an absolutely adorable and proud moment.
It can also elicit some feelings of sadness from the adults. We don’t love that they have this extra barrier on childhood, but getting used to asking and being cautious around food is important for these children.
3. Show Kids How To Find A Gluten Free Label On Food
Start showing them young what it looks like to find the gluten free label on food. Help them learn what the certified gluten free label looks like and how to spot it.
They can do this even before learning to read as the symbol is recognizable without knowing the words.
4. Teach Older Kids To Explain What Gluten Free Is
Decide on a simple explanation for when people don’t know what gluten free is. Not everyone knows all the places that gluten is found.
If its been awhile since you first had to figure gluten free out, you may have forgotten. Its sort of like when we learn to read we can’t remember not knowing how. But there are plenty of people that do not know what gluten free means.
They may ask, or they may just look confused. Either way, its good to know how to explain it simply.
5. Teach Kids What Foods Are Generally Safe
There are going to be situations where there is nothing labeled gluten free. Giving them the power to make decisions based on their understanding can be a great tool.
For example, you can teach them that fresh fruit is generally safe. Even better is to teach them that ones with peels that need removed are the best. Fruit such as oranges or bananas that they peel themselves will give them the lowest chance of even cross contamination.
Tortilla chips and string cheese are also ones that are generally safe. How you do this will depend on the reason they are gluten free as well as what happens when they are exposed.
No matter what, try to choose a few things they can opt for that are generally available in social situations they can request or look for.
6. Teach Kids How To Advocate For Their Health
This can be really tough, even for adults.
Advocating for their health is as simple as speaking up. This goes back to asking if food is gluten free.
But it goes further than that. As much as we love our family and friends, they don’t always understand the seriousness of eating gluten free for our kids.
So teaching them to advocate for their health can be responding to someone who has said “oh just a little bit won’t hurt you” with firmness regarding the offered food. It can be saying “no thank you, I’ll just have water” or something similar.
Advocating for their health can also be requesting to call you. Calling their guardian should always be a safe option for them to request. And you can take over for advocating for your kids.
Advocating for their health doesn’t need to be complicated or confrontational.
7. Teach Kids To Ask You If A Food Is Safe
Always asking if something is gluten free is a great start. But if they are ever in a situation where they don’t know the answer or they are uncomfortable, teach them they can always ask you.
If your home is not fully gluten free, teaching them to ask is even more important. Their siblings may be able to eat things that would make them sick. And asking before eating anything is a great habit to get into.
It teaches them to question what they are eating and to think critically about it.
8. Teach Kids What Cross Contamination Is
My kids are always open to learning with videos, and this is no exception.
My favorite way to show how cross contamination works is to show them a video on germs and how they spread. Understanding cross contamination works this way as well is easy and helpful.
They will know they need to avoid germs, wash their hands, and that germs make them sick. These all apply to gluten cross contamination.
9. Teach Kids That Being Gluten Free Is Special
As parents and guardians we want to protect our kids. Everything on this list will help protect them against the threat to them from gluten. But sometimes they need to know they aren’t different in a bad way.
Their childhood won’t be the same as other kids who can accept any food in any social situation. But it doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to have fun.
Gluten free is something that makes them different and their family different. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. For very young kids, there is a Daniel Tiger song that addresses this. (Is there a Daniel Tiger song for literally everything in childhood?)
For older children, this can be especially difficult. If they are teens and in that stage where they want to do everything the same as their friends. Teaching them that this makes them special just like someone’s red hair might make them different and memorable.
It’s All About Respect
What we are doing is trying to teach these growing humans to respect their bodies. In this instance, we are trying to get them to understand that avoiding gluten is how they can respect themselves.
Something to be careful of is passing on anxiety. We want them to be careful, but we want them to enjoy being children as well. We want to teach them how to be safe without giving the impression that the world isn’t safe for them.
Isolation is a huge issue in the post-gluten free life. So much of this stems from anxiety around gluten. Food in our society is a huge part of socialization. Finding good options and being firm in not eating gluten is important, but losing out on social aspects of life can also be damaging.
It is our job as their parents and guardians to keep them safe. And part of that is to make sure they are nourished physically and emotionally. It can be a hard line to find. And respect for themselves is all part of it.
If you are wanting more information about gluten in the classroom, check out the article that was recently published.