Our Five Ring Circus: The 8 Most Difficult Things About Switching a Young Child to a Gluten Free Diet

Monday, February 19, 2018

The 8 Most Difficult Things About Switching a Young Child to a Gluten Free Diet

The 8 Most Difficult Things About Switching a Young Child to a Gluten Free Diet

We are now 4 1/2 months into this gluten free journey, and I'm not going to sugar coat it...it sucks! Eliminating gluten from Liam's diet definitely made life more difficult. I truly wish this wasn't happening, but it's looking like it will be his reality forever.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this story, I'll give you the short version. Liam started experiencing stomach issues over the Summer. He was eventually tested for a wide variety of things, including a gluten sensitivity. The results from the full Celiac panel came back alarmingly high for a gluten intolerance, which was indicative of Celiac Disease.

Liam's gastroenterologist was almost completely certain he had Celiac Disease, so we were told to switch to a gluten-free diet immediately. His endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis was supposed to be in January, but was rescheduled for March. Even though we've already made the full switch to a gluten-free lifestyle, we will soon know for sure exactly what we're dealing with.

The transition has not been easy! Switching a four year old from a regular diet to a gluten free diet was one of the toughest parenting experiences we've had so far. Add in the picky eating phase and the special needs aspect, and pretty much every meal became a battle of wills! Some days, it's struggle city over here!

Celiac Disease

DISCLOSURE: Some of the products mentioned below were received free for review. I only recommend products that I truly love!

The 8 Most Difficult Things About Switching a Young Child to a Gluten Free Diet

The 8 Most Difficult Things About Switching a Young Child to a Gluten Free Diet #Downsyndrome #glutenfree #celiacdisease #specialneeds #parenting

The child doesn't understand.

When you have a young child, especially one who has a limited vocabulary, transitioning them to a gluten free diet can be difficult. And when everybody but them is eating the good stuff, they find it so hard to comprehend why they can't have it, too. To them, it really does feel like they are being unfairly excluded. Watching your child desperately want something that he can't have - that he used to be able to have until recently - absolutely hurts!

I can tell Liam over and over again that eating a certain food will make him sick, but I'm not completely certain he understands just yet. I'm sure it will get easier as time goes by, and the gluten free lifestyle will eventually become his norm. But as of right now, he just doesn't understand.

You have to take food with you almost everywhere you go. 

Are you going to a family dinner? Pack some food! A birthday party? Bring a treat! Out to eat at a restaurant? Research the menu and pack some snacks just in case! Everywhere you go, you have to take food that your child CAN eat or plan ahead of time to make sure there's something gluten free on the menu.

It's a hard concept to get used to! I have forgotten several times at family dinners, which left him with limited options. We haven't really gone out to eat as a family since Liam was tested. I've had to distract Liam from treats at birthday parties. I did, however, learn to keep gluten free snacks in my purse at all times!

Other people don't really understand how serious it can be. 

For people who have Celiac Disease, eating gluten can make them very sick and cause serious damage. Even a gluten intolerance causes health issues. Although severe allergic reactions are, without a doubt, the most life-threatening, people don't generally know what Celiac Disease is or understand the severity, and don't think of other allergies or intolerances as being serious.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, in which ingesting gluten causes damage to the small intestine. If it goes untreated, it can lead to very severe health complications. The only way to treat it is to follow a very strict gluten-free diet...forever.

Gluten-filled treats are EVERYWHERE.

Everywhere you go, you will run into gluten-filled treats that will tempt your child. You literally cannot avoid them! The only way to avoid those situations would be to stay home all the time, but that's just not logical!

The only solution is to plan ahead, research which restaurant menus have gluten free options, find out where to purchase gluten free treats, and test out a wide variety of gluten free snacks to find out which ones are the most tasty.

It's difficult to find kid-friendly snacks. 

A gluten free diet is (usually) very healthy. But kids want snacks! Unfortunately, if you browse the gluten free food section at the grocery store, you will mostly find unique snacks that are better suited for adults with gourmet tastes. It takes a bit of searching, but there are gluten free snack options for kids out there!

One brand in particular is one of our favorites: nurturmeThis "Tummy Friendly Brand" is free from gluten, dairy, egg and soy, and is USDA Organic. The Power Blends pouches are a blend of fruit & veggies or fruit with ancient grains. The Veggie + Fruit yum-a-roos are 100% real fruits and veggies, non gmo, don't have added salts, sugars or preservatives, and don't contain gluten, egg, soy or dairy. The 100% Quinoa Squares organic puffed crackers have the same features as the yum-a-roos, but also contain 9 essential amino acids AND a daily recommended dose of probiotics in each serving! We were both thrilled to find kid-friendly gluten-free snacks that are perfect for home or on the go, that Liam actually LIKES! 


gluten free snacks for kids

gluten free food for kids


gluten free snacks for kids

It doesn't always taste as good. 

Although there are exceptions to this rule, a lot of gluten free alternatives just don't taste as good as the real thing. Kids usually resist the change initially, or outright refuse it. Sticking to gluten free foods that they already like is best, but the options are very limited.

Making the transtion to a gluten free alternative is a process. It's best to take things very slowly! You often have to expose the child to the food many times before they get used to it and accept it. Experimenting with different toppings and flavors to disguise the taste is often crucial!

It's a complete lifestyle change. 

Switching to a gluten free diet is a complete lifestyle change for the child. And if it happens to be Celiac Disease, it's a lifetime commitment. Gluten isn't just in food. It can also be found in body products, medications and vitamins! (I actually had to switch Liam's brand of gummy vitamins and supplements after we were told to go gluten free!)

Gone are the days of grabbing something quickly from the store. Now you have to research products, search for restaurants who have gluten free menu options, and read every single label!

They can't "cheat" on their diet. 

Unlike other diets, when a child has a food allergy or intolerance, they can't have a "cheat" day and eat it. You can't just say "oops" if they accidentally eat something. They have to avoid it every single moment of every single day.

The transition to a gluten free diet has not been easy for us, but it's a necessary one considering it impacts Liam's life in the long run. Although there is a very tiny chance that it could just be an intolerance over Celiac Disease, we aren't really holding onto much hope. Sometimes I don't feel like this is fair for Liam. He already has enough to deal with considering he has Down syndrome. Why this, too? But we're gradually adapting because it's the ONLY choice we have!

Down syndrome

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10 Things I've Already Learned About A Gluten Free Diet

10 Things I've Already Learned About A Gluten-free Diet #glutenfree #celiacdisease #downsyndrome


  1. My best friend is GF and when she first started her new diet, it was so hard for her to turn off the switch that told her she could have whatever she wanted. Her biggest complaint is that GF items are expensive and she is very much a budget minded person.

    1. Everything is so much more expensive. Thank goodness for Aldi, because their prices are so much better than everywhere else!

  2. walmart brand GF mac n cheese is delicious!! Just FYI! Aiden told me he liked it better than regular mac n cheese! :)

  3. I feel for that little cutie of yours! I was diagnosed with celiac disease in October of 2013 and what a struggle it is! I really miss the spontaneity and just grabbing what I want when I want. I find a lot of things at Aldis, Big Lots and Ollies. You must try Gluueteny Bakery in Pittsburgh (Squirrel Hill) and Trader Joe's too!!!
    I will pray for him and you too.........:)

  4. There are a variety of gluten free CHEX cereals including cinnamon and chocolate that make an easy to carry snack. You are doing a great job.

  5. I bet the hardest part really is that he just doesn't understand why! Poor little guy! I have often wanted to try going GF for a month or so just to see how my body reacts, but it's just too darn hard!

  6. One of my boys cannot have dairy or chocolate. He's been off them for 2.5 years now I think. One thing that helps is to have special treats in the freezer (like pizza slices with vegan cheese and cupcakes with no dairy) so if we go to a birthday party I can grab "fun" treat food to bring. Also, I give his teacher every year a stash bag full of "fun" treats to have so if a kid brings in cupcakes or something for a birthday, he doesn't feel totally left out - he can pick a snack from his special treat bag. I will say that at 8 years old, he knows why he can't have it, and that it makes him sick, and he is REALLY good about just saying no thank you if someone offers him something he can't eat. So it does get easier, and you find ways to adjust as a family (I often make pizza that has 3/4 regular cheese and 1/4 expensive vegan cheese ;-))


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