Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tips for Moms of GF Children

Today a friend told me that her son has been having digestive problems and she was going to try a gluten-free diet to see if that helped him. She asked me for any tips or help I could give her. I figured I'd post it here because I'm sure she isn't the only one who could benefit from the information.

It can be really challenging to have little kids with gluten-intolerance, especially if you have to send them to school, daycare, birthday parties, and even just planning a picnic in a park or a trip to a restaurant. Things are getting better as more food producers become aware of the problem, but when I started there was really no help so here is what I learned to do:

  • Make muffins in large batches and freeze them. They are great to send to school and for taking them to picnics and restaurants. Those that have worked best for me are banana bread, applesauce bread, pumpkin bread, and zucchini bread--anything moist. (My recipes are without eggs but you can use egg instead of my replacer and take out 1/4 c of some other liquid item to make up the difference). If you are worried about sugar it is okay to reduce the amount of sugar you use in them.
  • Make things like chicken nuggets and chicken tenders and freeze them. It is easy to make them gluten-free and I've never seen anywhere you can buy them. You can substitute any flour you like in the breading mix and it doesn't really affect how it turns out. If the flour taste is too strong just make sure to put a lot of flavorings in your breading.
  • Depending on your child, baby food can be a godsend. They typically make baby foods with rice flour unless it is a pasta dish. I keep on hand Gerber turkey and rice, chicken and vegetables, and vegetable beef. I bring the jars to the park or when I travel and know there won't be anywhere handy to prepare food. Even my 4-year old still eats it. And my kids will eat it cold so it works really well for me.
  • You can now buy several types of GF crackers. My favorites are Glutino (their pretzels are good too), Kinnikinnik animal cookies, and Kinikinnik Smorables.
  • You can also make and freeze various types of cookies. One of my favorites are peanut butter cookies.
  • Corn tortillas are a great substitute for many things. I get a little tired of them sometimes, but I have found that the Banderita brand are the softest and easiest to use.
  • For birthday parties you can bring your own cupcakes for your child to eat. Betty Crocker makes some pretty good cake mixes. King Arthur makes the best one I have tasted (their bread mix is pretty decent too). I also like the Blue Chip brand because it comes in a resealable package. You can divide the recipe and make just a few cupcakes so one bag can last you for several birthday parties.
  • If you take your child to a daycare or nursery, talk to the providers and make sure they will accommodate your child. I take my kids to a church nursery every Sunday. I gave the nursery leaders a large bag of GF snacks to keep in their closet. They have my daughter sit in the same place every time so they can make sure she doesn't try and eat the other kids' snacks. It's hard for the kids at first--but typically not for yours. The other kids in the nursery get jealous of your kid's "special" snack. After awhile my daughter caught on to the routine and has quit trying to sneak the other kids' snacks as well.
  • It can be easy to worry about your child feeling left out because they can't have what everyone else has. Trust me, it's worse for you than it is for your child. You will have some sad moments with your child, but the kids really are quite resilient. Especially if they get used to it while they are young. My kids have learned to regulate themselves very well and even at age 3 they would refuse food unless it was given the okay by Mom. There have been very few times where they actually felt left out and when they did they got over it very quickly.
  • Be wary of strangers who try to feed your children. They think they are just being nice, but it can be disastrous. Be vigilant at parties, wedding receptions, family reunions, church parties, and even grocery stores. Other kids will try to share with yours too so it is important to teach your child to politely refuse.
  • For Halloween, pinata parties, and other holidays, I keep a stash of substitute items to replace any items my kids get that they cannot eat so they don't feel bad. (I mostly have to do this because of the soy/milk intolerance but it applies to gluten too). Sometimes I trade them their Kit-Kats and other such items for safe candy, other times I get small dollar store toys like dinosaurs, pencils or army men and trade for those. Honestly my kids like the toys better than the candy anyway.
  • If you go to a restaurant and order french fries, make sure to ask if the fries are cooked separately, or if they are cooked with fried chicken and other breaded items. The gluten WILL stick to the fries if they are cooked in the same oil.
  • Oats have gluten. Unless you find specially marked gluten-free oats, they will very likely contain gluten. Oats are nearly always grown near, stored with, transported with, and processed with wheat and the gluten sticks right to them. (But gluten-free oat flour is one of my favorites, just FYI).
  • If you are just testing the waters with a GF diet, buy things in small quantities or go in on it with someone and share mixes. Try the instant mixes and see which ones you like. But if you decide to stick with the diet long term, it's good to plan to make more from scratch and buy in bulk. I can buy oats and rice in bulk and store them as whole grains. I grind them every once-in awhile and use them for flour, but they store much better whole. You can also buy things like tapioca starch (a must-have for GF cooking) in bulk.
  • You can pre-make your own flour blends and store them ready-to go. The typical recipe for 3 cups flour is 2 cups flour of your choice, 2/3 cup potato starch, 1/3 cup tapioca starch. I use about 1 tsp xanthan gum for moist breads, and 1/2 tsp xanthan gum per cup of flour for things like pizza dough, biscuits, and breads.
  • Conventional cereals that are gluten free (some won't guarantee it because they don't test, but they don't use or cross-contaminate and we've never had a problem): Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Cupcake pebbles, most generic versions of both of those, Trix, Kix, Chex cereals, Cookie Crisp with Sprinkles (not the chocolate chip ones--those have wheat). I usually buy organic rice crispies and organic corn flakes because they don't put the barley malt in most of those. BUT ALWAYS READ THE LABEL BECAUSE THEY MIGHT CHANGE THEIR RECIPE. WATCH OUT FOR BARLEY MALT.

I'm sure I'll think of more later, but this should be enough to digest for awhile.