There is a lot of talk about the growing number of people with a sensitivity to gluten. Gluten free diets have been said to reduce symptoms from skin and digestive issues to neurological disorders. Having one child facing some difficulty in a handful of skills (focus being one of them) we decided to jump on the band wagon for one month and see if it helped. Here are 7 things I learned in our gluten free month.
(I’m a bad news first kinda girl, so lets start there)
1. It’s expensive. This one is kind of a no-brainer. The cost of gluten-free versions of your favorite wheat-y foods or ingredients are twice (even three times) as much as your regular gluten-y stuff. And it’s a crap shoot… almost every single gluten free version was met with outright rejection. Never try to trick a picky eater. Thankfully, my oldest takes after me in that he eats like a goat and we could always give the rest of the box to him… but he wasn’t our problem. If I had to do it over again we’d skip most of the GF versions and focus with foods that were naturally gluten free. I don’t want to even consider the amount of money I wasted this month in gluten free products that tasted terrible. It would depress me… in fact, I’m getting depressed right now… so moving on.
2. It takes a lot of time. I embarked on this experiment with timing in mind. I’m still only working part time due to maternity leave. I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. Things that were normally store bought, like cookies, muffins or pizza, I now made from scratch which took a lot more of my time. Because I had modified the recipes for cookies and muffins to contain a lot more vitamins (I’ll get to that) I wanted to have them on hand as a snack. At least once I found myself baking well after the kids had gone to bed (when I wanted to be in bed).
3. It’s not always a healthy diet. French fries, corn puffs, potato chips, rice cakes, corn chips… all “naturally gluten free” and kids love them. Frito-Lay has an extensive list of all of their gluten free options which include Ruffles, Fritos and Cheetos. Fabulous. Going out to eat you may find that the only gluten free option on the kids menu is a simple side of fries. Having a gluten free label does not make it any less fattening or more nutritious. Even Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour, my GF flour and pancake mix of choice, contains more fat, less protein and less fiber than whole wheat flour. So it’s easy for the GF diet to be just as, if not more, unhealthy than a diet containing wheat.
Now for the good:
4. We ate out less. I wouldn’t say that we ate out a lot before, but between the limited options for kids (that my son would eat) and the money we were spending on groceries we ate at home almost every night. With a really busy household, it was nice to get back to family dinners. (Pssst… For a list of places where kids eat free in RVA check here)
5. I paid better attention to what my children ate. Restricting something as predominant in our diet as wheat, I really had to pay close attention to what went into our meals and modern “convenience foods”. I would love to say that I always paid as close attention… but I didn’t. Reading labels of foods brought to my attention the need for nutritional diversity in my children’s diet. Which leads me to my next lesson…
6. I cooked more. Fridays became GF pizza night. We experimented with a new gluten free pizza dough each week. Because I was now cooking many things from scratch instead of buying it at the store, I was able to modify our regular go-to’s to make them lower in saturated fat and more nutrient dense. For example, I was able to make our regular cheese pizza more nutritionally diverse by adding steamed sweet potato and carrot into the pizza sauce. Mr. Picky Eater actually licked the sauce off the crust one night (that week’s crust turned out to be a failure). And cooking together was kinda fun. I’ll admit, I found it terribly frustrating at first, because cooking with a 5 and 6 year old takes approximately 8,000x longer than doing it on your own, but once I gave myself a quick reminder to ‘let it go’ we had a pretty good time.
7. It helped– Maybe? At around day 10 we noticed a difference. In sensitivity towards my son, I’ll refrain from details, but we couldn’t help but see a marked difference in his behavior. It was no miracle worker, but something changed. After considering it further it’s unclear whether or not this change was due to a gluten free diet, increased nutrition or simply coincidental.
We wont be sticking with a strict GF diet (to celebrate the end of our gluten-free month we ordered pizza) but that doesn’t mean we’re forgoing the diet all together. The kids ate more fruit and veggies this past month than they ever did before. Since there were no goldfish or cheese-its to fill up on, the kids ate better at dinner time and even Mr. Picky tried some new foods.
We’ll probably stay gluten light, rather than gluten free. Though baking from scratch is more time consuming, it’s not that difficult, and I rather enjoyed finding creative ways to create healthier versions of our favorites — as well as discovering new favorites.