When Your Gluten-Free Kids Cheat

Gluten-Free Kids

by contributing writer Janelle of Gluten Freely Frugal

If you have gluten-free kids above kindergarten age, you can be guaranteed that at some point, they will “cheat,” or consume foods that contain gluten. Kayla has historically been very good about not doing this. She typically gets so sick from eating anything containing gluten, that she almost goes off the deep end the other way, questioning everything.

So I was very surprised when, on the night of a sleepover with Grandma, Kayla came home from school with a stomachache. This happened on the night that my husband and I were out of the area, closing on our new house, and Kayla and Hannah were spending a few nights with Grandma. My mom called and asked what could be causing Kayla to be so sick to her stomach. She felt horrible, kept crying in pain, and was lying on the couch with a hot pack on her stomach. Could it be anxiety over the move?

I asked a few questions, assumed it was anxiety, then out of the blue Mom said Kayla had remembered she had Twizzlers at school. But Twizzlers are fine, right? Um, no. And that explains the problem.

First of all, the school and I had a strict plan about Kayla’s diet. We have 2 rules.

  1. She doesn’t eat anything unless it comes from home or has been parent-approved ahead of time.
  2. She washes her hands before eating. Every time.

So I was curious as to how this could have happened! In addition, Kayla knows to read labels and knows what to look for.

It turns out that in this instance, the Twizzlers were given as a reward for a game they were playing. It was probably in an unlabeled wrapping. It is very frustrating to me (and I’m sure to lots of other food allergy parents) that food is so frequently used as a reward in school. But I reinforced with Kayla, again, that she is never to eat something unless she is positive it has been checked for gluten. When in doubt, don’t eat it!

What do you do if/when your kids cheat on their gluten-free diet?

Janelle is wife to her hubby, who is celiac, and mom to 2 sweet girls, one of whom is celiac, and the other showing signs of gluten intolerance. She blogs about the gluten free life on a budget, including coupons, deals, recipes, and other money-saving tips at Gluten Freely Frugal.

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  1. Tabitha says

    Ouch! We do as you do and reinforce the same rules. I’ve had to get back with the teacher to reinforce the rules. We have Pascalite clay (non-swelling Bentonite clay) to take when DD or I have been glutened. It shortens the episode, but it’s still not fun. I learned about clay from Kerry Ann at her cooking traditional foods blog. She is more sensitive to gluten than us so we tried it. My kids will take it in applesauce or water/juice.

  2. says

    Janelle, oh no, poor Kayla she must have felt so awful.

    Food allergies are a very serious issue. I applaud you for having such strict guidelines in place, even though it looks like something slipped through anyways.

    I agree with you about using food as a reward. I think it sets up a bad relationship with food that can last for many years.

    It would be much better to use a sticker system or a prize chest. Something that is still a positive reinforcement but is not food based.

    Hopefully sometime soon more and more schools will get on board and offer a better reward system for children that can be a positive influence for years to come.

    • says

      I was just talking to my husband about that the other day. Why is food always used as a reward? That is so detrimental in my opinion, and not just for kids with food allergies. Everywhere we go, someone is offering my children candy! It makes it very hard to develop healthy habits. I too hope that the schools at some point start to understand the importance of healthier habits for everyone!

  3. Diane says

    I am so glad you are tackling this! I could sure use some help. My 15 year old is doing it. Now, she was with her grandparents (my inlaws who do not believe we have any issues) and they gave her Nutri Grain bars. Because they did not have much she could eat, she did not know what to do, and she was hungry. We would have provided all of the groceries for her, had they not said it wasn’t necessary. However, she would go to the nurse’s office or text me when her stomach hurt, while at school. She was consuming fries from a shared fryer. Once I figured the shared fryer, I told her no more coming home if she chooses to make herself sick over it. She “only has a wheat allergy,” unlike my Celiac son and me, so she feels she can eat “more” even though Celiac and wheat allergy are pretty much treated the same. I do not cheat. If I inadvertently get glutened, I am down for several days. I do not see the need to cheat. Diagnosed in May 2008 (I was March 2008). What do I do?? She will no longer be by herself with her grandparents. But, what about school? High school? Then, college???

    • says

      At your daughter’s age, I think that schools need to hear from parents and students. While it’s not right that it is so difficult to eat safely at school, it is the reality for now. I think the best thing is to educate her about her health and why eating gluten free is important. Then help think through what to do in different situations. Even as an adult, I always take some backup food with me, even when I think it’s going to be safe. Some nuts help hold me over until I get home if there is nothing else I can eat. Thanks for chiming in on this conversation!

    • says

      Hi Diane,
      I agree with Linda! It is not right that things are not safe at school, but we can still educate our kids and help them understand! And at age 15, you may need to enlist the help of your doctor as well. Sometimes they listen to someone else better than parents! HTH!

  4. Shannon says

    My Son is 13 years old, reacts very dramatically to any food offered to him even after we have given him the ok that it is gluten free. Too often at school He has been offered something not ok for Him to eat. Give His age and his sensitivities to gluten I am glad He questions all before eating it.Today, we ended up at a gluten free place. So very happy to have found it. He questioned the menu, then the server and by the time food arrived He was all set to eat. He seemed so relieved that someone actually understands about gluten sensitivities and celiacs.
    Our youngest can cheat and in 3rd grade His teacher would make a call before allowing Him anything that We did not provide. This yer its a bit different. His teacher isn’t as proactive about calling or messaging home before giving Him mainly candy and cookies. I feel it is best to educate everyone who will be in contact with your child. Children can be taught what is best but Candy is Candy and sometimes can’t be passed up if it is offered.

    • says

      That’s great that your older son is taking the initiative to make sure food is safe. It helps when they are able to see the cause and effect relationship and take responsibility for their own health. You’re right that being offered candy is sometimes just too much for younger kids to pass up. It’s wrong that they are faced with that decision. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      It is so hard when they are so young and faced with a difficult decision. But, on the bright side, it gives them practice for when they are older and need to face down peer pressure. It will help them side with common sense and the health of their body! My Kayla is always complaining that she is tired of answering questions about why she eats differently or can’t have something, but she sure has practice for high school when someone offers her drugs!

  5. Shelley says

    I can tell when my son has had gluten. He is gluten sensitive, has ADHD, not celiac disease. His face turns bright red, he gets a fever, he has a headache, as well as a stomach ache. These symptoms dissipate after 6 – 8 hours. It’s the other things that are worse. His attitude, his temper and his self control are all out of whack. His demeanour changes incredibly. He becomes very flippant and he is rude. He’s not unable to listen or pay attention. The only way to deal with it is to let it run it’s course. This part usually take the better part of three days. By the end of three long days, he is back to himself in every way. It doesn’t take a lot of something, a couple of bites of a sandwich, one pancake, a cookie. I try to imagine how hard that is on him and it breaks my heart, thinking of how his body works, trying to repair the damage. His brain is in maximum overdrive and it is misfiring every which way. It took me awhile to prove to my husband but, finally he had him on a road trip. He ended up calling me and I flew to the city they were in to help him…. Darn gluten! And I also was so surprised to see it was in Twizzlers. Geez.

    • says

      I know exactly what you are describing from my own experience. I don’t react that way now, but it used to be the the mental/personality effects lasted up to a week and were the worst part of the reaction. I’m glad your husband gets it now.

      • Shelley says

        We also had to go in to the school and sit down with teachers, as well as the assistant principal. At first, we were treated like we were trying to pass off bad behaviour and poor parenting skills. Then, the teachers got some first hand experiences and we have been fortunate enough to have teachers who I am keeping email contact with nearly weekly. I don’t know if anyone else has or knows anything about or may want to look into the effects of the acid in oranges. My son also cannot have oranges. He goes absolutely from the nicest kid in the world to the spawn of satan! I forget what it’s called. Oranges, orange juice, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and some others, but with him, the oranges are the worst. The teachers also didnt believe that one until they watched him drink some oj at school one day and it was like night and day. My nephew and sister also have this sensitivity….

        • says

          Oh, it’s so great that you’re able to be in contact with the teachers via email. Sounds like at least the school is trying to be proactive!

  6. susan says

    I make sure to visit my children’s teacher the first week of school, and send snacks/rewards with a note on the first day. I still have teachers handing my children ‘rewards’ that make them since. Then I get the call that my child has had a bathroom reaction (this is what happens).
    I even make sure to have Dr. forms on file in the caf. as well as talk with the lunch lady (manger) and district lunch lady (manager). I still have problems. We never eat lunch in the caf, but they get a free breakfast. After all this, they still feed my children kik’s even though it’s on the district no-go list.
    Grr! All that venting is to say, I know exactly what you are talking about. Thank you for sharing. We are not alone.

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