Helping your child be gluten free

Children who suffer with celiac disease have an especially tough time. It's not painful but the dietary restrictions can be annoying as the treatment implies to avoid gluten foods completely.

Even those old enough to understand why they can't eat what their friends do may find it difficult to keep track of all the "do's and don't's" of a gluten free diet. Parents can help ease that burden by following some simple guidelines.

Going gluten free is a challenge at any age. Fortunately, a lot of the healthier foods we try to encourage our kids to eat are naturally devoid of that harmful protein.

Breakfast is usually easy if you avoid the wheat-based grains. Some cross-contamination - unsafe foods contacting safe ones - is possible, though, calling for caution. If your child makes his or her own breakfast, supply a little parental oversight until good habits become automatic.

Rice or oats should be okay for breakfast, but are sometimes made on the same equipment as wheat-based cereals. Cream of Rice cereal is one option. Also, there are gluten-free cereals that look and taste a lot like their 'regular' counterparts. There are even frozen waffles that are made with gluten-free flour.

All fresh meats are okay. Kids often love chicken and hamburger so this is a relief. Most canned lunch meats are also just fine, a big burden off your shoulders when it comes to making something to take to school. Just take care to check the labels for any additives that might contain gluten. Gluten is used in a wide variety of things just as a thickener.

Virtually all fruits and vegetables have no gluten. So, the only tricky part here is making sure they're consumed in fresh form. Canned fruits and vegetables are often gluten free but not always. Unless you monitor every morsel your young one consumes, it's easiest just to say "always fresh, never canned." Plain, frozen fruits are also ok, if your child can follow a more complex rule.

Every kid likes snacks and the fact that most children get too many or too much is no reason to deny them totally. Remember, the forbidden is always a great temptation and fresh fruit exclusively becomes boring after a while.

You can mix it up a little and still ensure your child consumes no gluten. Rice cakes are one way - Note the caveat above. Popcorn is another good option and real butter generally has no gluten. Jello is a good option provided you don't overdo it on the sugar - Avoiding gluten isn't the only thing required for a healthy diet, after all. Most chocolates are okay but check the label and, again, go easy on the fat and sugar.

Gluten-free drinks are generally easier to find. In fact, it's probably harder to find gluten-containing drinks that are popular. Fruit juice is safe - but, one last time, watch the sugar content. Herbal teas are usually fine. For older kids, breakfast tea is just fine. Coffee isn't usually on the menu for kids, but for older ones it might be. Go for it, in moderation and if it helps them avoid unsafe foods and forget about their condition. In small amounts caffeine is actually considered healthy.

The variety of gluten-free foods and drinks is quite large. It should be no problem finding plenty of tasty, healthy options. The biggest challenge is simply to be always vigilant to avoid the harmful ones. But then, when it comes to raising kids, parents already face that challenge every day.