Our eldest daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease over 5 years ago. If you’re not familiar with Celiac, it’s an auto immune disease in which “the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. Gluten is a group of proteins present in wheat, rye and barley and their cross bred grains. The damage to the intestine can lead to a variety of symptoms and result in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health” (Canadian Celiac Association).
When our daughter started Kindergarten, I have to admit I wasn’t totally prepared for how challenging it could be. I spoke to the teacher at the beginning of the year, and she was extremely supportive and kind. But there were things that I didn’t think to mention, that cropped up through the year! The following year, when our daughter started Grade 1, I felt much more prepared. I wrote a letter to the teacher, and gave her a few extra copies to distribute to the lunch monitor, other teachers, and to leave on file for substitute teachers. I gave it to the teacher on the first day of school, and she was very appreciative for all of the detail and information.
May is Celiac Awareness Month. Celiac Disease is defined by the Canadian Celiac Association as:
“a common disorder that is estimated to affect about one percent of the population. It is a condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. Gluten is a group of proteins present in wheat, rye and barley and their cross bred grains. The damage to the intestine can lead to a variety of symptoms and result in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.”
Our 6 year old daughter was diagnosed 2 years ago and although they say it’s the only disease that is treated by diet alone, it’s not always easy. The diet is very strict, and it’s lifelong: even a crumb of gluten can affect someone with Celiac disease. Sometimes it can feel very stressful and overwhelming.
Last summer our family learned that we need to go off gluten. Our young daughter was diagnosed with Celiac, so no barley, rye, oats (unless marked gluten free), or wheat. And no cross-contamination. At first I felt quite overwhelmed. Preschoolers are not exactly known for adaptability and risk taking when it comes to food… so I was a bit worried! The fact that pasta is one of our daughter’s favourite “food groups” made me even more anxious about making the switch to gluten free.
I won’t lie … at first it was a bit tricky. She didn’t really understand why, all of a sudden, she could no longer eat many of her favourite snacks and meals. We tried out many different gluten free pastas, bread products and other snacks, trying to find alternatives that she would enjoy. Some of them were definite no’s – even I couldn’t bring myself to eat some of the pastas and macaronis that we tried! But over the past several months we have found some great options. Our daughter now asks me whether something is gluten free, and ok to eat, and she is no longer upset about avoiding some of her old favourites. Now that we have gone through the hard work of finding some yummy alternatives, I thought I’d share our findings in case anyone else finds themselves in this same position. Possibly save you from some rather unpleasant food testing! :)