Last week, I spoke to members of the Rockland/Bergen R.O.C.K. (Raising Our Celiac Kids) Chapter about “Keeping it Positive for their Gluten-Free Kids.” In other words, finding the balance between providing children with a healthful AND gluten-free diet. Here are the tips I shared, several of which apply to all children, both gluten-eating and gluten-avoiding.
Going gluten-free is about SO MUCH MORE than avoiding gluten. It is not okay to let kids eat a highly-processed gluten-free diet just because they have Celiac and it is easier for them (and possibly you as well). By doing this, we are trading Celiac for other other harmful dietary diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoarthritis.
We must impress upon them the importance of diligently avoiding gluten without harping on what they cannot have and embracing what they can have. It all comes down to the tone we set as parents, as this is the tone they will carry with them throughout their lives. And the tone must be POSITIVE.
In no way am I trivializing the difficulty of doing this, and that is why I have provided the below tips.
Tips for Keeping it Positive:
Tip #1 – Remind your kids regularly that, other than a few gluten-containing grains, they can eat all the foods that are recommended for making them feel great, excel in school and enjoy their favorite activities. This includes: lean meats, poultry and fish; low-fat milk and milk products; fresh fruits and vegetables and; plant-based proteins, such as nuts, seeds and beans.
Tip #2 Be a gluten-free trail blazer. Who said kids only have fun at birthday parties that provide pizza? Instead, throw a make-your own taco party, or other fun item, that is gluten-free for all to enjoy. In addition, square sandwich bread isn’t the only thing kids want in their lunch box. Why not try corn-tortilla roll-ups or a rice stir-fry? I promise you other parents will follow your lead.
Tip #4 Set a good example by eating the foods you are touting. Kids learn by example. You cannot expect them to try a food that you yourself are not eating.
Tip #5 Get them into the kitchen to help you cook. They will learn invaluable skills to help them navigate a gluten-free world as they get older. It’s great quality time to spend with them. They are more likely to eat the foods they have helped to prepare.
Tip #6 Make it easy for kids to make healthy food decisions. Place healthful foods within eyesight and hand’s reach. Put occasional treats in hard to find spots that are not front and center. Cut up fruits and veggies so they are ready for kids to grab and go during the week. Cut cheese into cubes and place them on a plate with whole-grain gluten-free crackers. Provide fun dips, such as yogurt for cut fruit and hummus for cut veggies.
Tip #7 Change their (and your) mindset about what makes up a delicious baked good. Instead of relying on baked goods made with empty-calorie food starches for their ingredients (tapioca flour, cornstarch, white rice flour, etc.), use recipes that rely on nut and bean flours instead, such as almond flour and garbanzo and fava bean flours. These flours are loaded with fiber and protein and provide a feeling of fullness so your kids won’t have to eat much before they get full.
Tip #8 Don’t give into the kids eat different foods from adults philosophy. Introduce them to adult foods and flavors at a young age and they will eat like adults. Kids aren’t born to like chicken nuggets. They like chicken nuggets because that is what they have become used to.