Gluten-free living is challenging for adults, and it can be double the challenge for young people. No child wants to feel sick, and knowing what will make them feel ill and how to avoid it will help them stay healthy. But expecting children of any age to adhere to the strict guidelines of a gluten-free diet, particularly when away from home, is asking them to rise to a level of maturity, discipline, and fortitude that many other children do not have to take on. But youngsters are smart and adaptable. As it’s often easier for young people to learn foreign languages than adults, learning the ins and outs of gluten-free living at a young age can be done, but tools and know-how are the key.
• Give your child a list of foods and brand name products they have to avoid, and make sure they keep the list with them at all times. They will have to learn how to read labels as an adult would when they are on their own buying packaged foods.
• Have your child take part in making their bag lunch. Let them help bake their gluten-free cookies, make snacks, and mix batter. When children have a personal investment in their food and like what they make, they’ll be less likely to give into gluten temptation at school or trade for something that can be harmful to them. Another child will not know if something is forbidden or not.
• Except for fruits and vegetables, children need to say no to food that is offered to them by others, including candy. But if they have their own gluten-free food to enjoy, they will be protective of it and saying no won’t be as difficult.
• When your child visits friends, the parents need to know the dietary restrictions to help keep your child safe. Slumber parties, birthday parties, and backyard fiestas can be difficult times for a child, and gluten-free options need to be available so they don’t feel excluded or different.
• When teenagers are in a rebellious stage, sticking to the diet may be one of the things they rebel against. Emphasize to your children that it’s cool to stay healthy and safe.
• Just like adults, children have cravings too. They will need healthy gluten-free snacks on hand to fight the munchies.