As a parent, your natural instinct is of course to protect your child no matter what that takes. So in order to do that, it’s really important that you explain their new diagnosis to them and the rest of the family, so that everyone knows how gluten is going to affect their body, should they inadvertently eat it.
It’s important to explain what gluten is and which types of foods are suitable for them to eat from now on, and which ones are not. Foods containing wheat, barley, rye and oats are no longer suitable, so this will potentially affect some of their favourite foods such as bread, pasta and porridge, cookies, biscuits and cake. Quickly move onto explaining that this doesn’t mean they can't eat their favourite foods anymore, but instead these will need to be made with different non gluten ingredients; for example with Freya, her favourite thing is spaghetti bolognese, which she can of course still enjoy, but the sauce is now made from scratch and served with gluten free pasta.
Don’t forget to stay positive around the subject, letting them know that whilst it is really important for them not to eat foods containing gluten and for them to check the ingredients or ask an adult to check the ingredients, they will still be able to go to parties, enjoy sleepovers, days out and meals out. Let them know how much better they will feel once their diet changes with less tummy aches and feeling tired and poorly, but try not to make a big deal out of it. Kids will follow your lead and if you remain upbeat, despite the change in circumstances, then they will do the same.
Even though your child might be young, make sure you use the correct terminology to explain their new diet change, ‘gluten free’, ‘coeliac (celiac) disease’ as your child will be communicating this to others, therefore it will be much easier for people to understand.
The next stage in the learning journey should involve a trip to the supermarket, allowing them to help you pick which products they would like to try, and you can teach them why some things that they will inevitably pick up out of habit, are not suitable for them anymore. Getting them involved with this will help them to learn and take control of their new diet and also encourage them to explore new products.
We found that one of the best ways for Freya to understand how being gluten free would affect her everyday life, was by preparing a family quiz, making this learning as fun and informative as possible. And if your child is anything like Freya, with a competitive streak to rival Michael Phelps, she really enjoyed being quizzed and being rewarded for answering correctly!
Here are examples of some questions we used in our family quiz.
- What is gluten? Name 5 products that it is found in
- If (child’s name) eats something with gluten in, how will it make them feel?
- In our kitchen, how would we make beans on toast?
- Stick a gluten free sticker on 5 things in the kitchen that need to be kept gluten free
- What would you say to Nana if she had made a cake but you weren’t sure if it was gluten free?