A Gluten-Free Diet For A Kid Is A Nightmare For A Parent

breadI’m all about healthy eating, but I wouldn’t wish a gluten-free grocery shopping trip on my worst enemy. I know there are plenty of kids out there with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but after dabbling in the gluten-free waters for just a few months, it’s not for me.

I’m fortunate enough that the choice to go gluten-free or not for my toddler was merely an option. We decided to “try out” the gluten-free diet from the recommendation of a digestive healthcare professional to see if it would help with his chronic eczema as a baby and a toddler.

Shopping gluten free sucks. It’s also really freaking expensive. When you throw gluten-free into the mix as you are learning to feed a baby, it quickly becomes the stuff nightmares are made of. I would also like to add that my son was briefly on a gluten-free/dairy-free diet for a while, again related to his skin, and it was pretty much the worst thing ever.

First and foremost, a picky toddler being introduced new foods doesn’t really like anything. Trying to shove gluten-free bread down his gullet—and watching expensive gluten-free bread get thrown on the floor—made me feel like the worst mother ever.

Sure, there are plenty of gluten-free options in grocery stores today for those with celiac disease or those who are into #cleaneating. But reading product labels is a chore. Dealing with a finicky eater is also a chore. I was nearly pulling out my hair trying to plan some kind of well-rounded, gluten-free, dairy-free menu, while also trying to figure out which foods to introduce to a baby at which stage.

Finally, finally, FINALLY, we got a freaking clue, and we got my son allergy tested, upon the recommendation of our pediatrician. We wanted to try the elimination diet first because, according to research, there are several dietary triggers that can aggravate other health problems, including skin conditions.

When we finally went to an allergist for a not-so-fun round of skin prick testing, we found out that my son was allergic to a lot of crap, but—GET THIS—he wasn’t allergic to gluten and dairy! What the actual fuck. I felt like someone had been playing a cruel joke on me for the greater part of six months.

So the moral of the story is that now my son eats gluten and dairy and avoids eggs and peanuts, and his skin is beginning to clear up as his immune system improves. I know some parents are forced to put their kids on gluten-free diets, and others do it based on preference. I personally would never go down the gluten-free road again without a gun to my head.

(photo: Getty Images)

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  • Kheldarson

    Ouch. At least you found his current triggers and things are clearing up. That’s a bonus.

    But how on earth did you handle the inevitable “I want chicken nuggets!” (or insert whatever easily obsessed over food he was into) meltdown when you knew it wasn’t a gluten-free option?

    • Bethany Ramos

      I think we were “lucky” because he couldn’t talk yet – BUT that was one of the hugest stresses of the first year of my kid’s life. Feeding him special foods prepped a certain way (pureed, mashed, etc.) was so HARD. Nightmares. :)

    • Kheldarson

      Eek. See I’m kinda terrified of this happening with my kid because I have a couple of intense touch related allergies but my husband has a year-round allergy related eczema breakout to, like, everything.

      Did the prep relate to just what the food was (like potatoes had to mashed over pureed) or was it just figuring out textures he preferred?

    • Bethany Ramos

      The prep was only related to him being a baby learning to eat, so for older kids, it shouldn’t be an issue. But I was just trying to figure out how to feed a baby in the first place, where you are supposed to mash foods at 6 months until they learn to chew, for example. An older kid could eat regular food without all of the prep, so maybe gluten-free wouldn’t be as bad. It was so hard!!

    • koolchicken

      It’s 100% easier to feed any older kid (I think). A lot of commercially prepared baby foods aren’t gluten free (because of the barley and oats- celiacs under 10 shouldn’t have even GF oats). And all the things you can give a 4 year old don’t usually fly with a 6 month old. PB on celery, carrot sticks, apple slices, an orange- you can’t give a baby any of those things, or at least not raw. So the prep can kill you. Also going from what most americans eat (processed foods) to eating gluten free seems almost impossible at first. I can’t tell you how many people think they’ll starve when they first start on this diet. It’s like it never occurs to them to eat “real” foods. I had a leg up coming from a family with other Celiacs and having a “perfect” mother who makes everything from scratch. But it’s really, really hard for most people.

    • koolchicken

      I actually buy Peter Rabbit Organics and Happy Baby brand pouches. Both are, or have GF options. Also I always wonder why people get so stressed when it comes to making baby food. It’s the easiest thing ever. You just cook your fruit or veggie and stick it in a blender. I actually have reusable pouches so feeding Chicken Little is still super easy. Just fill and freeze!

    • Bethany Ramos

      I was so stressed out with my first son, as I described in the article, but with my second son, we just do whatever baby food is easy (lots of pouches!). Much smarter!

    • koolchicken

      Well my son is my first (and only). But I’m just not good at the whole “new mum nervous” if that makes any sense. I don’t feel the need to completely knock myself out doing something I don’t actually enjoy (I’ll make baby food, I’m actually good at it but I don’t enjoy it) . So we do a mix of homemade and pouches, but mostly pouches. He also likes “real” food and always has so I just cut up of shred most of what we’re eating. Now that’s super easy!

    • CW

      You can buy GF chicken nuggets (expensive and not all that healthy) or you can make your own homemade nuggets (I use crushed up Corn Chex for the breading).

    • Teleute

      Purdue makes gluten-free chicken tenders which are absolutely astounding! I’ll eat them for lunch or use them in salads with the only egg-free caesar dressing known to man. (I get it from Whole Foods for $6 a bottle.) The breadcrumbs on the chicken stand in for the croutons, and sometimes I’ll break up some corn thins as well (like rice cakes only thinner) if I want a little extra crunch.

  • CMJ

    Gluten is the new enemy. I feel like whenever you even mention something being wrong with you someone inevitably pops in with: You should go gluten-free…you will feel SO much better. Gluten-free seems to be this magical unicorn of health and wellness.

    I understand that people have allergies and intolerances to gluten but for the people who don’t have those issues, a whole grain will not kill you every once in a while. In fact, the processed gluten-free products are just as bad as the gluten ones.

    I’m sure you’re so relieved to have everything figured out! I think, for me anyway, the worst part is not actually knowing what’s wrong.

    • CW

      Gluten-free =/= grain-free. Plenty of whole grains do not contain gluten (basically any of them that are not a form of wheat or barley).

    • CMJ

      I understand that…but most sanctifoodies do not.

    • koolchicken

      Actually most (not all, but most) of the GF substitutes aren’t just as bad, they’re actually worse. They use a LOT of sugar to compensate for the weird taste.

    • Teleute

      Ten years ago, if someone cut something like gluten or dairy out of their diet without a medical reason, it was a safe bet that they had an eating disorder. I can’t help but wonder how great a percentage of the gluten-free crazers (-ies?) today are actually suffering from eating disorders.

    • Beth

      I can’t tell you the number of patients I have had that self-diagnose themselves as “gluten intolerant”. My favorite was one that claimed she had Celiac, and that I need not test her for it, because she already knows about it. Yet, she splurged on gluten laced goodies on the weekends, but followed her diet on the weekdays. My discussion with her was a much more polite version of “Dear, if you had Celiac, you would not be eating gluten EVER, or you would be paying dearly for it.”

      Gluten has become the trendy new health crisis of this decade. Where a gluten free diet is the magical cure of everything from bunions to high-speed decapitation.

  • radicalhw

    A-freakin’-men sister. My husband was diagnosed as, erm, “digestively challenged” a few years ago, and since our 13-year-old son shares many of his environmental allergies, we put him on the GF bandwagon too. I never realized how much boxed crap was in his diet until I had to start looking for the cursed wheat ingredients! After a ridiculously painful learning curve, I have discovered that the GF diet has forced him to try things he would never have eaten before–I mean, at a certain point you have to try the pad thai or you’re going to starve.

  • Jordana

    I think gluten free is just our generation’s “magic bullet” cure, just like how everyone hated fat in the 80s. Now research says that low fat diets are bad for your health, particularly for brain development in children. If you have an actual diagnosis of gluten intolerance or celiac, then it’s totally understandable, but I hate to see kids at the mercy of their parents buying into fads. It can be socially isolating and very confusing if the parents aren’t going to stick with it in the end. I’m glad you figured it out, Bethany. It sucks that you can’t really trust your doctor’s word all the time. Also, they will make recommendations easily because they aren’t the ones that have to do all the hard-core and scary work when it comes to your kids. Way to be honest about this :-) It’s become a very controversial issue for sure!

    • Teleute

      The fact that “gluten-free” has become such a craze is a blessing to people with celiac disease. The variety, quality, availability, and price tags of packaged gluten-free foods have improved tremendously over the years, now that “gluten-free” has become profitable to manufacturers.

      Still, the people who adhere to gluten-free diets to be trendy really get under my skin. Eating out can be next to impossible and family get-together are EXTREMELY frustrating, especially for folks who suffer from legitimate food allergies on top of CD.

  • Zettai

    “Trying to shove gluten-free bread down his gullet—and watching expensive
    gluten-free bread get thrown on the floor—made me feel like the worst
    mother ever.”

    I don’t know how many times anyone could go through that without losing it.

    And kudos on the Jan Brady gif because I am all about crazy Jan Brady.

  • AnotherMel

    I’m wheat intolerant. I do eat some wheat (because OMG it’s hard to avoid and I can handle small doses – like that in hot chocolate or used to thicken a gravy) but I avoid like the plague things like regular pizza and pasta. It is HARD until you get used to it. I’m also lucky because I can eat gluten – just not wheat. But the fact that it’s basically a fad diet has made my life generally easier because there are more options out there and I don’t have to make everything from scratch.

    We’re actually trying my 4 year old out on the same diet because of some recent behaviour issues (my reactions involve skin, headaches and horrible mood swings) – but he’s 4 and it’s hard to tell for sure if it helps but it’s WAY easier at 4 than it would be as a toddler, and we got through daycare before it became a consideration. At some point we have to load him up with a ton of wheat and see what happens but we’ll wait another month or two before doing that.

    I’m so glad you were able to figure out what was triggering your son and that avoiding those foods is working.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Good luck to you too! See, the packaged foods weren’t so bad, except for my picky baby. ;) I have heard many good things about gluten-free related to other health issues, but it was so stressful for me.

  • Margie

    I went GF about a year ago, when my youngest started showing signs of gluten intolerance (rashes and he suddenly stopped growing once we introduced solids). Since I have a strong family history (my mom is celiac and my aunt is severely gluten intolerant), we decided to eliminate it from his diet and mine while I was breastfeeding. I ended having minor complaints like my eczema and canker sores clear up, so I’ve stuck with it. I do cheat and sneak a donut once in a while, but I’ve been pretty strict with my son. He just started attending daycare and they have no clue what to feed him.

    My husband and older son still eat gluten though, so I’m not looking forward to the day where my youngest throws a tantrum because he wants Cheerios like his brother.

  • ted3553

    We’re on a soy/dairy elimination right now and gluten is next if this doesn’t work. When the pediatrician suggested it, my whole body sank and based on her reaction, my face showed how disappointed I was. It’s not easy at all. I’m trying to get my 1.5 yr old a balanced diet but he doesn’t like most veggies and now we’re eliminating dairy and soy. He;s thrilled because he can scarf up fruit and carbs which he loves but it’s really hard to get a balanced diet and have him try new foods. I sympathize with anyone going through this. Here’s to hoping he grows out of the intolerance and that we can avoid eliminating gluten.

  • TMCM

    I think that jumping into a diet like that with kids is hard, especially once they are familiar with so many packaged foods. One of my coworkers daughters just got diagnosed celiac as a 6 year old and it is definitely something they are struggling with for sure.
    We have been eating gluten free for a few years after I found out it was one of the triggers of my IBS (such a sad Italian I was to have to give up my pasta but I really can’t argue with the results). As a result, I’ve learned all sorts of tricks and ways to bake gluten free (which I enjoy, though I still miss my pasta!) and don’t buy any pre-packaged gluten free products because WOW expensive, and most don’t taste that great.
    Now that we are expecting our first I feel prepared if he has the same sensitivities as me. I honestly don’t plan to feed him cheerios or puffs because there is no nutritional value in them anyway, so maybe starting from the get go will be easier. I have friends who started gluten free with their kids and while their kids are little and eat most anything it has been working fine. Now when they get to the toddler stage is when it could get interesting but so far so good – its what the kids know.

    • guest

      I tried some brown rice spaghetti recently and it was delicious. And my very fussy, wheat loving children wolfed it down
      I do recommend it

    • Rachel Sea

      Have you tried rice pastas? You have to adjust sauces to be thinner, or lighter flavored to achieve the right balance, but they are otherwise comparable. I love rice noodles with pesto, or a lighter alfredo (I cut mine with guyere, and milk), or summer tomato sauce.

      If you have the time or patience to make pasta from scratch you can make rice noodles more robust with spinach, or sun dried tomato, or whathaveyou.

    • Teleute

      Corn pasta tastes better and is a lot sturdier than rice pasta. The texture is similar to regular semolina pasta. My son eats it with me and can’t tell the difference.

    • ElleJai

      We’ve got a delicious rice pasta available in our local supermarket. We found it while trying to cater for a good friends coeliac diagnosis and turns out I like it better than normal pasta!

    • koolchicken

      Heartland makes the best GF pasta. I’ve found rice/corn blends do the best job of mimicking “real” pasta. Barilla is now making a GF option too. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s sitting in my cupboard (I got them on sale $2 each!!!!). It’s also a rice/corn blend so I suspect it’ll be good.

      You can usually find Heartland in Wal-Mart, Albertsons, sometimes Safeway, and Amazon. Wal-Mart is usually the least expensive though.

    • Teleute

      The best I’ve found is Wegman’s brand of corn pasta. $1.69 for eight servings per bag. Comes in spaghetti, fusilli, elbows, and penne.

      The Wal-Mart near me carries duck-shaped corn pasta, which I think is super-awesome.

    • koolchicken

      Don’t skip the puffs. I didn’t see the point either at first. Let me tell you what it is though. Practice for hand eye coordination. And babies think they’re fun. They crunch, they can do it themselves, and it’s no mess for you (very important). HappyBaby makes GF ones, my son is sitting next to me eating them right now. They also make yogurt treats. They have virtually no calories, but do have vitamins and stuff. You can get them at Target, or on Amazon.

      I also mentioned down below Heartland makes a really, really good pasta. My non-celiac husband and friends actually like it too. Wal-Mart is your best bet to find it.

  • CW

    My little one has been on a gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free diet for 2 years. It was a pain at first, but now it isn’t that bad. The key to keeping costs down on a GF diet is to avoid processed food as much as possible. Cooking from scratch is not as quick or convenient as buying processed GF foods, but it is WAAAAAAAY cheaper. The only processed foods I typically buy for my daughter are the ones where I haven’t figured out how to replicate the proper texture at home (sandwich bread and yogurt). I had all of us on it for 7 months but it didn’t seem to make any difference for anyone except my youngest child (who was off-the-charts small and then experienced a dramatic “catch up” weight & height gain after going GF).

  • Teleute

    There is no such thing as a gluten allergy. Only a gastroenterologist is qualified to determine whether your child could have a gluten intolerance (or celiac disease).

    • koolchicken

      You can have a wheat allergy though. I think those people tend to get lumped in with the Celiac, intolerance people.

  • wkarel

    I so feel your pain!!!! I had a feeling my daughter has a slight intolerance to either gluten or dairy. She is nine and a super picky eater who adores pasta. We lasted on the gluten free diet for two weeks, until she came to me, sick with a fever and told me she has been hungry for two weeks. Not sure if I will be able to convince her to try it again. (It did help, by the way.)

  • koolchicken

    For the record I have Celiac disease and don’t find shopping to be a hassle. In the beginning it sort of was, but now 6 or 7 years in I have no problems. I actually bought a book (Cecelia’s Marketplace) that listed major food brands and what was safe. They contacted all the companies and if there were updates they were listed on their website so you knew everything was current. Took virtually all of the work out of shopping. Most major food companies have started making and or labeling their options though (I just had a GF Perdue chicken nugget the other day, an exotic treat lol). Then there’s Google, and you can find out what’s safe and what isn’t in seconds. If that’s too much sometimes I’ll snap a quick pic and look the item up later. Costco sells GF bread so it’s not so expensive (at least where I live). And if you’re eating “right” fresh cuts of meat, fruits, veggies, dairy, and pretty much skipping the middle of the grocery store (and lets be honest it is how we’re all supposed to be shopping) then there’s no price difference and basically everything is GF.

    In fact that’s what I tell overwhelmed new Celiacs to do. Don’t even think about processed stuff for a while and stick to everything fresh. Even non-Celiacs can benefit from eating like that. But it’s a good way to get healthy in general (and very important when your body is trying to heal) and save stress and hassle when you’re still new to everything.

  • Katie L.

    I am glad you and your child don’t have to deal with it. I have celiac disease and it suuuucccckkkkssssss. It’s expensive and a pain in the ass (literally and figuratively). I am crossing every available appendage that my daughter doesn’t have it and so far so good.

    I find that people who truly need to be gluten free are pretty quiet about it unless we’re trying to figure out if we can eat something or not. The people who are preaching the gospel of gluten free are are probably scarfing the doughnuts* in the break room when no one is looking.

    *There are currently doughnuts in the break room and it is KILLING ME that I can’t eat them.

  • SarahJesness

    My mom’s friend keeps her kids on a gluten-free diet. Whenever we visit their home and bring junk food, (we’ve only gone to their house when we needed to evacuate from a hurricane) the kids scarf it down. Oy.

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