5 Tips for Navigating the Holidays With Celiac Disease


I’ve always loved the holiday season. Cookies and parties and stuffing. The good stuff.

My daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was 3, about a year and a half ago. This will be our second Thanksgiving and Christmas without gluten. Here are some of the steps we’ve taken as a family to keep everyone healthy.

1. Always have a gluten-free treat on hand. So many children’s holiday activities end up having a fun snack, and unless I prepared it myself or it comes sealed in a package with ingredients I can check,  I took it upon myself to make sure my daughter never felt left out. I kept cookies or muffins in my purse (enough for her and her brother, who often gets jealous if they don’t have the same).

2. Bring food from home. This doesn’t always work, but when we know we are going to a large gathering, or an event that overlaps meal times, we always bring a packed meal. It’s not fair for her if we stop for burgers on the way home because the party went over our lunchtime; instead we pack a bag of food and have a picnic in the car. That way everyone gets to eat and no one feels excluded.

3. Offer to host the holiday party. I’m not a very extroverted person, but I’d rather reach out to a handful of my daughter’s friends and have a party that I know won’t have gingerbread houses or play-doh.

4. Wash hands – all the time. I have my daughter wash her hands after arriving somewhere, before eating and after eating. I can’t control everything, obviously, but I do my best. I can’t control it if a friend’s toy has traces of gluten on it from other hands, but I can try and mitigate the risk by having her wash hands before she may transfer some to her mouth.

5. Create non-food traditions. Decorating gingerbread houses is so fun. I loved doing it as a kid (and as a college student home for the break). I want my children to enjoy it, too. Gluten-free gingerbread-house kits exist, but they are expensive. Very. Instead, we got some foam ones from the craft store and let the kids decorate it with stickers or gems or bows…whatever they can think of.

It’s not always easy to figure out workarounds for dietary restrictions or food allergies. Some of these lessons we learned the hard way (I had to spend almost $25 for a burger from a fancy gluten-free restaurant because I forgot to prepare ahead of time). It will be easier this year, since we’ve had a little bit of experience managing. I’m sure as she gets older, my daughter will notice more and more her own restrictions, but for now we all work together to keep things fun and magical for the holidays.

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Thinkstock photo via Kikovic.

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