Cooking for children on gluten-free diets requires special planning and care to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Replacing gluten-filled junk food with gluten-free junk food, of course, isn't good for kids.
Research shows that children with Celiac disease are at higher risk for nutritional deficiencies. A variety of nutritious foods is vital to healthy growth and development.
- Explain to your child what foods are safe for them to eat and what foods contain gluten and are off-limits. The depth of this discussion will depend on the age of your child. Use visual aids if you need to in order to help your child understand the concept of safe and unsafe foods.
- Help your child write their favorite gluten-free foods in a notebook or a recipe file. Divide the file into sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and "away from home foods." This will help your child understand what is safe for them to eat and it will give you a "go-to" file when you need meal ideas.
Cook Dishes That Kids Really Like
- Children on gluten-free diets naturally want to eat foods that look and taste like foods they ate before being placed on a gluten-free diet. Kid-friendly recipes for gluten-free spaghetti, macaroni, and cheese, pizza, cookies, muffins and gluten-free bread that look "normal" help to make the transition to a gluten-free diet much less traumatic. More and more gluten-free foods, both homemade and store-bought are looking extremely "normal"—even bread and pizza.
- Kids like to eat what other kids are eating, whether around the family table, at school or at parties. If everyone else is eating pizza, then it's important to plan ahead and serve gluten-free pizza too.
Let Kids Help Cook
- Get your kids involved in preparing gluten-free foods and they will learn all about gluten-free ingredients and how to use them. This is an invaluable life-skill for gluten-free kids.
- Easy gluten-free recipes to start with include chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy bars, and pancakes. Kids love these foods—which should make beginning cooking experiences more fun.
When Your Gluten-Free Child Is Away From Home
This is probably one of the most traumatic issues the parents of gluten-free kids have to deal with. Visits with grandparents, sleep-overs, birthday parties, school lunchrooms, and sporting events are all potential places where your gluten-free child may unintentionally expose to gluten.
- Tell family, friends, teachers, school administrators, coaches, babysitters, and day-care providers exactly what your child cannot eat. Print safe and unsafe food lists and give this information to any and all people responsible for your child's care.
- Talk to these same people about the dietary restrictions of gluten-free diets and take the time to answer any questions they have.
- Stress the health risks associated with accidental exposure to gluten.
- Send healthy, gluten-free school lunch, travel, and snack foods with your child when they are planning to be away from home.
Stay Positive and Supportive
- Your child is on a gluten-free diet for life. It is important to show children that gluten-free foods can taste great, look normal and that they can still eat their favorite foods.
- Plan ahead, communicate with your gluten-free child, family, friends, teachers, and caregivers, maintain a well-stocked gluten-free pantry and serve simple, nutritionally balanced meals. The transition to a gluten-free lifestyle will become easier for your gluten-free kid and for you too.