A Nutrition Guide: Celiac Disease in Children
Written by: Feed to Succeed
Celiac disease in children can develop as early as 6 to 9 months of age, when gluten is typically introduced into a child’s diet, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. For children with celiac disease, a diagnosis can affect the entire family.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley that causes some patients’ bodies to mount an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small finger-like projections that line the small intestine that promote nutrient absorption. Once the villi are damaged, the body cannot absorb nutrients properly.
The good news is, children with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity can have a healthy, active life when eating a gluten free diet.
However, maintaining this diet takes daily effort, whether a the child was diagnosed recently or has lived for years with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Seemingly normal aspects of childhood, from school snacks to pizza and cake at a birthday party, are instead a source of discomfort or even severe health problems.
This makes managing a gluten-free lifestyle challenging for both you, as a parent, and your child. It takes constant preparation and effort, but like any challenge in life, planning a gluten-free lifestyle gets easier with practice.
If your child is diagnosed with celiac disease, or is sensitive to gluten, use the following tips to make the transition to a gluten free lifestyle.
What to Avoid with Celiac Disease
In addition to wheat, rye and barley, children diagnosed with celiac disease should avoid oats that aren’t specifically gluten free. Oats often contain some traces of gluten products, even though they are naturally gluten free.
Processed foods manufactured in large factories can also contain traces of gluten, even when the ingredient list does not contain gluten. Always look just below the label where it might say, “May contain traces of…” You’ll often see “nuts,” and “soy” listed here, in addition to “gluten” or “wheat.”
Most importantly, get used to reading labels because manufacturers and restaurants may add gluten in all sorts of unexpected places—such as in barbecue sauce or salad dressing. The good thing is, the ingredients list will always say wheat or gluten. It's not like corn, where the ingredient is often broken down into its parts with unrecognizable names. This makes iit easier to catch if you’re sticking to the label.
How to Stock the Cupboards
Stocking the cupboards with gluten free products has never been easier. The gluten free diet has become very popular, with the number of people trying to eat gluten free tripling since 2009.
However, processed gluten free products, like gluten free bread, can be expensive and are often not as healthy as you might assume, so it’s better to serve healthy foods that are naturally gluten free. For example, focus on whole foods like yogurt, nuts, fruit, vegetables and legumes, all of which are whole foods that are also gluten free.
The best way to stock your cupboard is to start saving your child’s favorite gluten-free recipes so you know what to get every time you go to the store. Healthy Height Shake Mix is gluten free (in addition to being free of corn syrup, soy and growth hormones!), so be sure to check out some of our favorite recipes that are high in nutritional value and free of gluten:
- Veggie Loaded Cinnamon Vanilla Smoothie
- Healthy Height Protein Date Balls
- No-Bake Healthy Height Brownie Bites
Gluten-Free Home vs. Gluten-Free Child
Like any medical diagnosis, a celiac diagnosis isn’t just about the individual. It affects how the whole family eats and lives. Each family will react differently to a diagnosis of celiac disease; for some, it makes the most sense to focus on eating gluten-free as a family. This helps eliminate jealousy among siblings and ensures that there’s no cross-contamination of gluten in the home.
For other families, however, this will be a challenge. The good news is, the benefit of maintaining some gluten products in the home is that this teaches the gluten-free child to always be vigilant about avoiding gluten, similar to how he or she needs to behave in the real world.
This is ultimately a personal decision, depending on your family dynamics and how severe the diagnosis is. If there’s risk of cross-contamination, your child’s pediatrician may recommend keeping the entire home free of gluten products.
In this case, focus on the many other foods everyone can eat together, including familiar grains like rice and quinoa. There are also many ways to make your favorite meals gluten-free with just a small change; with a simple search, you’ll find dozens of alternatives for bread, muffins, pizza crust, cookies, cake and more.
Eating Out with Celiac Disease
Eating in restaurants presents new challenges for children diagnosed with celiac disease, but it’s not impossible. Some restaurants are more gluten-free friendly than others, making it easier to eat out as you begin to learn which spots are easiest for your family to eat at.
As a general rule of thumb, check the menu for listed “gluten free” options before eating out. Remember that this may take more than a cursory glance at the menu. You may likely still need to ask questions, even if the item is supposed to be gluten free. For example, if french fries are cooked in the same fryer as mozzarella sticks, that item is no longer gluten free. If gluten free pasta strained in the same strainer as regular pasta, that won’t be either. Some restaurants even add pancake batter to omelets to make them more fluffy, so don’t be afraid to ask many questions as needed before ordering.
Making a Child’s Celiac Diagnosis Easier
Know that children so often prove to be resilient in the face of challenges. A child with celiac disease, especially when diagnosed at a young age, will often accept the gluten free diet as a lifestyle. As a parent, you can ease that transition by offering the foods your child can eat that he or she enjoys, as often as possible.
Additionally, getting your children involved in selecting and preparing snacks and meals can benefit the whole family, and make it feel more like a choice, rather than a punishment or challenge. Ultimately, with planning, preparation and a willingness to change, your entire family will be able to find a balance, despite your child’s celiac disease.
ABOUT FEED TO SUCCEED
Feed to Succeed is the fastest growing practice of registered dietitians on Chicago’s Northshore. For more information about celiac disease or a gluten free diet, contact Feed to Succeed at firstname.lastname@example.org
The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.