This is part 2 of 4 in a series centering on the challenges of raising a gluten-free child. Then keep watching for future posts, as I incorporate answers from my daughter about her life with celiac at home, school, and with friends. I hope to relate our experiences and help people who are wondering about the very same issues.
After Emma’s diagnosis, we chose to keep gluten in our house. Some of it was because of the expense to feed gluten-free foods to the entire family, also because we knew beyond our door Emma needed to know that the world isn’t going to cater to her gluten-free lifestyle – unfortunately.
Creating a Gluten-Free Kitchen
One of the first things I did after Emma’s diagnosis was get my kitchen straight. If we were to have gluten in the house, we needed to make sure we did everything to eliminate the likelihood of cross-contamination. I created a “safe” cupboard in our pantry so Emma (and a babysitter or grandparent) could look in there and confidently grab a snack or some other gluten-free product.
I got rid of all of our wooden spoons and wooden and plastic cutting boards; because of the grooves in them you can never get them 100% clean. I replaced them with glass cutting boards, but be forewarned they take a toll on your knives. We also added a separate toaster, bread knives, and butter dish. Oh and I started investing in squeezable products like, jelly and mayonnaise to eliminate that cross-contamination possibility.
A Gluten-Free Childhood
Those choices have proved to be smart for our family, but as Emma got older and joined activities and met friends some things started to change and she noticed. Snacks had gluten, treats had gluten, lunch had gluten, fundraisers had gluten, sports involved gluten; the list just kept going and going. That quickly became frustrating for her.
Emma recently told me about what she thinks of snacks and treats away from home. “It’s kind of hard because lots of people bring snacks that I can’t have for birthdays and stuff…Some people don’t care.” At soccer it plays out a little differently, “…I can usually have the drink but I usually don’t take a snack [because it has gluten in it] or I give it to my sister. Sometimes I replace it with a fruit snack at home.”
At Halloween Emma brings in a huge haul of candy, but about half of it has gluten. “I had to give most of my candy I got to my sister at Halloween,” she said. In our defense, my husband and I have a gluten-free back-up stash that we use to replenish her supply.
While there have been some frustrations for her along the way, there are many positives. She is extremely healthy. I look at her six-pack abs and wonder where those came from – certainly not me. She does duathlons, plays volley ball and soccer, and is among the top in her class. Her friends and their families have received a quick education about celiac disease, and they usually keep something around the house Emma can have like certain brands of popcorn or potato chips.
With our help, Emma is also starting to be a label reader. She knows more about ingredients in food than any of her friends. “I know practically all the stuff that’s gluten-free,” Emma said. And from where my husband and I sit, that knowledge continues to grow.
Keep watching for the next installment of this series of blog posts. I will look more closely at our experience at her school and the challenges and accomplishments through her eyes. Plus, what does a 9-year-old hope for the future in celiac disease? And her thoughts on how she, and kids like her, might make a difference some day. That post is also coming, I hope you’ll be reading!