This article was originally published in Village Living Magazine August 28, 2013
The summer is almost over and it’s time to send your kids back to school. Apart from the obvious school supplies and clothes, for children who are Celiac or gluten intolerant, now is also the time to ensure they are ready to navigate the many food choices they will face outside of your watchful eye and supervision. Here are some great age appropriate tips on how you can teach your kids about their food restrictions:
Young children may not be able to read proficiently, but you can teach them to recognize simple words such as “gluten-free” and to always check the front of boxes for these words before choosing to eat something new that isn’t a whole fruit or veggie. Make it fun by getting them to find and read these words on packages at home every time they eat.
As your children continue to develop their reading skills, you can teach them more food related words, such as ingredient names. Print a list in big letters, or use colourful alphabet magnets to spell out ingredient names together on the fridge. It’s a fun activity, and will be something they’ll look at every morning before school, and every afternoon when they come home. These can include words such as: wheat, barley, rye, semolina, kamut, spelt, malt, (brewers) yeast and others. While new gluten-free labelling requirements are coming into effect in Canada which will make identifying safe gluten-free foods much more easily, it never hurts to arm your child with this kind of knowledge early and often.
Chances are your kids will be computer or tablet savvy enough for this next activity much earlier than this! Challenge your children to search for ingredients of both the foods that they must avoid AND healthy foods that they CAN enjoy. Get them to creatively organize the list into a quick reference guide to carry around in their backpack (or even create a shortcut for it on their phone). Good foods can be colour coded green, while foods to avoid can be colour coded red.
Knowing that your children will be outside of your care and supervision, it’s important to have a conversation with your kids’ teachers to ensure they understand their needs and food restrictions. While Celiac disease is becoming more widely recognized, most people still do not fully understand what foods are safe and what foods are not. It may help to provide teachers with a list of foods to avoid, which you can download from the Canadian Celiac Association. If your child’s teacher periodically hands out treats during class, be sure to provide the teacher with a small box of appropriate non-perishable treats that your child enjoys.
While food restrictions may often times seem tedious and troublesome, these are some simple ways that you can make them more manageable. By arming your children with critical knowledge, you’re not only helping them to make good decisions for themselves, you’re also helping them embrace and celebrate their health – which is one of the best lessons they can ever learn!