Posts tagged ‘family’
When I first started working at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), I was terrified to cook for the team. I was still learning about the gluten-free diet, and there were two things I knew for sure: 1) There is a serious need to keep gluten-free food from getting contaminated; and 2) Avoiding that contamination can be challenging, especially when you have three gluten-eating roommates at home. So, I avoided making any offers to bring in homemade snacks for the group.
Then the team decided to have a potluck. I easily could have contributed some gluten-free products from the grocery store, but I felt this was an opportunity to get in the kitchen and make something from scratch for my co-workers.
Knowing that I wasn’t quite ready to dive into gluten-free baking, I opted for a simple, crowd-pleasing dish – what I call my Festive Fall Bake. It’s a combination of sweet potatoes, butternut squash and apples, splashed with some orange juice and baked until fork tender. Before preparing any food, I cleaned all the surfaces in my kitchen and thoroughly washed any bowls or utensils that I planned to use. I washed the baking dish and lined it with aluminum foil, just to make sure there would be no risk of gluten residue. As soon as it was done, I covered the dish with aluminum foil and stashed it on the top shelf of our fridge.
The next day, the staff raved about my Festive Fall Bake. Best of all, I was confident that I had made the food safely. Everyone enjoyed, and no one got sick.
My gluten-free cooking skills have become more and more helpful over the years, and it now hits even closer to home. Recently, one of my soon-to-be in-laws learned he has to avoid gluten for health reasons. When he came to dinner at our home, we served cheese and gluten-free crackers for appetizers; pork with mole sauce, roasted asparagus and homemade gluten-free cornbread for the main course; and ice cream with a gluten-free crumble for dessert. It was important to me that he got to enjoy the same complete meal as everyone else – no exclusions.
This month at NFCA, we’ve been hosting the “Cook for Your Love” campaign. It stems from our belief that everyone deserves a home-cooked meal, no matter what their dietary restrictions may be. You’re probably used to cooking your own gluten-free food each night, but every now and then you should be able to have someone else cook for you. So, this Valentine’s Day (or any day, really), take the opportunity to cook with a special someone and teach the ins and outs of gluten-free safety. It could be your mom, or your kids, or your best friend. Chances are, they’ll be eager to learn, and it could give them the confidence to cook gluten-free meals more often.
The gluten-free recipes on our “Cook for Your Love” campaign should be enticing enough to get your special someone in the kitchen, but if you need extra encouragement, sign up for the weekly giveaway. Nothing says “try me” like free products, right?
Has a special someone cooked a delicious gluten-free meal for you? Tell us about it (and include recipe links if you have them)!
Last August, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) hosted a back-to-school webinar with Gabriela Pacheco, RD, LD, SNS, a school nutrition consultant with expertise in specialty diet accommodations. In honor of National School Lunch Week, we decided to circle back with Gabriela and get some more tips on how parents and schools can work together to provide gluten-free school lunches to celiac and gluten sensitive students.
Gabriela Pacheco (GP): All of those challenges happen and are different in every district.
Staff training is certainly the biggest challenge. With or without a diet prescription, the foodservice staff must understand proper label reading and handling of all foods. This is especially challenging when a reaction to cross-contamination can have serious effects on the student.
Cost can be a challenge in some districts because the school cannot pass on the extra expense to the student. In other words, if a student gets free, reduced, or pays full price for school meals, the school cannot charge them for the extra expense to make the special meal.
The demand “should” not be an issue. One child or 100 students should be treated the same. However, some districts may push back if there is only one student or a few students needing the special meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that if a student has a food intolerance or allergy, the school can – but does not have to – modify meals, unless it is a life-threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis. It all lies on the diet prescription from a certified medical authority; if the diet prescription states that meals must be modified, then the district has no choice.
With or without a diet prescription, if the school nutrition staff works with parents of students with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, they demonstrate support of a segment of the community by helping them improve their quality of life and concentrate on school – not stress about food.
NFCA: What are some schools meals that meet the new USDA nutrition guidelines and are gluten-free?
GP: USDA – The National School Breakfast and Lunch Program ensures that your child eats a healthy meal, including meals for children with special dietary needs. Although a gluten-free diet limits some food options, schools can put together kid-friendly school meals. Having a diet different from that of his/her friends may cause your child to feel singled out. Get him/her and yourself involved with cafeteria staff to go over food preferences to make him/her feel more comfortable about school meals.
School meals must meet new meal pattern requirements, which include fruits and vegetables at every meal, as well as a meat/meat alternate (protein source), legumes, fluid milk and whole grains. Gluten-free foods include fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, beef, nuts, eggs and more. Schools already have these onsite; however, preparation is the key. Purchasing gluten-free bread, for example, can be the only substitution the student requires to have a lunch which looks the same as his friends. Along with a side salad, a fruit and milk, the meal is complete!
Most schools now have salad bars that contain a wide variety of items such as kidney beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, cottage cheese, and some even have the protein available there to make a complete meal. Add milk and again, a complete meal. The student just has to make sure to watch the salad dressings or anything else which may have been cross-contaminated. If the student is old enough, they learn what to choose. If still young, a teacher or cafeteria staff can help with the salad selection.
There are several manufacturers who make gluten-free items specifically for schools. One good resource is Rich Products. They make pizza dough and other items that will fit into the school meals and meet guidelines.
NFCA: How can schools be more welcoming to special dietary needs? Should they post the information on their website? Ask the foodservice director to speak at parents’ night?
GP: Both of those options are a great start. The first step is to consider the needs of the student. Second, it really takes a lot of teamwork. The school nutrition department, the parents and the student should all be involved. Forming partnerships is key. Many districts already post carbohydrate counts/exchanges, PKU diets, etc. – why not add gluten-free options?
Keep in mind that they are not required to post gluten-free options, which is why communication is important. Asking for the menus so parents can go over it with their child and circle meals they like also helps. The cafeteria staff can then work with the student on proper gluten-free exchanges. This way, the meal is not so “special” and different from other students.
NFCA: What advice do you have for parents who are reluctant to contact the school about their child’s gluten-free needs? How can they approach the conversation with confidence?
GP: The first place to go is the foodservice/nutrition director. The cafeteria staff can refer you to him/her. Parents can discuss options with the director.
If the student has a diet prescription from a medical authority, then it is especially important that the director ensures the cafeteria staff, your child’s first line of defense, is trained and understands gluten-free diet and modifications. Even without a written medical statement, the school may provide the child with special meals, but is not required to.
Form a partnership with the cafeteria staff and offer to help choose your child’s meals. Remember that they have to order foods from approved manufacturers, so it may be that they have to order from outside vendors to provide gluten-free options. They cannot charge the student more for that meal, so they do have to consider the increased cost. A parent should never hesitate approaching the nutrition department about their child’s needs, but keep in mind that there are regulations.
NFCA: What’s one thing parents can do during National School Lunch Week to advocate for gluten-free needs in the lunchroom?
GP: Parents can form a partnership with the food and nutrition department to send out a newsletter or a side note on the month’s menu regarding children with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and how the department can help with modifications. School administrators can also benefit from this, as they don’t always understand regulations.
For more articles on this topic, visit NFCA’s Gluten-Free Resources for National School Lunch Week 2012
Kristin Voorhees, Healthcare Relations Manager at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, caught up with renowned celiac researcher, Joseph A. Murray, MD of the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology and Department of Immunology at The Mayo Clinic, to discuss the implications of adopting a gluten-free diet prior to being tested for celiac disease. The below is the response from Dr. Murray on the topic.
What do you suggest to people who have put themselves on a gluten-free diet without prior testing?
My general advice is as follows:
If someone feels they might have a problem with gluten, they should seek testing for celiac disease first. It is important that they not ask for a screening for celiac disease, as this is not a diagnostic test and most often not covered by insurance companies. However, if they have complaints, such as abdominal bloating, diarrhea, etc., then this is not a screening test, it is a diagnostic test for the indication of possible celiac disease. The testing should be done before there is any change in diet. If the patient has already changed their diet for a week or two, they should go back on gluten for at least the same length of time. This should be adequate full gluten ingestion, not simply small amounts of gluten in order to reduce the risk that the test will be false negative. For patients who have gone on a gluten-free diet and have been on it for many months and who had quite severe illness before doing so, they may need to consider a gluten challenge but only under medical supervision. There are a couple tests that might be done in patients without a gluten challenge–for example, a genetic test might be helpful—to identify if they do not carry the genetics required for celiac disease. In this circumstance, you can rule out the possibility of celiac disease. Patients will often ask me, “Why bother checking for celiac disease if I feel better on a gluten-free diet? Why do I need to be concerned?” The issues I see are several:
- If the person really has celiac disease, then they need medical follow-up. The disease consists of severe inflammation in the intestine and it is very important to make sure that it heals and it recovers.
- If the person really has celiac disease, then the family members need to be checked for celiac disease as it can commonly occur in other family members, have significant consequences, and frequently is not diagnosed.
- Going on a gluten-free diet is not specific. There are many reasons that going on a gluten-free diet may make people feel better—for example, eating less junk food—and these effects may be temporary and indeed it may be that their symptoms recur despite continuing to try to be gluten-free leading to more diagnostic mystery.
- Delay of other diagnoses. Going on a gluten-free diet, especially if this is tried for several weeks or months, may delay an alternative diagnosis, which sometimes can be a significant illness for which quite different medical therapy is necessary.
- There may be some nutritional deficiencies that can occur on a gluten-free diet, such as less fiber, which can lead to bowel problems such as constipation, some reduction in nutrients that typically added to gluten-free cereals or breads that are not added to gluten-free alternatives.
- There is a substantial increased cost. A particular situation is where the gluten-free diet is essentially imposed on a child without strong evidence for medical necessity. This will lead to problems, especially when the child grows up and finds themselves in many different situations.
What if the patients who had substantial chronic symptoms, were tested for celiac disease, were found to be negative, and went on a gluten-free diet from which they have derived some substantial benefit?
They may well have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In order to fulfill the definition of this, it is first necessary that celiac disease was checked for and ruled out, secondly that their symptoms have largely or completely responded to a gluten-free diet, and that response is durable—it is not just a short-term placebo response. For such patients, I certainly don’t object to them being on a gluten-free diet if they derive symptoms benefit from it.
Finally, I am concerned about patients who undertake multiple food avoidances for various reasons, and there is an eating disorder called orthorexia where people avoid multiple foods without clear reason why, and often lead themselves in to severe malnutrition. Hopefully, those occurrences are pretty rare, but nonetheless pretty important.
- Joseph A. Murray, MD
Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology
Department of Immunology
Appetite for Awareness 2012 is over, but the office is still buzzing with excitement. When you focus on preparing for an event for months and months, you can’t help but feel a sense of relief and happiness over the success of the event.
I joined the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) team back in May, so this was my first time at Appetite for Awareness. Leading up to the event, I attended planning and update meetings and absorbed all the fine details that go into coordinating an event of this size. Last week, NFCA staff and our wonderful event planners, Phyllis and Ed, went over the final plans, and I thought I knew what the event had in store for all its gluten-free guests. I never could have imagined how big Appetite for Awareness really could be, and how much it could mean to the community.
The venue was the Historic Strawbridge Building in Center City, Philadelphia. For those of you who have never seen it, the building is unbelievably beautiful. It used to be the Strawbridge & Clothier building, but was just converted into a venue for special events. It has that historic look to it, with the grand staircase in the back, low hanging, bright chandeliers, and a working fountain in the walkway that divides the massive floor space. On Sunday, tables snaked through the main hall, loaded with vendor tables all handing out gluten-free samples to the 1,500 attendees.
So here’s how Appetite for Awareness goes: You come through the door, grab your NFCA tote bag and start eating! All of the vendors and restaurants get their own table and they serve only gluten-free food. Even better, all of the restaurants in attendance are trained by NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens program, a training course that teaches chefs all the ins and outs of preparing gluten-free food safely. This is what makes Appetite for Awareness so special. From the pasta samples served by the restaurants, to the brews chilling in the beer garden, it’s all gluten-free. There are no questions to ask your server. There are no concerns about cross-contamination, because nothing containing gluten comes through the door. Everyone there knows what the gluten-free diet is and why it’s so important to those living with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For once, people on the lifelong gluten-free diet can just relax, eat and have a good time without making special preparations, calling ahead or packing their own snacks.
I spent most of the day walking through the Strawbridge building, snapping photos, live tweeting from the event, and doing Twitter giveaways. (Shout out to Amie Valpone of The Healthy Apple & Crunchmaster, Blue Diamond and PJ’s Beef Steak for providing us with the gluten-free giveaway items. You guys rock!)
I didn’t get to try all of the dishes, but from the massive lines of people eagerly devouring their samples while reaching for another one, I know the food was delicious. A returning favorite were the soft pretzels from Tonya’s Gluten-Free Products, which earned rave reviews at Appetite for Awareness 2010, too. I saw people running to go have a pretzel or two (or three or four). Kids were covered in pizza sauce, and sticky fingers were everywhere. It was an awesome sight.
Personally, I was super excited to meet the people that I talk to on social media all the time. I met Erin Smith of Gluten-Free Fun, Amie Valpone of The Healthy Apple, and the Appetite for Awareness honoree himself, Michael Savett of Gluten Free Philly.
NFCA honored Michael Savett at the event for his major contributions to the gluten-free community living in the Philadelphia area. When his son was diagnosed with celiac, Michael started teaching restaurants about the gluten-free diet and kept track of the restaurants that could cater to his son’s special dietary needs. Instead of keeping the information to himself, Michael started Gluten Free Philly for everyone in the area to benefit from. A driving force in creating more availability for gluten-free options, NFCA would once again like to thank and congratulate Michael for his efforts.
Check out the tribute video NFCA made (with the help of Michael’s friends and family) to say thank you.
I had a blast at Appetite for Awareness 2012, and based on the tweets and Facebook comments, it seems like everyone who attended agrees. None of this would have been possible without the generosity of our sponsors, the support of the NFCA board and advisory council members, and of course, our amazing volunteers and staff who put in countless hours to make Appetite for Awareness 2012 a fun and safe event for the gluten-free community.
Visit the NFCA Facebook page to see some of my snapshots from the event and stay tuned for the professional photographer’s pictures to come. While you’re visiting the Facebook page, tell us your favorite part of Appetite for Awareness!
There are so many people to thank and recognize for their contributions to Appetite for Awareness, especially Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, KYW Newsradio 1060, PREIT, Mercedes-Benz of Fort Washington and West Chester. Click here to see all of our amazing sponsors and participating restaurants and vendors.
Thanks to all who came out to make Appetite for Awareness such a memorable event!
It’s time for NFCA’s Appetite for Awareness!
The NFCA Team is very excited about the 2012 edition of this signature event. I can’t wait to see which doctors are paired with which restaurant to prepare and offer true gluten-free delights to our guests. Appetite for Awareness brings out the gourmet in most of us as we table hop between the booths of some of the best restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area.
Today, I learned that there will be about 60 exhibitors who are ready to highlight the latest gluten-free products and distribute educational materials to all attendees. Add the Beer Garden with flat screen TVs and “the game,” the Children’s Pavilion with games for the whole family, and cooking demos for the Julia Child in each of us, and you have quite an afternoon!
How does the NFCA Team make all of this happen? The short answer is, we don’t. Well, more correctly, we don’t do it alone. Each year, a small army of volunteers puts on their Appetite for Awareness T-shirts and jumps in to help.
Our guests will meet them all, from manning the registration desk to helping at the NFCA Shop to selling tickets for the drawings (including a lease on a Mercedes-Benz!) and much, much more. This volunteer corps is an essential ingredient in the success of each and every Appetite for Awareness that NFCA has held over the years.
This year, over 75 volunteers plus a cadre of students will take the floor to make this the best event ever. Some are first-timers who will be amazed and others are old hands who know the ropes and always are enthusiastic.
If we held a contest for the volunteer who traveled the greatest distance to get to the Historic Strawbridge Building, Cecelia Bonaduce from Baltimore probably would win (plus, she originally hails from California). Most years as an Appetite for Awareness volunteer? Probably Karen Dalrymple and Donna Sawka. Husband and wife teams — Jen and Kenny Arters, Judy and Mike Paul, Eva and Marv Schlanger. More family ties — Patti and Jessica Townsend, Amanda and Sam Beeler, Jody and Bruce Finkel, Sandy and Rachel Cogan, Eileen and Jim Grady. And, organizing this whole team—Julie Cooper. Amazing!
Looking forward to a great time!
Last February, I received a random phone call on my NFCA line. It was a mother, Jenny Tierney, who seemed pretty devastated. Her teenage twin daughters had just been diagnosed with celiac disease. (All of the staff at NFCA answer all kinds of calls from newly diagnosed patients and others in the food industry or healthcare field. It’s a great opportunity to walk them through the resources available at CeliacCentral.org.)
After a review of NFCA’s resources, Jenny felt a bit better and she agreed that she could handle adapting to the gluten-free diet at home and working with the school, but her biggest fear was sending the girls off to camp. The girls had gone every year since they were very young to this amazing camp for most of the summer. The solution was easy. I shared information about GREAT Schools, Colleges, and Camps and suggested she have the camp contact me.
A month later, I received an email from a college girlfriend Sara, who lives near Kansas City. Sara told me about her neighbor, Kathy Dix. Kathy and Sara had been chatting, and the topic of gluten-free foods came up. Sara is always telling people about her gluten-free college pal and my job with NFCA. She thinks it’s amazing how 20 years ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, it was considered a rare disease and food availability was scarce. Over the years, Sara has referred me to anyone interested in anything about gluten-free. She also cuts out articles related to celiac disease and gluten-free from newspapers and magazines and sends them with a note saying, “Reminded me of you,” or “Hey isn’t this cool?” or “Wow, this gluten-free stuff is everywhere.” Gotta love her for it.
Well, it just so happens that Kathy needed gluten-free training for her camp. She’s the director of a girl’s camp in upper Minnesota called Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe. A conference call was set up to talk to the staff to understand their needs and how NFCA’s GREAT Camps program could help. On the call, I perceived the compassion and love the staff seemed to have for their mission at the camp, and how vested they were in giving all their campers a complete experience. They were ready to sign up and complete the course.
Toward the end of the conversation, they revealed that their interest in learning about gluten-free protocol for the camp staff had to do with twins that returned every year. These twins had been diagnosed with celiac disease recently, and Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe wanted to live up to its “Strong Spirited” name and ease the girls’ mother’s concerns about sending them to camp while they were still learning the gluten-free diet. Kathy’s goal was to ensure that these young women would continue their “growth in self esteem, deep seeded friendships, and memories to last a lifetime,” and the first step in achieving this goal was becoming GREAT trained, allowing the girls to continue their summer tradition of attending Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe.
Small world, isn’t it?
As the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) revs up for Appetite for Awareness in Philadelphia, we asked our local volunteer Annsley to share a few places that make this city great. Annsley is a teacher, a mom, and owner of Gluten Freedoms, a gluten-free consulting business. She also is an avid Philadelphian!
My daughter is not one to sit still (and neither am I). So, summer is the perfect time for us to play in the sun and share precious outdoor moments that don’t involve gluten.
- Go Fruit or Veggie Picking – If you’re looking for Organic, Integrated Pest Management (IMP), or just run of the mill fruit, this is the season. Strawberries have come and gone, but there are still blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and peaches to come. At Longview Center for Agriculture, you can pick fresh veggies like kale, collards, basil, mustard greens, and thyme as well as blueberries. (They happen to also make AMAZING gluten-free smoothies). Call ahead to see if what you want to pick is still in season.
- Go Hiking or Camping – It’s easy to get caught up in the busy city life. One of the most peaceful and relaxing things we do is find a trail where we can stop, look, and listen to nature. Philadelphia has one of the largest urban park systems in the world, spanning about 10,500-acres! You can find trails close at the Horticulture Center or at the Wissahickon Valley Park, (our favorite place), that has over 50 miles of trails that follow the Wissahickon Creek. There are plenty of state parks and the Pocono Mountains have no shortage of campgrounds and cabins.
- Engage in Water Play – You can stay right in front of your home with a hose and a squirt bottle or within the neighborhood at spraygrounds, swimming pools, and creeks. In Philadelphia we are lucky to have a newly created urban wet zone called Sister Cities Park.
- Visit Frog Ponds – A city is full of wildlife; you just have to know where to find it. It’s pretty cool to watch the tadpoles swim, the camouflage frogs leap in the air, and the croaks reverberate all around. The Schuylkill Environmental Center, Wissahickon Creek at Mt. Airy Ave., Pastorious Park all have ponds with croaking frogs.
- Create a Frozen Treat – There is nothing better than a cool, sweet treat on a hot summer’s day. Once my daughter and I have picked our delicious berries, we often make them into frozen popsicles. In a pinch, we will use fruit juice or frozen fruit to make popsicles. Ice cream is also a delicious summer treat. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, there is always the fun plastic baggie method!
- Make and Play with Bubbles – Need an afternoon activity for the summer heat? Mix your own bubble mixtureand/or make your own bubble blowers out of pipe cleaners or old hangers. Of course, the store bought method is also excellent!
- Preserve or Can Fruit– I learned how to do this while spending summers with my grandma in Alabama. When we have leftover berries, we preserve them to keep that summery flavor all year round.
- Drink Tea at The Japanese Garden – Here you can come in and have tea and learn about the Japanese ritual, which is considered an art form, a spiritual discipline, and a way to socialize. In the Japanese culture, tea ceremonies have been practiced for over 450 years. Shofuso is the Japanese Garden next to Fairmount Park’s Horticulture Center in Philadelphia and it offers tea ceremonies and tea classes.
- Plant a Garden– You can plant in pots or in the ground, with seeds or buy a baby plant. Either way, it’s fun to get your hands a little dirty and to watch as your plant blossoms before your eyes. We like to plant things we can eat like herbs, tomatoes, and peas!
- Create a Lemonade Stand – Remember those youthful summer days when you made your own lemonade stand? You can squeeze your own lemons or have a quick fix with the frozen kind. It’s the perfect, refreshing, gluten-free drink.
- Bike or Rollerblade – It’s great to get out and enjoy the fresh air on your bike, scooter, or blades. Here in Philly we have a path along the Schuylkill River banks where you can bring your own set of wheels or rent them right in front of Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive.
- Go Geocaching or Letterboxing – Both are outdoor treasure hunting games where X marks the spot. If you’re an adventurous soul who enjoys a compass and a map, Geocaching using GPS might be for you. If you’d prefer following clues, than your adventure game is Letterboxing.
- Watch the Trains – Some towns have garden railways, which are miniature worlds set up in gardens through which weather resistant model trains abound. If you are local to Philadelphia, you can watch them at Morris Arboretum or the “real” big commuter and Amtrak trains at 30th Street Station.
- Interact with Sculptures – Sculpture gardens meld the outdoors with art. All ages can interact with them, and they really spur some great conversations. We went to one at the Abington Arts Center, and my daughter stuck her hand through the mouth of the sculpture. Then she promptly told me that they were saying, “No, you may not do that!” (Wonder where she got that from!)
- Watch Outdoor Concerts and Movies – Most cities hold (FREE) outdoor concerts and outdoor movies, where you can pack a picnic and share with friends. It’s a great way to go relax, be outdoors, and enjoy the cooler night air. In Philadelphia there are multiple venues all over the city (to list a few): Pastorious Park (Chestnut Hill), Schuylkill Banks (Center City), Philly at the Movies (rotating Center City venues), Moonlight Movies in Mt. Airy, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s Bike-In Movies (Center City South Street), The Awesome Fest Film Series at Liberty Lands Park (Northern Liberties), Gorgas Park Movie Night (Roxborough), Screenings Under the Stars at Penn’s Landing.
Whenever this time of year rolls around, I get this feeling. It’s the feeling that I’m forgetting something like a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion. It just so happens that this year the feeling is especially strong and I remember what’s coming. June 13.
On the 13th, I will be celebrating 20 years of gluten-freedom and the day that was literally life changing. Not only did my diagnosis with celiac disease save my life, but it changed it as well.
After giving birth to my healthy baby boy, Cole, my body fell apart and I displayed the classical celiac symptoms – weight loss, fatigue, vomiting, depression, and weakness. I wasn’t even able to climb stairs or turn a faucet.
Eventually, I was hospitalized, had a small bowel biopsy, and a positive diagnosis. With Dave holding my hand and Cole in my arms, Dr. Dalke described celiac as a “rare” disease affecting 1 in 2,500 people. Dave whispered, “I knew you were special but not that special.” Turns out, I’m not really that special with 1 in 133 people living with celiac disease. But I was lucky and the gluten-free diet renewed my health, energy, and disposition.
Usually on special anniversaries, gifts are in order. On my special anniversary, I’d like to share a few of many exceptional gifts I’ve received over the years as a result of my diagnosis.
GIFT 1 – Love of Cooking
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is learning to cook well. You’ll never go hungry and you’ll always have friends.
Learning to cook from scratch was a challenge, but I loved the process. Before gluten-free products were everywhere and labels read “GF,” I learned to season with fresh herbs, spices and pure ingredients to make sauces and dressing from scratch. I learned which herbs and spices produce which flavors and enhance certain foods. My spice cupboard is more like a pantry!
GIFT 2 – Share the Love.
Hosting dinner parties and sharing meals with friends and family gives me a chance to show that gluten-free doesn’t have to be horrible, difficult, or medicinal. Clean, fresh, pure and easy are my approaches to cooking. Hostess tips include set a beautiful table, involve guests, and have plenty of wine.
GIFT 3 – Friendship – 2 GF BFs
My two gal pals, Jill and Mary, also have celiac disease. These great women have my back in crisis, tragedy, sickness, and gluten episodes. They share my frustration over gluten-free labeling, restaurant mishaps, and family dynamics. We celebrate the GREAT gluten-free life over amazing dinners, annual holiday cookie baking, and family milestones. I cherish them.
[Summer is quickly approaching, and your schedule is probably packed with barbecues, picnics and other social gatherings. We asked NFCA volunteer Annsley Klehr, owner of Gluten Freedoms, a gluten-free consulting company, to share her tips for managing those awkward moments when you're gluten-free at a gluten-filled party.]
A month or two ago I received an email from a neighbor asking me for a recipe for a gluten-free flourless chocolate cake. I willingly obliged, noting in my email that I would be happy to advise her on certain brands and kitchen procedures to avoid cross-contamination. She thanked me and that was that.
Fast forward several weeks, my family and I are invited to this neighbor’s daughter’s birthday party. I have already briefed my daughter that she will not be able to eat the desserts there, so we brought a piece of chocolate for her. We walk in the door to the rich aroma of Mediterranean style appetizers such as hummus, baba ganoush, chips, veggies, etc. I happily allowed my daughter a few corn chips and veggies.
When it came time for dessert, I realized that my neighbor had asked me for the gluten-free flourless chocolate cake recipe so that she could make it for my daughter and myself. I knew her household wasn’t gluten-free, so I could not be sure how she prepared the cake, what ingredients she used or if there was a risk of cross-contamination. The host offered the cake (which was touching gluten-containing desserts) to me in front of all the guests, saying, “I made this especially for you. It’s gluten-free.” Then came the ice cream cones filled with chocolate mousse – both gluten-containing and gluten-free versions. My first reaction was an overwhelming appreciation for such thoughtfulness, and then anxiety.
How could I tell her how much I appreciated all of this food and then NOT eat it? There was nothing I could say to her but “Thank you.”
I felt so embarrassed by the whole situation I wanted to sink through the floor. I wasn’t even worried about my 3 year-old daughter because no one would be looking at her for social graces. I was sitting on the couch surrounded by guests, my daughter floating around the room and my husband at my feet. I was handed a piece of chocolate cake and the gluten-free cone and I found myself profusely thanking my host for all of her efforts as my heart raced. I knew I couldn’t eat any of it. The risk of cross-contamination and the thought of a gluten attack were too high. All of the sudden, a hand reached out in front of me, freeing my hand of my cone. I looked up and all I could see was a mass of curls; it was my husband. He readily bit into the cone without uttering a word. I new I’d married him for a reason. By eating the cake for me, my husband relieved me of a potentially uncomfortable situation! (The chocolate cake I could conceal in a napkin in my hand).
These situations will always happen, and people living gluten-free have to be prepared. Here are a few tips to help you navigate awkward social situations:
1. Call Ahead
Call your host or hostess and let them know that you plan on attending, and that you will either come with your own supply of food or carefully vet all of their ingredients and thoroughly explain cooking procedures to avoid cross-contamination. If you have a child attending the party, ask the host for the menu in advance so that you can plan to bring gluten-free substitutes. If the party is being catered, call the catering company and speak with them directly.
2. Stash a Snack
Sometimes it may feel awkward to say anything or have a special plate. In that case, make sure that you grab something to eat before or after the party and always have a snack, like a nut bar or piece of fruit in your bag.
3. Be Your Gracious Self
As awkward as it may feel, saying “Please” and “Thank you” for foods you can’t eat are still greatly appreciated. People have gone out of their way to make you feel comfortable, so in return, try to make them feel comfortable, too. Parties are not the time to educate your hosts, so if you are presented with something that you can’t eat, accept it and express your thanks, then find a time to subtly dispose it or hand off to a friend.
4. Bring a Decoy
Have someone or something you can swiftly pass your food off to without anyone noticing. I often alert a friend going to the party with me of situations like these and ask if that friend might kindly take my portion so as not to offend anyone.
5. Redirect Attention
If you’re looking to avoid drawing attention to what you’re eating or not eating at a party, then always try to have a drink or plate in your hand. I find that having something on my plate helps to avoid questions and makes it easier to decline other foods.
Don’t let your anxiety prevent you from enjoying a party. Keep to these few tips and you’ll have a good time no matter what situations you encounter!
- Annsley Klehr