Kids & Sports
Help your gluten-free child feel “part of the team”
Recently I heard about a conversation two kids were having about my celiac son, Ryan, who happens to play ice hockey. It went something like this:
Gavin: Ryan’s a really fast skater.
Jack: You know he’s gluten-free, right?
I’m still chuckling about the whole thing. It’s got that whole Novak Djokovic element to it. I couldn’t wait to tell Ryan what his friend said, because all too often Ryan tells me conversations with his peers go more like this:
Friend: Ryan, do you want some pizza?
Ryan: No, I can’t have that.
Friend: Why not?
Ryan: I’m gluten-free, and that pizza has gluten in it.
Friend: Oh wow. That stinks.
Whether your gluten-free child is three or 13, it’s no walk in the park. With each stage of a gluten-free child’s life come new challenges in following the strict diet. The biggest challenge with Ryan over the past few years is helping him feel like he ts in. He wants to eat what other 12-year olds eat … and eat where they eat.
While it’s certainly easier for Ryan than kids growing up with celiac 10 to 15 years ago, there are still some challenges. If your child plays a sport, I’m sure you can relate. There are team parties and dinners, snacks at games, and dining out when attending out-of-town tournaments. All require a good amount of thought (and a healthy dose of exibility)!
Much of what my husband and I now do to make this easier for Ryan is simply an evolution of the lessons we learned over the years handling class parties, birthday parties, and family travel. The whole sports angle, however, just magni es the desire to be “part of the team.”
Here’s what we’ve learned – and how we try to make his gluten-free diet “no big deal.”
Snacks at Games
When Ryan was younger and families took turns providing snacks after games, we typically sent an email out to the other parents at the beginning of the season. We let them know that Ryan was gluten-free (and asked if there were any other kids with dietary restrictions). We asked if they could try to provide gluten-free snacks so that Ryan wouldn’t feel left out.
Fortunately, there are many “safe” gluten-free snacks out there. Plus, in order to make our request foolproof, we offered suggestions. Parents were usually more than happy to oblige. (Of course, it may help that my husband was typically coaching the team. Who’s going to exclude the coach’s son from snack time?)
The ice house where we play our games is quite nice and has a casual Italian restaurant with very good food. But their offerings are also very gluten laden! Our son doesn’t really have any options if the team hangs out there eating pizza after a game.
What we’ve done is scout out a few other local establishments that do offer gluten-free options, and we plan something there instead. Whether it’s a few dads and sons grabbing burgers after practice or the whole team getting together for an end-of-season party, we know where we can go – and we make sure we get to know the manager. They love the fact that we bring them a lot of business, and it rewards their efforts to accommodate gluten-free diners!
If you can step up to plan the team parties, you’ll have a lot more control over the situation (as well as many grateful parents).
Traveling to Tournaments
Ryan’s team plays in a handful of out-of-town tournaments each season. No matter where we’re traveling, it’s really no different than taking any other family trip. We use my website, GlutenFreeTravelSite, or the companion Dine Gluten Free mobile app to scout out restaurants at (and en route) our destination.
Once there, however, the work isn’t necessarily done. Again, this is a team event, so there are a few things to keep in mind since we typically gather together for at least one or two meals over the course of the weekend.
Many teams like ours like to reserve a private party room in the hotel and have food catered in. It’s often easier than nding a restaurant to accommodate all of us. (With up to 60 people, that isn’t easy!)
For the past couple of years, I’ve scouted out area restaurants well in advance that offer gluten-free options (and safe prep practices) as well as catering/ delivery. Last year in Pittsburgh, we had great luck with an Italian restaurant that serves gluten-free pizza and pasta. I volunteered to handle all the details of planning the dinner and ordering the food. That way, I knew our son would have safe food that he liked and that blended in with everyone else’s.
You may not always be this lucky in nding a suitable place that caters, but it’s worth a try. Start with a search of gluten-free friendly restaurants in the area – and get started well in advance of your trip.
It also never hurts to have a small refrigerator and microwave in your hotel room (many rooms come standard with these; if not, you can often request them). This allows you to bring along some food to prepare safely, quick breakfasts before early morning games as well as snacks and quick meals when there aren’t many other options.
Plan for the Unexpected
I like to have some special treats on hand in case of a big win or another impromptu celebration. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago. At a big tournament, one of the parents purchased a birthday cake for his son’s birthday and unveiled it after one of our team’s wins. I had no idea about it and was left a bit at-footed. I did have a treat on hand for Ryan, as I usually do (this was not my rst rodeo!), but he looked so heartbroken when he couldn’t enjoy the birthday cake with the rest of the team.
Obviously, these things happen. Life is lled with unexpected surprises and you can’t control everything. While it’s our job as parents of celiac kids to help them be prepared, we also have to teach them how to handle these small disappointments.
But here are a few things you can do:
- Reiterate your child’s dietary restrictions before each tournament and ask if anyone is planning a special celebration so you can be ready with a comparable treat for your child.
- Make (or buy) a batch of gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, or brownies to have ready when your team does have a win (or something else to celebrate). That way, your child will be eating what everyone else is eating and the other parents will be thrilled you took care of supplying the treats!
- Remind your child that team camaraderie is most important and the less of a deal they make about their restricted diet, the less attention they will draw to it. Most kids understand allergies and try to support their friends.
As we all know, being a gluten-free kid today continues to get easier in terms of choices at the grocery store and choices when dining out. And so many children have some sort of special dietary need (lactose-free, egg-free, nut-free, etc.). So when your kid gets asked, “What kind of cookie is that? I’ve never seen that,” just encourage them to offer their friend a tasty bite. I’ve found that nine times out of 10, the gluten-free treats are better than their gluten-laden counterparts anyway!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Broussard publishes glutenfreetravelsite.com and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.