How to navigate a party with a Coeliac Child

Parties, how do you navigate a party with a coeliac child? It’s tricky but with a bit of planning it is absolutely possible.

Parties for children are part of growing up.  Fun, noise and goodie bags! 

To get dressed up, play party games, having fun, dancing.  Eating their body weight in sugar!!

But what if you’ve a coeliac child?  How are you going to manage keeping them safe?

You want them included, be involved, have fun but how do you ensure they don’t run the risk of getting glutened?

managing a party with a gluten free child

So how can you manage it?

First, speak to the party host.  It’s not an easy conversation to start, you feel you are causing a fuss, being difficult, but it needs to be done.  And the earlier the better.  People are more likely to be adaptable, make the changes to include your coeliac child if they know early.

Keep it clear and simple.  Your child can’t eat gluten.  It makes them ill.  That you’d be happy to supply their party tea on a separate plate or in a lunch box to keep your child safe.  What are they having so that you can arrange to have the same similar foods.

But what if they are at a venue?  Does the venue cater for your child?  Do they understand about cross contamination?

I had this for one party not long after her diagnosis. It was a roller-skating party.  One she really wanted to go to.  How would I negotiate it?  I chatted to the mum when we got the invite as she had to choose what she’d eat – fish fingers or nuggets & chips.  I said I’d have to send her with a packed lunch as I didn’t know if the venue could cater for her.  But I knew she wouldn’t like sitting there eating a packed lunch when everyone around her was having nuggets & chips.

Contact the party venue

I got the details from the mum & gave the venue a call. I had a surprise.  They knew about the disease.  They understood and catered for various allergies. GF nuggets, fish fingers and chips were on the menu.  They’d need to cook it in the oven as their fryer was used for other gluten items but would serve hers on a separate platter.

They skated their hearts out for an hour or so and then time for tea. Her little face lit up so bright seeing she was having the same as everyone else. Don’t underestimate the difference it makes.  Watching her sit round the table chatting to everyone, whilst munching on her chips was fabulous to watch.

Now obviously they can’t have the cake, something that lots of children look forward to so go prepared.  I often made cupcakes & would supply one in advance to come out with her party bag, or for to have when she came home.

My Top Ten Party Survival Tips

  1. State that you’d love for your child to come but that they have a special gluten free diet.
  2. Keep it simple.  That they can’t eat gluten that’s in wheat/barley in food/drinks (cheap cola)/some sweets/cakes etc.
  3. That they can’t share due to the risk of contamination – fingers that have been holding a gluten sandwich dipping into the crisps/cucumber sticks etc
  4. Is the party at their home or a venue?
  5. If at a venue – give the venue a call so you speak to them direct. 
    • Ask questions: Do they cater for a gluten free diet. 
    • Do they know about the disease, about cross contamination. 
    • Have they a separate fryer for chips, gf nuggets, fish fingers or can they provide oven cooked ones?
    • Do their responses make you feel ok about the venue itself?
  6. Is it at the parents home? Ask what is the theme, what are they planning food wise?  Is it a typical party spread, pizza or a BBQ?  By finding out what they are having, you can plan. 
  7. Can you find similar suitably safe gluten free alternatives?  Or do they offer to supply them? You’ll need to explain to them about cross contamination.  It’s probably easier to send your child to the party with a lunchbag or plate covered in clingfilm & named, to be unwrapped when sat at the table.  If your child understands and gets the risks about not eating gluten, that’s great.  If not, you may have to stay at the party and watch them like a hawk.
  8. Cake – who doesn’t like a slice of birthday cake.  But that’s no longer an option for your coeliac child.  So source an alternative. Either shop bought cupcakes or homemade ones – pop in a bag tied with ribbon or a cupcake box/tuppaware & give it to the party host to give out to your child instead. Then they aren’t left out.
  9. Party bags.  Now they are a mine field.  Most party cones are out, but I’ve had parents make special ones for my child based on the sweets she likes.  Ask them to leave the sweets in wrapping for them.  Easier for you to trust, and you can read the ingredients if needed!  Have a swap box at home too – just in case. Helps avoid disappointment
  10. Always be prepared.  Have snacks in your bag, gf biscuits, gf oat bars etc and ALWAYS send them with a named water bottle.  Something they know is theirs so they can go back to it when needed.  Drinks bottles/cups are always getting muddled up & they always seem to end up all drinking from one cup!! 

Need more help?

Need more help? I’d to find my way, just like you. I didn’t want other parents to struggle at the beginning. I’m just a regular mum like you who happens to have a coeliac child. It is overwhelming in the beginning. It’s hard I won’t lie and it’s lonely. Friends and family don’t get it. I do as I’ve been there & it will be part of our life forever. It’s second nature now, and it will be for you too in a short while. If you need extra info, help and a gentle guide to getting it right from the beginning, here’s a link to the ebook download I wrote to get you on the right path – Coeliac Disease & What you need to know. It’s coming soon in printed form…. so exciting.

Gluten Free? Double check your labels.

Check, check and check again!

It’s coming up to the crazy time of the year. But you know what is safe. You’ve bought it a hundred times. But why do you or your child have a reaction this time?

Yes, the manufacturers have changed the ingredients. It happens so often, with little or no notice. It’s time to check your labels.

It’s hard work being coeliac or having a coeliac child. We start off well reading the labels, but then as its something you buy on a regular basis, you don’t double check. And we need to especially at this time of the year!

It’s always good to check your habits this time of year, to double check the ingredients on the label, just in case that they have changed. Better to check in advance before eating than find out afterwards and be stuck at home near a bathroom or in bed.

But what are you looking for?

Check your labels. You are looking for anything that contains gluten.

A great acronym to remember is B.R.O.W.S which is for Barley, Rye, Oats* , Wheat or Spelt.

Any of them can be put into ingredients for food or drinks and are to be avoided at all cost by an individual on a gluten free coeliac diet.

For instance, barley can often be found in own brand supermarket colas or wheat can be in soy sauce.

Oats* are safe as long as labelled gluten free. However, even gluten free oats can cause a reaction in some Coeliacs. They contain a protein called Avenin which mimics gluten.

Learn to read labels

You know what you are looking for and you know that you need be able to read labels well. This can save you a fortune, as not everything you eat needs to be labelled Gluten Free.

Reading labels is key to managing this disease.

Here’s a link to a more detailed info on how to read labels. A label is there to tell you what is in the product & what it is made up of. Do remember that whilst you can scan a label, the scanners are normally behind a few days/weeks/months. A label ‘should’ always be accurate, uptodate & says what is on the tin (literally!). For further details see Coeliac UK advice on food shopping.

Some products use ingredients that are made up of other items too. They will always be stated on the label and their ingredients will read after them within brackets. Think of it like a book. There’s a title, a chapter title & the chapter itself to tell the story.

Sushi was being discussed yesterday in a Facebook group. Sushi has a long line of ingredients, with lots of components making up each sushi roll. So how do you read those?

Break it down

The label states everything that is in the product. The ingredients work from the most to the least.

Starting with the Cooked White Sushi Rice. In the brackets afterwards you have ‘water, white rice, rice vinegar’. That is what is in the rice. After anything that has more than one component to make it there will always be brackets showing what is in it. Further down the list shows that the soy sauce bottle is safe as it’s made of ‘water, soya bean, salt & vinegar’. But since the rice has wheat flour in the whole product, it is a big no.

I know that we will all be busy rushing around in the coming weeks, gearing up to get ready for the big day but do get yourself into the habit of stopping, checking and double checking before you put your usual into the basket. Far better to check in advance or before you or your child have eaten something that could ruin the next 24hrs, put you on tender hooks, or see you missing out on something that you were looking forward to.

Keep warm & keep well.

Happy Baking!

Your Gluten Free Coeliac Child has a Playdate Invitation

Oh yay! Your child, your coeliac child has a playdate invitation. They are being treated normally, being included. Yay!

And then the dread & fear sets in…. or it always does for me.

Maybe your child has just started the school, joined the class, you don’t know the parents. But your child is excited & looking forward to going to play at their new friends house.

Maybe your child has just be diagnosed as having Coeliac Disease. And you have yet to explain to your friends, your child’s friends what they can and can’t have going forward.

You have to explain it all over again…. what they can and can’t have. You have to trust someone to not ‘gluten’ your child. But the smile on their face at being invited to a friends house has lit them up.

Well, you’re in the right place. I’ve already negotiated those hurdles with my daughter who was diagnosed in 2018 with the disease. We’ve found the basics that you need to cover for a playdate, a sleepover and parties. At a best guess, you will receive at least 15+ party invitations in a year based on an average class of 30.

Coeliac Child has a playdate invitation

So how do you manage it all?

It’s so exciting when your coeliac child has a playdate invitation. In the first instance, meet the parent of the other child . Say hi, get the intros done. Then let them know that your child has Coeliac Disease & briefly let them know that they need special foods excluding gluten & wheat & that your happy to chat with them about your child’s needs to make it as easy as possible for them.

See, it’s easy! They don’t need to know straight off that it’s key to minimise all cross contamination. You can let them know gently.

My Top Tips

Inform the host parent of the requirements needed to keep your child safe. Discuss foods, snacks and drinks.

Give them a guideline on labels – what they are looking out for.

Suggest some suitable snacks – offer to supply ones for your child if that will help

Suggest that the children all have the same GF foods for tea & dessert so that will minimise any cross contamination issues, and at the same time keep them the same as everyone else. Fitting in is so important at a young age.

To make your life easier, I’ve put all of this information & more into an eBook covering Playdates, Parties, BBQs & Sleepovers with a two page handout to give to the host parent. They’ve then a handy guide to refer to whilst your child is in their care so that they have some guidance as to what to do & how to manage keeping your child safe.

It shouldn’t be hard to let your child be normal, have friends over or go over to their houses. With this guide, both you and your host parent can manage it all together safely.

Have questions? Feel free to drop me a message or send an email to help@glutenfreelittlecook.com

Don’t be afraid to ask “is that gluten free” when eating

Sometimes it’s embarrassing to ask the question “is that gluten free” when you know you’ve already ordered a dish that is supposed to be just that. 

But what if you have doubts about the safety of the food that has just been put in front of you?

  • You don’t want to seem pushy
  • You don’t want to be dramatic
  • You don’t want to be that problem person in the restaurant, have people looking at you like your fussy.

Well, sometimes, you have to do that just that, you have to be that person that asks lots of questions as you don’t want your child to be ill.

I don’t mind asking questions, but, in normal fashion, I tend to blush and go bright red when doing so, it’s just one of those things.  I didn’t like asking questions as a child because of it, but as an adult I tend not to worry, especially if it involves the safety of one of my children.  But if I doubt a dish is safe as I did this weekend, I know I have to. 

And worse still if I’m lunching in a well known restaurant that is particularly good at catering for Coeliacs.  A place that I trusted & had specifically booked for being so.

Why would I question a dish that I’ve specifically ordered to be gluten free so that my child is fed safely?

But I had to as despite constantly stating my child was coeliac & required gluten free food, she’d been served a regular burger & chips. 

What if I hadn’t questioned it?  The family afternoon would’ve been ruined & my child would have been in pain and ill.  And more worryingly, as she hasn’t had gluten in such a long period, would her symptoms have been stronger, different, worse?

It was only by chance as I looked at the dishes in front of us that an alarm bell went off in my head.  I’d read on the menu that the regular burgers came in brioche buns.  I’d forgotten, as we haven’t eaten out in so long, that any GF foods coming out of the kitchen normally have little flags in them.  But I was definitely staring straight at a brioche burger bun on a plate sat in front of my hungry coeliac child.

Gluten Free Burger & chips with a GF flag

As the waitress looked at me, I know for a fact that my face changed.  I’ve an expressive face and a look can convey a thousand words as most mums can. 

“Is that gluten free?” came shooting out of my mouth as I was about to say “tuck in” instead.  The look on the waitress’s face told me all I needed to know.  “I’ll check” she said.  She was back in seconds & the plate was taken away.

How in the ordering process and me stating several times that my child was coeliac and needed gluten free food that it got missed I don’t know.  Everything is automated once the order is taken & put through at the front desk and sent to the kitchen.  One plain (very plain) gluten free burger & chips.  No thorough explanation was offered as to the oversight.  The meal was replaced with a suitable gluten free offering, but there was no reason as to why it was not as ordered in the first place.  Even the waitress at the end apologised and said it shouldn’t have happened. 

I understand human errors occur, but eating something that isn’t gluten free could cause your child much pain and damage it’s an error that shouldn’t occur, specifically when orders are taken electronically and checked again before going out.  When it is your child you must question any food item that you don’t prepare yourself.

  • Do question your server that they have the right gluten free dish
  • Does the restaurant use a specific way to highlight gluten free dishes?
  • Does it come with a flag showing its gluten free?
  • Is it on a different coloured plate?
  • Is it uncut to avoid contamination?

As I’ve learnt this weekend, it is always best to double check.  I wasn’t being rude, fussy or awkward.  I was being a mum, protecting my child, so that she didn’t miss out on the family event that afternoon by being made ill from a simple mistake. 

So whether you are fine asking questions, or blush bright red like me, don’t ever think you’re silly for questioning anything, even if you are in a fully GF restaurant. 

It’s always best to be safe & not sorry. It’s not worth the risk

Top Ten Tips for going gluten free

Top Ten Tips

Here are my Top Ten Tips for going gluten free, ONCE, your child’s diagnosis is officially confirmed by a consultant (not your GP) following blood tests and potentially an endoscopy.  Most children are diagnosed on blood tests alone if their results are high (10x the normal range). Note that Coeliac Disease is an auto-immune disease and not an allergy. 

STEP 1 - Remove all gluten from their diet.

Removing gluten means changing their whole diet and cutting out gluten containing items from their food intake with anything that includes Barley, Rye, Oats*, Wheat, Spelt.  A useful acronym is ‘BROWS’ which will help you remember what to look for.

*Oats – can be eaten as part of a gluten free diet but must be marked as ‘gluten free oats’ so they are not contaminated.

STEP 2 - JOIN COELIAC UK. 

Coeliac UK is the UK charity which has lots of advice & help for any questions you have.  It’s open to all with a member only access to additional information / apps and help.  

STEP 3  - READ & LEARN.

There are lots of places for information but be mindful that there is mis-information out there & one person’s view may be out of date.  For up to date information check on Coeliac UK first.  Be mindful that you look at UK websites regarding Coeliac Disease.  Coeliac is the UK spelling and Celiac is the USA spelling. 

Learn to read labels well.  There are apps to help you double check, but a label will always be most up to date.

Grab a copy of my new updated e-Book, Coeliac Disease & your Child – What you need to knowwritten especially to help parents when your child has just been diagnosed. It’s overwhelming in the beginning.  Where do you go, who do you ask.  Is it the right information.  

It’s what I learnt and what I wished I’d have known when my child was diagnosed. It would have made life so much easier.

STEP 4  - CHECK EVERYTHING.

Yes, check everything.  Even the strangest things have gluten that you wouldn’t expect.  And always double check a label of something you regularly buy.

Check your kitchen ingredients for those you currently use including; stock cubes, packet sauces, anything pre-packaged, soups, tinned items, freezer & fridge food, drinks including cordials, fizzy drinks.  Some supermarket own brands have barley in them such as cola.

Anything that can be double dipped or have a knife dipped in it, it will need to be replaced if used by the Coeliac to avoid cross contamination

And not everything has to be labelled gluten free to be gluten free.  You’ll save yourself a fortune if you learn to read labels well.

STEP 5  - SAFE SPACE / PLACE.

Sort a shelf or a cupboard in your kitchen for gluten free food items.  You will need new suitable breakfast cereals, gluten free bread, pasta & snacks.

STEP 6 - OWN ITEMS.

The Coeliac in the house will need their own labelled butter, jam, condiments that can’t be double dipped.  They will need toaster bags to toast their gluten free bread and/or their own new toaster.  Label items or place them in a suitable fridge type container so everyone knows not to use them.

STEP 7 - CROSS CONTAMINATION

This is the biggest hurdle.  Prepare their food first; use washable plastic or a new wooden board to be used only by the Coeliac for preparing food.  Use silicone spoons instead of wooden ones.  Cook food on the top shelf of the oven above the regular food so it doesn’t get dripped on.

For further information see Coeliac UK & this blog

STEP 8 - BE PREPARED

Always have a snack with you in case you are somewhere that doesn’t cater for Coeliacs.  Research venues if you are going out.  Plan ahead.

STEP 9 - EATING OUT

It can be done.  You need to find out what restaurants cater for you and understand the disease. 

Fish & Chips; they need to have a separate fryer to cook any items to be gluten free – so chips & gluten free fish or sausages need to be cooked there.  Some provide gluten free battered fish but fry it in the same oil as regular fish.  Heat does not kill gluten!  This is definitely cross contamination and could/will make a Coeliac ill.

STEP 10 - THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

It’s about adapting everything that you already cook or use.  Making lasagne, use gluten free pasta sheets, substitute the stock cubes, cooking sauces etc.  For Yorkshire puddings, use cornflour (best option).  Baking a cake, use gluten free flour.