Caring for a child with coeliac disease

Caring for someone else’s child, especially when they need a gluten free diet, may require an attention to detail you are not familiar with.

What is gluten and where is it found?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Someone with coeliac disease will get sick when they eat anything containing any of these grains. Some food clearly contains these cereals like bread, pasta, crackers, cakes and biscuits. Other foods can be less obvious sources of gluten like baked beans, chips, sausages, Marmite and soy sauce.

Food manufacturers must state if a product contains gluten. Checking the ingredient list on a packet will help you find out if a food is gluten free or not. If you are not sure about the gluten content of a food, check with the parent or caregiver.

People can also end up eating gluten when a gluten free food becomes cross-contaminated with gluten.

Tips to avoid cross-contamination:

  • Clean all surfaces before cooking or serving food.
  • Prepare gluten free food first.
  • Use clean utensils and cooking equipment when preparing gluten free food.
  • Plate gluten free food separately and use different serving utensils for gluten free food.
  • If you are making gluten free toast, use a clean grill tray, a clean, dedicated gluten free toaster or toaster bags. These may be provided for you.
  • You might find the video seminar series prepared by NZ Registered Dietitian Sylvia North on the Coeliac NZ Youtube channel helpful, particularly the one on how to read food labels.

Gluten free activities

Gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin so paints, crayons and glues should not be a problem.

Dried pasta is sometimes used for arts and crafts but can quickly become a snack by young children as well if not correctly hands! Chose a gluten free pasta or keep a close eye on the child.

Playdough is a popular activity for young children, but most playdough contains wheat. Try making a gluten free version using this recipe

1 cup corn flour
1 cup rice flour
1 cup salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 cups water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (eg. rice brand oil or olive oil)
Natural food colouring

  1. Add all dry ingredients in a pot. Add vegetable oil, water and mix until thoroughly combined.
  2. Put over low heat on the stove and stir with a wooden spoon. When the dough pulls away from the sides into a big ball, place dough into glass bowl.
  3. Once cool enough to handle. Divide into 3-5 pieces. Add several drops of natural food colouring to the ball and massage until you get the colour you desire. You can use many household items to make safe colours like: green tea for green, black tea or coffee for brown and turmeric for yellow.
  4. Store in an airtight container.

Which food are gluten free?

There are more foods that are gluten free than those which are not. There’s a wide variety to choose from including fruit and vegetables, pulses, squashes, plain meat and fish, milk, cheese, eggs, plain yogurt, potatoes, rice and pure fruit juices.

Most supermarkets sell gluten free substitutes such as:

  • Gluten free bread
  • Gluten free slices
  • Gluten free pastas
  • Gluten free pizza bases
  • Gluten free biscuits and cakes
  • Gluten free crackers

Parties and other special events

Children with special diets don’t want to feel different or standout from their friends. Plan to provide a range of gluten free snacks and treats all children can enjoy. If you are serving a cake, consider cooking a gluten free cake for everyone. Most children don’t notice the difference. Alternatively, ask if the family can provide a gluten free option. Plate gluten free snacks and cakes on separate plates and use separate utensils to avoid cross-contamination.

Popular gluten free children’s party food and snacks:

  • Sweet or salty popcorn
  • Fruit kebabs.
  • Fresh berries.
  • Rice crackers and hummus.
  • Ready-salted potato chips or vegetable crisps. Check labels for flavoured varieties as they often contain hidden gluten.
  • Gluten free pikelets
  • Gluten free corn fritters with salsa dip or tomato sauce.

    If you need support, Coeliac NZ has a wide range of resources for gluten free living along with local support networks, an online shopping guide which lists which products are endorsed with the Crossed Grain Logo and loads of free recipes.