How to Talk to Friends and Family About Your Child’s Dietary Needs without Scaring Them Off
[There's an important step that everyone faces in their gluten-free lifestyle: Talking to family and friends about your dietary needs - or those of your child. For parents of gluten-free kids, it can be a particularly stressful time. We went straight to the source and asked Heidi Kelly of Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom for tips on starting those conversations.]
It seems like yesterday when my now 8-year-old son was diagnosed with celiac disease and within a split second, he went from being a carefree and “normal” 5-year-old Goldﬁsh cracker and Happy Meal loving child to one who had to become concerned with a life-long condition that would end up affecting so much more of our life than we could ever possibly imagine.
A celiac diagnosis is a hard pill to swallow at any age, but it is not the end of the world. Once you get past the initial shock (and the ﬁrst few weeks of trying to ﬁgure out exactly what you CAN eat), you will begin to realize that you can in fact navigate this beautiful, brave new world with your child. Looking back, I wish at the time that someone had pulled me aside and provided me with a few tips and tricks to make the transition easier. I hope to be that person for you now.
Heidi’s tips for talking to friends and loved ones about celiac disease:
1. Keep it Simple.
Celiac disease is a very serious and complex autoimmune disease, and it can be difﬁcult for even physicians to fully comprehend the full nature of the beast. Resist the urge to conduct a mini medical seminar for each of your child’s friends’ parents, lest they send both you and child right back out the door! Keep it on a need-to-know-basis. After all, the intent is that your child will be invited back again, right?
How I go about explaining Sam’s medical condition and dietary needs to new parents, teachers, baseball coaches, etc., is to tell them he has celiac disease and must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet in order to maintain his good health. For simplicity’s sake, I compare it to a severe food allergy, only without the EpiPen. I do this because, in general, everyone understands the classic food allergy, and celiac disease is just as serious – albeit in a different manner – and the immune response is triggered by food. If Sam accidentally ingests gluten, there is no fear of anaphylaxis or a trip to the emergency room for the adult to worry about.
This is a very important balancing act! You want to convey the “strict” aspect of your child’s diet, but you also don’t want to scare parents/teachers/coaches away from wanting to include your child in the everyday fun activities of childhood. Remember, your celiac child is most likely just as healthy (if not healthier) as every other child,as long as he/she is eating the correct diet!
2. Educate Your Child
No one will be a greater advocate and watchdog for your child than him/herself. Depending on their age, you want to explain as much about their condition as they can possibly understand. There are a few really good books to help with this, and my absolute favorite is Mommy, What is Celiac Disease, by Katie Chalmers. Once your child can learn to conﬁdently say “I’m sorry, gluten makes me sick,” half the battle is won. Or, as my 4-year-old so eloquently states, “No thanks, gluten makes my butt hurt.”
3. Everybody Knows Someone
With the prevalence and acceptance of food allergies today, almost everybody in your sphere will know of a child with a food allergy or intolerance, especially at school. You have to remember that your child’s teacher sees dozens of kids each year, has cafeteria duty for many dozens more, and has probably been to a continuing education seminar on the matter. Most of the parents you encounter at school will have known of a child in class from years prior who had a food allergy or intolerance.
Most will be sympathetic. In my opinion, it is important to let them be sympathetic. Everyone will react in their own way. The key is for you to keep a level head and not let it dominate every conversation you are involved in. And on that last point, I know…easier said than done.
4. Positives Are Better Than Negatives
Of course it is important to let people be aware of what your child cannot eat, but it is equally important to let people (and your child) know what they CAN eat. Your child can have a piece of fresh fruit. Your child can have baby carrots. Stay away from saying “no” as often as possible, and try to focus more on the “yes.”
For those special moments when a Happy Meal is in order, make a Mommy McMeal! Goldﬁsh Crackers on the docket for snack day? Yep, you can make those gluten-free, too! Need a gluten-free Lunchable for that ﬁrst day of Kindergarten? Easy peasy, my friend.
Don’t resign yourself to living without…instead, get your inner glutadoodle on and say to yourself, “Two can play at that game!”
5. There is No Substitution for Preparation
School snack, birthday parties, baseball games, etc. If people continue to see that you are prepared to deal with the food issues involved with these activities, they will be more at ease and more accommodating. They have to know that you are prepared to deal with it so that they don’t have to. Think about it, who would want to plan a gluten-free birthday party for their darling six-year-old just so your kid can attend? You have to embrace the fact that you are now the parent of “that” kid and let others know that it is a beautiful burden you are willing to bear.
The bonus? Before you know it, other parents will be asking “Just how how does she get her kids to ask for fruits and veggies instead of the [insert popular sugar-laden, gluten-ﬁlled kid fare here] for snack time?”
When all Else Fails…Laugh
Sometimes, you just need a good chuckle. I like watching this YouTube video from Better Batter: Stuff People Say to Celiacs.
- Heidi Kelly