Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free

March 12th, 2013 by Dionna | 25 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Code Name: Mama - Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free

Our family has been dairy free for awhile, because both of my children have a sensitivity to cow milk. We had been a “dairy light” family for years with Kieran, but we’d become much more lax during my pregnancy with Ailia – I felt like my body was craving it. After Ailia showed much more intense reactions to dairy (and, later, eggs), we cut it out completely for everyone. Kieran had a pretty tough time losing ice cream and yogurt, but it wasn’t a huge deal since we’d been avoiding dairy for years. (Also, we bought a Blendtec, and we’ve had lots of fun experimenting with dairy alternatives to make our own ice cream.)

Fast forward a year, and both of my kids are still having issues that appear to be related to food; specifically, gluten. After hemming and hawing about it for a few months, I’m finally ready to try eliminating it to see if it makes a difference for them.

But how to break it to my wheat-loving son? I knew it would be tough. This is a kid who is food-motivated, especially if that food involves pretzels, granola bars, cookies, crackers, or any other wheat-based treat. As much as I offer healthy fruit and vegetable snacks throughout the day, he’ll always come back and ask me for something with gluten. It’s been a struggle, and I knew I’d have to come up with a plan to get him on board with going gluten free.

This is what we did.

We talked about how some food makes our bodies feel bad.

Kieran knows that dairy makes him sick. There have been several occasions over the past year when he has had the option of consuming dairy, and he chooses not to, knowing that he will pay for it later. When we first sat down to talk about going gluten free, I led with a conversation about how dairy affects his body. He agreed that dairy hurts his stomach, and he also recognizes that there is still something making him feel bad, we just haven’t figured out what that is.

I explained that many people have an allergy to gluten, and we talked about several of his friends who do not eat gluten. We chatted about the symptoms he is having, and I explained how they might be related to eating foods that contain gluten.

As I feared, Kieran was deeply upset. He cried and refused to talk anymore. He shouted that he would not give up gluten. He listed several foods that he loves and cried some more about not being able to eat them.

We made compromises.

I knew that part of the reason Kieran was upset was because he was feeling powerless. He felt helpless that he could not keep foods that were important to him. To help give him back some of the control, I first acknowledged that he was sad and angry, and then I asked him how we could make the transition easier.

To be honest, it is important to me to have a smooth transition, too. One of my struggles in going gluten free is feeling wasteful – if you walk into my kitchen right now, you will see a lot of food with gluten in it. I did not want to simply throw everything away.

So how could we make the transition more manageable for Kieran, while helping me feel less wasteful? We agreed that we would not go cold turkey. We’re going to continue using the gluten products we have in the house, and we will replace them with gluten free products as they are consumed. I did the same thing with dairy, and then I ended up giving all of my dairy foods away within a couple of weeks. Once I realized that my fear of eliminating dairy was much more emotional than fiscal, I was able to surrender my fear and let go of dairy. I suspect that giving myself this cushion with gluten will be just the momentum I needed to get over this particular emotional hump.

Because Kieran is five years old and does better with concrete numbers, we agreed that we could eat gluten at one meal and one snack. So, for example, he might have some cereal for breakfast and then a cookie after dinner (both items on my “to be consumed” list). He’s been much more willing to make the switch since he knows that he can have control over his food choices – it’s emotional for him, too.

Ailia eating her first PBJ pre-transition. Have any recommendations for a good GF sandwich bread?


We are getting easy gluten replacements.

My goal, of course, is to eventually feel just as confident baking and cooking gluten free as I do now with wheat flour. But I’m aware that there is a learning curve. So until then, I’ve given myself permission to use some gluten free crutches.

For example, I’m buying some Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix on the recommendation of a friend. Someday, I hope I don’t need to buy a pre-made mix, but I’m allowing myself the time to transition.

I also bought some gluten free pretzels (one of Kieran’s favorite snacks), and pizza crust mix (I couldn’t bring myself to buy the pricey premade crusts).

We are making the transition fun and interesting.

We’re treating the transition to a gluten free lifestyle as an adventure, not as a hardship. For example, this week we made some vegan/gluten free breakfast cookies. Kieran was thrilled to eat cookies at breakfast, and we had fun making them together and talking about the lack of flour.

We splurged on some fantastic almond milk yogurt to have on hand for snacks. It isn’t something I usually have available, but I’m willing to make our gluten free snack time transitions more attractive until the change feels less overwhelming.

We’re going to experiment with flours and textures and baking and food. I mean, really, how can anyone be unhappy about forgoing gluten when they’re getting quinoa chocolate cake, Gluten-Free, Cinnamon Salted Caramel Brownies (using almond flour), and Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Nutella Waffles. (For more GF recipes, see my “Going Gluten Free” board on Pinterest!)

We are in this together.

Part of a smooth transition for me is having support from Tom: both emotional support (a shoulder to cry on) and practical support (giving up gluten foods when he’s at home). I know that trying to fix two meals – one with gluten for Tom, and one without gluten for the rest of us – would be neither feasible (due to time and energy constraints) nor fair.

Tom very rarely eats food with dairy in it in front of us, because Ailia and Kieran would want it. On the rare occasions he does eat dairy, we have a dairy-free alternative for us (i.e., when we eat pizza). But when we first stopped eating dairy, we simply did not have our favorite dairy foods available, mainly because it takes some time to get used to dairy-free alternatives.

Whether to give up gluten with us wasn’t even a question for Tom. He knows that Kieran will feel better if we’re making the change as a family. He also knows that my willpower will crumble if he brings bread products into the house. At least for awhile.

Have you ever had to cut food out of your child’s diet? How did you approach it?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn’t Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she’s explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she’s learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren’t so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she’s had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller’s Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter’s horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges–when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who’d want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn’t have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.

25 Responses to:
"Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free"

  1. Camille Torok de Flores   survivorSurvivorinMX

    I thought it was especially effective to allow your child to take some control of his food choices and I’m sure it was very empowering for him. Great job mom!

  2. Leah

    We are on this journey too, though I considered it MY project and realized how much less processed food i began eating. Now I am easing my children away from gluten, offering nuts, fruit, soy yogurt, and homemade granola bars for snacks. All treats are gf here and i’m learning what flours to sub for what. i like almond flour for baked goods-except cookies (still looking for the right crunch). Coconut flour makes good pancakes, and rice flour for really cakey things. We are also cutting out sugar and I really like that. My oldest and I have a dairy intolerance and I have discovered my gluten sensitivity through this, I suspect my oldest may have a gluten sensitivity as well.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      We have a dairy sensitivity as well, and I’d hoped that was it! But both of my kiddos are still getting skin irritations, upset tummies, etc., and so we’re trialing GF to see if it’s gluten. Secretly, I hope it’s not ;)

      Have you tried cultured almond milk instead of soy yogurt? I just found some at our local health market last week, it is AMAZING. If you’re interested, I’ll go take a peek at the brand name. But it is better than any other yogurt alternative we’ve tried.

  3. Laura   mamapoekie

    we went through this with my daughter, who would throw a fit whenever she’d eat bread. Gluten free alternatives are a no go for me because I have gerd and react to any grain.
    We’re still not 100% gluten and dairy free, but we’re getting better at it as time passes and I’ve found that a soft weaning works best

  4. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I was so looking forward to reading this one, because we’re going through our own gluten meltdown here! Sam and I have stopped eating grains, and I really want it to be a family-wide endeavor (for various health reasons), and Sam does not want to deal with the sadness and transitional woes of convincing our stubborn stubborn stubborn (did I mention stubborn?) and picky 5-year-old to switch diets. I hear him, and yet I really want to make this happen for all of us.

    Part of the problem is there isn’t a specific health problem we can point to because we’re not “allergic” to grains or gluten. Unlike with Kieran and Ailia, I can’t say, “Hey, Mikko, know how you get all congested/itchy/achey/whatever when you eat bread?” because he feels just fine, thankyouverymuch.

    But we are trying the transition thing, per Sam’s request. We’re actually transitioning to gluten-free and gluten-light products on a quest to transition to grain-free. And we’re trying to involve Mikko in cooking and shopping and experimenting so he feels some control over it and realizes he can still enjoy the food he eats. The problem is, as always, how picky he is about everything, but I still have hope… Anyway!

    Best wishes to you and Kieran. It sounds like it’s going great for you so far.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I think that would be similar to how other families cut out sugar (ahem – something we need to cut down on, too). Would he be interested in learning how gluten affects our bodies? That is something I need to try with Kieran – he is pretty curious about how bodies work, how food affects us, etc. I’ll try to do some research and find something that might be on their level!

  5. I hope your journey is much easier by allowing your children some autonomy over its route. It is so much easier to explain the reasons when they have symptoms that they can remember and relate to.

    Have you looked into histamine intolerance? This is something I have and I cannot tolerate milk either. My symptoms are stomach upsets and skin irritations if I eat food high in histamine.

  6. tree peters   momgrooves

    that really is a tough one. I appreciate the ideas. It’s so great for me with Kieran because he and my girl are the same age. So your posts are especially perfect for me. I’ve been dancing around gluten free for over a year now. I’ll think more about how to give Em those feelings of having some control.
    And by the way, I love the Pamela’s mix. I’m sure you know the Gluten Free Goddess, right? I went out and got all the crazy different flours etc on her list and it was just too much. They sat in my cupboard until they went bad or the buggies got them. Easing ourselves into it is fine.
    Plus I can just use that Pamela’s mix for nearly any recipe that calls for flour. I don’t have to think about it. Just made the very berry muffins from Weelicious and with that substitution they were gluten free and perfect. Next I’m trying them with maple syrup instead of brown sugar..
    It can be kind of fun. In theory. Sometimes.
    Bread is the thing that’s kicking my butt. I tried the Paleo bread from Julian Bakery and I don’t know what it was, but I still get gaggy thinking about it. I was so excited about it too.
    Oh well. Onward.
    Good luck to you and just remember how much you’re giving your kids.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I have heard of all of those brands/blogs :) I think what’s been most discouraging to me is that the vast majority of GF people I’ve talked to have said something like “really, we just stopped eating bread.” Blech. I *like* bread. ah well…

  7. Jessica @ Crunchy-Chewy Mama   crunchychewy

    I wish you the best on this. I went gluten-free and dairy-free back in 2004 in my journey to overcome a thyroid disorder and regain my fertility so I could become a mom. It made such a difference in my physical and mental health.

    We’ve kept my son GF for nearly 7 years and plan to do the same with my daughter, though I have yet to do the genetic test we did with my son that showed he does carry the celiac gene on my side and gluten sensitivity on his dad’s. (This is a cheek swab test you can do having had no gluten exposure, but they also do other tests to show malabsorption and IgA markers of other food sensitivities).

    Honestly, it can be easier to just be GF so you can justify avoiding junk food, sugary cake, etc. at social events. It is a lot more work to make your own, of course, and then when I had to go grain-free and starch-free (the GAPS diet), it was a ton of work. I think my son might benefit from GAPS also, but there is no smoking gun and none of the muscle-testing practitioners we’ve seen say it is a must. They have said to cut out dairy, which makes him sad, but he didn’t even have any until age 3, and since he’s seen me have such a restrictive diet and is starting to be able to tell for himself how bad he feels if we let him cheat or even if he has chocolate or sugar, I think he gets it. At least he’s never complained about substitutes, by I fear my daughter will be much more of a handful as she is pickier, more carb-centered, and more insistent on having what she sees others having.

    I think it would be great to have a holistic health coach on your team, if not a naturopath, too. It’s a big commitment to undertake but the right muscle-testing might reveal something else entirely like parasites or sensitivity to chlorine or who knows what. I do think most people could benefit from a low gluten diet, but it might just be one piece and you might not know it’s helping if there is some other big thing. (Also realize that corn triggers reactions in lots of GF people, and since most non-organic corn is genetically modified, it’s best to avoid anyway).
    And consider allergy elimination like NAET or BioSET — maybe your kids have reactions that can be reversed with acupuncture or some kind of tapping. My dr. has suggested I try learning to muscle-test myself through this company:
    Good luck!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you so much! Yes, I would love to get both of them tested, but it is so pricey :/
      I’d also love to do GAPS with both of them, but I am wary of how Kieran will react. (Also, looking at the GAPS diet feels very overwhelming for me!)

  8. Going gf was so intimidating for me, right up until I actually did it. Once I actually figured out how easy gf really is, we don’t miss it much. I wish there were better bread options, but we just eat other things these days instead (ok, up until the pregnancy overtook and I started living off sandwiches).

    But, I want to give huge kudos to Tom for doing the diet with you. One thing that I read when getting off of gluten was that it is really important for the entire family to try to eat the same diet (at least in front of those who have to adhere to the diet), because that helps the children to not feel excluded or different in their journey. For our kids, it is just how WE eat, vs what is “normal”. For example, when we go to a party or family event, our kids know that WE can’t eat anything that Mom and Dad haven’t inspected first. So, we may be the only ones at the party who can’t have the sheet cake, but we are all together not having the sheet cake.

    A good example that I give often is this: If your entire family ate only Chinese food, that would be normal. If your child packed Chinese food to lunch at school, it might be different than everyone else at school, but it is what your child would be used to eating – so it would feel normal to him. But, if everyone in your family ate American food all of the time, and your child had to eat Chinese food at every meal, your child would feel excluded and “less than”, even if the Chinese food was his normal.

    Make sense?

  9. Danika

    I’m so interested to follow along with you on this journey. We have egg, dairy and grain sensitivities and it’s hard to find recipes. I have found some good recipes at Paleo Parents. You might want to check them out. Their chunky monkey muffins are so yummy!

  10. Monica

    Udi brand is the only bread I’ve tried that isn’t absolutely gross. trader Joes has frozen waffles and pancakes that are delish as carriers for pb&j and the pancakes for egg sandwiches for bfast.

    that quinoa chocolate cake is to DIE for. I currently have a vanilla version in the oven (sub almond meal for the cocoa, says a friend) I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      we did the cake with further mods to make it DF and egg free and it was delicious – ty!!!

  11. TJ

    I’m curious if those of you who have dairy sensitivities have tried raw milk/kefir, etc? Also when eliminiating something don’t forget that it can take months for it to get all the way out of your system.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Yes! We did raw milk for quite awhile when Kieran was younger, and we noticed no difference. We’ve also tried sheep and goat cheese when Ailia was younger, and she still reacted. :/

  12. Talia B.

    We are in the thick of this right now. I wanted to try Grain free for a detox period and then introduce a few back in to see how we feel. I am like a previous commenter in that my girl (3 in May) doesnt have a specific symptom(s), but I just feel something is *off* and I am almost certain PaPa has a gluten sensitivity and that my nursling may too.
    We went totally grain/sugar free for almost 30 days and she did so well with it. Wasnt hard because we just stayed home and made everything at home. I just explained some foods might be owie foods for our bodies right now. Now the only hard part it when we are out and someone offers it to her (I hate that) before asking me quietly. Actually the lady at Trader Joe’s went in got her a fruit leather for their kids snack to replace the cookies which she offered. I was thankful.
    My husband wont commit to it away from our house but while he is at home he understands and supports mostly grain free and no gluten. We just tried organic popcorn with no reaction that i can tell.
    Good luck!

  13. We are still working on “getting there” and tend to have set backs. Working together as a family, and having everyone have some control over choices, really helps.

  14. Ursula Ciller   ursula_ciller

    The only restriction we have with foods is sugar. We don’t give our little ones any chocolate, ice cream, lemonade, sugar rich breakfast cerials, cakes (unless homemade low sugar varieties) or cordials. Sugar just makes her bounce of the walls and I figured what a child doesn’t know (e.g. taste of cordial) won’t make her hungary for it! At least not until she is a fair bit older. Apart from the odd query about cupcakes this works for us :)

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