Bagels are out, and her favorite pizza will need some reworking. But a child on a wheat-free diet should be relieved to hear that scrambled eggs, potato chips and fresh fruit are still allowed. A child who can't eat wheat will miss out on some tasty treats, but once she realizes how many delicious foods she can still eat, she won't even miss her old favorite cereal.
Wheat-Free Diet Basics
Your child's wheat-free diet is likely made necessary by an allergy to wheat. If your child has such an allergy, you might notice certain symptoms after she eats things made with wheat flour like bread, pasta and breaded dishes. According to MayoClinic.com, she might experience gastrointestinal distress, have itchiness in her mouth and throat, develop hives or get congested. Always talk to her pediatrician before placing your child on a wheat-free diet. When you tell people your child can't eat wheat, you'll likely find that some people assume she's on a gluten-free diet, or one in which foods containing the wheat protein gluten aren't allowed. However, wheat-free and gluten-free don't mean the same thing; someone who can't eat gluten must also avoid barley and rye products in addition to wheat. Gluten-free products are safe for a wheat-free child.
Grocery shopping will take a bit longer at first as you get used to reading the ingredients label of every product. The good news is that as gluten-free diets have gotten more popular, most stores have begun carrying a range of traditionally wheat-containing foods made with alternative ingredients. The bad news is that wheat is hiding in foods you might not expect, and it doesn't always go by the name you'd expect. Avoid foods containing bran, bulgur, farina, couscous, spelt, durum and high protein flour, among others, says the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Soy sauce may also contain wheat, so your child shouldn't eat some prepared Asian dishes. Your pediatrician can also give you a list of ingredients to avoid. Carry it in your wallet so you can refer to it while shopping.
Non-processed foods, like meats, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables, are safe for a child on a wheat-free diet, as long as they've had no contact with flour or other wheat products. Dairy products are often safe, says LPCH, though cottage cheese made with modified starch is not. Your child is also safe to eat foods made with rice, corn and potato flours in place of wheat products. You'll likely find that, with some alternatives, your child can eat a diet similar to the one she enjoyed before the allergy was discovered. She might eat puffed rice cereal for breakfast, enjoy a lunch of fruit and a sandwich on gluten-free bread, snack on corn chips and enjoy a dinner of roasted chicken, veggies and pasta made from rice flour.
Helping Your Wheat-Free Kid Cope
Once you become an expert on wheat-free living, you'll have to share some knowledge with others who care for your child. Distribute fliers explaining what foods she can and can't eat and what to do in the event that she accidentally consumes wheat. The latter will depend on the severity of her allergy and your pediatrician should offer counsel; your child might merely need an antihistamine, but if her allergy is severe, she might need an epinephrine auto-injector, says KidsHealth.org. Your child should also understand her diet restrictions in an age-appropriate way. Teach a young child that some foods make her sick so she can only eat foods prepared by certain people. An older child can learn the ingredients to which she's allergic. At restaurants, look for dishes marked "gluten-free" on the menu, or explain her allergies to your server and ask that a simple dish be made using clean dishes and utensils.