Teaching Kids about Eating Gluten-Free

The authors of 125 Best Gluten-Free Recipes, Donna Washburn and Heather Butt offer some wonderful suggestions for teaching kids about eating gluten-free:

  • It is important that young people who suffer from celiac disease feel part of the group and not different. All decisions should be made keeping this in mind, while ensuring the diet is strictly followed.
  • Teach! Teach! Teach! Don’t make decisions for even the youngest child. Every time a new food is selected or served, casually explain why it can or cannot be tolerated. Stress the positive. Soon the questions will come from the child. It is important for children with celiac disease to know that the parent will not always be with them. “When I was too young to read,” says 11-year-old Deanna Jennett, “I wore a MedicAlert bracelet. Whenever adults offered me food, I could ask them if I should have it because of what my bracelet said.” Teach them that “if in doubt, do without.”
  • When a school-aged child is invited to sleep over or to attend a birthday party, call ahead to ask about the menu and to explain to the parents the child’s dietary restrictions. It’s important to send something similar. You may also want to send along gluten-free treats that all children can enjoy. When sending individual pizzas or individual foods, wrap them in foil so they can be reheated without cross-contamination.
  • Speak to your child’s class and explain why your child cannot eat what the others do and why they cannot share. Take along a few gluten-free treats to share with the class. You will find others in the class with special dietary needs and soon the youngsters’ natural curiosity will speed along the discussion. We really liked the way Deanna educated her peers about her intolerance to gluten. “I made a model of the surface of the intestine for a science project. I used clay and stuck small pieces of wool in it like hair. I demonstrated in front of my class how the ‘hairs’ were destroyed by gluten and since the ‘hairs’ absorbed the nutrition from the food, they realized how serious it was for me to not have any gluten.”
  • Grocery shop with the young celiac child. Show the importance of reading every label every time. It takes longer, but is certainly worth the effort and even a young pre-teen can recognize ingredients to avoid. “One of the ways I learned to read was by reading labels,” states Deanna, diagnosed when she was five years old. “Sometimes, Mum would take something off the shelf and ask me if it was safe. It was a bit of a game.”
  • When it is a communal dish, such as salsa and chips or vegetables and dip, make sure celiac children take their food first. They know they can’t share food with others.


Donna Washburn, P.H.Ec. and Heather Butt, P.H.Ec are Professional Home Economists and co-authors of 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes (Robert Rose Inc. 2009).  They have extensive recipe development expertise working with many bread machine manufacturers and yeast companies.