Your Gluten-Free Kid: Where to Start

Your child was just diagnosed with gluten intolerance (and likely a few other intolerances as well).

You’re excited because your family finally has some answers for why your child has been suffering.

But you’re also overwhelmed because HOW are you going to become an expert on gluten-free living overnight?

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You’re not. But that’s okay.

The transition to living gluten-free is an individualized process. Whether it’s for you or your child, it will take time to learn the subtleties of this lifestyle. For a list of questions to help you begin the process of making decisions about this transition, click here.

From there, educate yourself on the basics of living gluten-free, how nutrition labels can help you purchase safe packaged foods, how to minimize gluten contamination in your own home and when eating out, and how to ask for support from loved ones.

Your child’s age will dictate how best to support him or her. If your child is under 3, the transition will most likely be more seamless for your child than it will be for you. If your child is under 10, speak with them in age-appropriate language about how to keep from feeling their gluten-induced symptoms, read age-appropriate books together about food allergies and intolerances, and work together to try new recipes for your child’s favorite foods. If your child is a tween or teen, finding (or starting!) a peer-based support network (in person or online) may be the most helpful way to help him or her process this change.

Depending on your child’s level of gluten sensitivity, you may need to take additional precautions. Some hidden sources of gluten that may not initially be on your radar include:

Your (or your partner’s) breastmilk

If you are breastfeeding, gluten and other allergens CAN pass to your child. Not every child is this sensitive, but you may need to stop eating allergenic foods until your child weans or becomes less sensitive.

Your child’s school and/or childcare setting

Especially if your child is young, there is a lot of “sharing” that goes on at school or in childcare settings. Everything from toys to plates to cups can be sources of gluten contamination. Obviously, you cannot control everything your child touches, but it may be helpful to have a frank discussion with your child’s teacher or care provider AS WELL AS your child about what is and is not safe. Your child’s teacher may be aware of gluten issues at snack time but may not consider the play-dough or pasta necklace during arts and crafts time. You cannot be present for every moment of your child’s day. In this case, your child is his or her own best advocate. Teach them early how to keep themselves healthy.

Medication (Prescription and OTC)

Anything that your child consumes, including their vitamins, supplements, and/or medicine, MAY contain gluten. There are many online resources available to check prescription and over-the-counter medicines. One of the most comprehensive lists can be found here.

Beauty and skincare products

Again, depending on your child’s level of sensitivity to gluten, it may be important to keep your family’s products out of your child’s reach. Products that go directly on the mouth or aerosolize, such as lip balm and hairspray, are the most likely to cause accidental gluten contamination.

Pet food and pet care products

Getting glutened by your pet (via food, treats, litter, or shampoo) is all too common. Especially if your child is responsible for helping with pet care, make sure to educate yourself on safe products for your pet and your child.

Click here for a comprehensive list of hidden sources of gluten and dairy.

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As with all aspects of parenting, you will figure out what strategies work best for your family. Be patient, educate yourself, and trust your instincts. You may not yet be an expert on gluten-free living, but you are an expert on your child—and that’s what’s going to help you through this transition the most.

How do you support your gluten-free kid?