By Anne Vize
It seems like everyone these days is talking about gluten. Supermarket shelves have gluten free products, and many restaurant menus now feature a ‘GF’ symbol on some dishes. So what is this thing called gluten, and why is it so important? What should you do if gluten becomes a part of the nutritional picture for a grandchild in your family?
Gluten is not a food in itself, but rather a part of many foods. Cakes, breads, biscuits, breakfast cereals, gravies and sauces are all common sources of gluten. They key grains to know about when it comes to understanding gluten are wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats. These grains all contain a version of gluten, and when you think about your average recipe for a chocolate cake or pasta dish, there are a great many places in the average diet where gluten would be found. Visit the Celiac Sprue Association ® for a more complete list of gluten free and gluten containing foods.
Why eat gluten free?
The main reason people need to eat gluten free is when they have been medically diagnosed as having celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where the person is intolerant to gluten. It can happen to children and adults, and it is more common when another family member has the disease. The estimates of people with celiac disease seem to be around one in 100, although many people remain undiagnosed. Celiac disease is diagnosed through blood testing and a biopsy of the small intestine. Sometimes people who do not have celiac disease also choose to eat a gluten free diet for other reasons. The local doctor is a good starting point for information about testing and celiac disease.
Having fun gluten free
It’s surprising how quickly children adapt to changes in their life. They are often far better at it than we grown-ups are. Although a gluten free diet can seem like a massive lifestyle change initially, it is important to focus on the fun stuff. This is where some well informed and prepared grandparenting can really come into its own! Read up on the gluten free diet, and equip yourself with some fact sheets and dietary information which can help in your own family situation. Buy a few recipe books and spend some time checking out the offerings in the health food section of your supermarket. Often foods which are home-made and naturally gluten free are a good choice, and have the benefit of getting everyone into the kitchen and having some fun.
Here are some fun gluten free recipe ideas that are great to test out during a home baking session with your grandkids:
- quinoa and strawberry muffins
- vegetable stir fry with gluten free sweet and sour sauce and rice noodles
- spaghetti bolognaise made with corn pasta
- gluten free carrot cake
- sushi or rice paper rolls
- apple crumble made with rice flakes and coconut topping
Many recipes which contain wheat flour can be easily adapted using a gluten free alternative. You may need a little more liquid in some recipes, and avoid the temptation to over mix ingredients when baking. Like most cooking with kids, keep it simple and use a recipe that everyone can understand. And after you’ve done some baking, you can always whip up a batch of gluten free play dough using your left over flour!
Tips for dealing with those tricky early days on a gluten free diet:
- Have a good supply of gluten free snacks and treats on hand for when a child on a gluten free diet comes to visit
- Encourage cooking and experimenting in the kitchen so you can all learn together
- Track down some kid friendly information about celiac disease to read and share
- Encourage open and honest communication – acknowledge that the gluten free diet is hard sometimes, and no one expects it to be all smooth sailing
- Don’t leave the house with a child who is already hungry – eat before you go out
- Ring restaurants before arriving to check they can cater easily for a gluten free diet
- Delayed growth
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Failure to thrive
- Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating
- Easy bruising
- Bone and joint pains
Some possible signs that celiac disease could be a problem
This is not a complete list, and it is important to remember many people may experience no symptoms but still have celiac disease. Diagnosing coeliac disease requires medical expertise, so a doctor should be consulted for information and advice.
Coeliac Australia has an extensive listing of possible symptoms on their website. http://www.coeliac.org.au/coeliac-disease/symptoms.html
Please note: This article provides general information only and is not medical advice.
Anne Vize is a freelance author and former teacher from Australia. Her book ‘Supporting children with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance’ published with Australian publisher Teaching Solutions helps early childhood and primary teachers understand gluten and coeliac disease. Anne’s profile is on the Australian Author’s Society website at https://www.asauthors.org/memberportfolios/anne-vize.