Now that you understand a little more about what gluten is and how it affects your body if you have an intolerance to it, it is time to figure out what exactly you can eat. This is a new lifestyle, so don’t treat it like something you only do when convenient. If you think it will be better, start gradual by slowly removing food items with gluten one by one until eventually the majority of your diet doesn’t have it. Remember that you have a sensitivity, not an allergy, so you can still have some gluten in small quantities.
Foods With Gluten
Before discussing what you can eat when you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, it helps to understand exactly what foods are going to contain gluten. It is found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, couscous, bulgur, semolina, triticale, spelt, and many others. This means the majority of cold cuts, commercial broth and bullion, malt, soup, breads, salad dressings, sauces, condiments, processed cheese, and processed foods will have it. Some food items you need to get rid of or reduce considerably are:
Fruits and Vegetables
For starters, you can begin by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Most fresh produce, and some frozen, is not going to contain any type of gluten and won’t upset your stomach. Some good vegetables to have are greens, broccoli, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, leeks, fennel, artichoke, bok choy, rasishes, onions, cabbage, green beans, celery, and mushrooms. With fruits, you want to be careful about the sugar content. Try to go for fruits like tomato, bananas, lemons, limes, and some berries. These fruits tend to have a lower amount of sugar.
Fats and Seasonings
You don’t have to worry too much about having flavor with your food, just because you can’t have most grains. Healthy fats are a great thing to add to your gluten-free diet, including olive oil and coconut oil, nut butter, olives, nuts, seeds, almond milk, and butter if it is organic and grass-fed. With seasonings and condiments, feel free to have anything without sugar, soy, and wheat. This means mustard, salsa and horseradish are fine, but ketchup is unfortunately out.
As you can see, your new lifestyle will provide you with a lot of tasty, nutritious food even without having gluten.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly seen or heard many people saying they are reducing their gluten or giving it up altogether. In some cases, people actually have allergies or a condition called Celiac disease, which is causing gluten to make them ill. Others simply have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten. The latter is more common, so that is what we are going to talk about.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein that is found in a variety of different grains. Many people think about wheat as being gluten, but it can also be found in rye, oats, and barley. The gluten protein is made up of other proteins, including gluten in and gliadin. These are often more closely linked to people that have negative reactions in the form of a gluten allergy or Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition of the small intestine. The symptoms are slightly different when comparing an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten as opposed to actually being allergic to it.
Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
When you have an intolerance to gluten, your symptoms can range from mild discomfort and abdominal pain, to some of the more common signs of being allergic to gluten. First of all, you might find that you have abdominal discomfort or indigestion when you consume foods with a lot of wheat or rye. There are actually many regular food items that contain wheat or other grains, that you would otherwise think are harmless. You may eat a simple sandwich with wheat bread and suddenly find that your stomach is hurting and you might even have diarrhea or nausea. Some other common symptoms include headaches, skin changes, and allergy symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and runny nose.
If you are found to have a gluten sensitivity, you don’t have to completely give up all gluten, but you do need to decrease it as much as possible. The more foods you eat with gluten, the worse you are going to end up feeling. They might not cause serious illness like if you had Celia disease, but gluten can definitely make you feel ill. If you want those stomach aches and migraines to go away, stay away from foods with wheat, rye, or barley. This includes most breads, grains, pasta, and a wide range of packaged and processed foods. You should try to stick to a diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein like meat.
Kids, naturally, need vitamins and minerals. Not only do they need them for the same reasons we do, but they also need extra vitamins and minerals to build their bodies up to their full adult size. A deficiency in even one micronutrient would mean a kid develops rickets, skin problems, allergies, or a poor attention span. So, naturally, as parents we want to feed our kids the healthiest possible diet, loaded with vitamins and minerals. But it isn't always as simple as wanting and doing.
When we try and feed our kids properly, it can be a real challenge to keep on top of the micronutrients, for two major reasons. The first reason is that it is easy to follow macronutrients, that is, fats, proteins, and carbs, because they are really obvious and memorable; but it is not so simple to follow micronutrients. You may be able to say, for example, whether bread is high in carbs or not, and even the number of calories per slice. But could you tell me, off the top of your head, how much selenium it has? There are just too many micronutrients, and our kids' needs are just too variable, for us to be aware of all the different things they may need in all the different foods they may eat.
And the second reason is that our kids generally do not like nutrient rich foods. As adults we either enjoy, or tolerate, foods that are very high in micronutrients. Liver, broccoli, and mushrooms, for example, are either enjoyed or dutifully swallowed by adults to make sure that they get all their micronutrients, sort of like a natural multivitamin. But kids are not so happy to eat these things. Which means that one of the few guaranteed ways of loading up on vitamins and minerals is not an option.
However, there are ways of ensuring that our kids eat enough micronutrients. The first is pure and simple: variety. If your kid eats enough different foods, they are bound to eat enough micronutrients over the course of the week. Make sure your kids eat at least one food from each category every week: nuts and seeds, leaves, berries, sweet fruit, non-sweet fruit, starches, legumes, meats or substitutes, dairy or substitutes, and omega 3 rich foods. You may not consistently hit their RDA, but other days you may exceed it, balancing things out a little.
There are a few other great tricks. For example, you can work out the micronutrient contents of their favorite whole foods. This way, you can tell them what they need to eat that day to hit their micronutrient needs, and why. Plus, because you're only learning about twenty or so different foods, it is much easier to memorize their vitamin and mineral levels. So we can keep a better eye on our kids' nutrition and push them in the right direction.
Another great way of getting your kids to eat vitamins and minerals is to bargain. Simply talking with your kids about the importance of these nutrients is sometimes enough to persuade them. Other times you may need to offer a reward, or to combine a nutrient-dense food with a desired treat to get them to eat properly.
Finally, if all else fails, you might want to consider a children's multivitamin. If you really have tried everything and there is no way this kid will get nutrients from whole food, then it is better to throw in the towel and feed them a multivitamin than to let them go without their essential vitamins and minerals! Talk to your doctor about your child's dietary requirements and current eating habits, so that you can work out a meal plan and supplement combination which will suit your child and your family best. And remember: there is no shame in supplements if that's what you need to do. Perhaps your kid is a supertaster, or autistic, or going through a growth spurt. They may have a legitimate reason for avoiding healthy foods, and it is your job as a parent to nourish them, not let them go without vital nutrients because an internet guru said whole foods were the only way.
Kids lunchboxes are under a sort of continual scrutiny for some reason which is pretty hard for me to understand. From schools giving us weird guidelines such as kids needing a “grain” instead of a starch, to Instagram mommies boasting of their healthy, ornate, cultured bento boxes, it seems that what our children are munching on matters to absolutely everyone. And yet, the one thing we may be failing to consider is: this is our kids' lunch. It may sound silly, but between bending over backwards to comply to school lunch inspections and leaping to try and outdo celebrity kids' food, we are neglecting the central aspect of a lunchbox: putting together a healthy, wholesome, enjoyable meal which will keep our kids fueled all day long.
So how can we make sure that our kids are getting the very best, healthiest meal for their age, tastes, and activity levels? We've done some investigating, and these are the top five mistakes parents make when it comes to assembling a healthy and nutritious lunchbox.
1: “I don't have time to prep, just throw some chips in.”
When we are making a lunch box it can be very tempting to say “I don't have the time to do all that!” But this is actually an assumption we make based on seeing things like elaborate lunch boxes prepped for celebrity kids, or professional chef food. But a kid's meal does not need to be elaborate to be delicious and healthy. Your kid is not going to suffer, emotionally or mentally, if you don't give them hand-rolled sushi for lunch. So next time, instead of a pack of chips, “throw in” an apple, some roasted nuts, or even some finger-friendly leftovers.
2: Giving all our kids the same box.
I get it: if you do the same for everyone it's easier, nobody risks ending up with somebody else's lunch, and nobody can complain someone else got a different thing. But at different ages and with different lives, your 15-year-old artist will need a different lunchbox than your 8-year-old football superstar. This doesn't mean you need to make each kid a bespoke lunch! Just that you may give one kid one sandwich and the other two, or one kid some more pudding and the other some more protein. Just play around with the amounts.
3: Putting in “new, healthy, superfood treats.”
Another one we totally get! If the latest big thing has come out an it's apparently the healthiest food in the world, it can be so tempting to put it in Jr's lunchbox. But what if Jr doesn't like it? Of course, sometimes it can be better to go hungry than eat junk, but if there are plenty of healthy options, stick to what you know your kids like, to make sure they eat well. Try the experiments in the kitchen at home.
4: Giving them just what they ask for.
Kids may know what they want, but they have no clue what they need. We all know not to give our kids a sugary drink for their lunch, but when it comes to other things we often cede to them as the experts. But if we know for sure that they will eat half an apple, but a whole banana, then why do we agree to give them the apple? Combine their wants with your knowledge of them, to make sure they get everything they need.
5: Not paying enough attention to kids' fads and trends.
This one is much less obvious, but just as important. Many of our kids will not eat a food which has been condemned by their friends, and will relish a food which their friends enjoy. Therefore, if you want your kid to eat a whole, healthy lunchbox, then you need to pay attention to which foods they would be ashamed or proud to drag out in the cafeteria. If the kids have all decided, because of a cartoon, that eggs are smelly and terrible, then a hard-boiled egg may go uneaten. On the other hand, if a superhero's favorite food is tuna sandwiches, then everyone may want one.
By working with your kid's wants and needs, you can make sure that they get the best lunchbox for them, even if it isn't the best lunchbox for Instagram.
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.