Genius Gluten Free

Was your child recently diagnosed?

Twelve years ago my son, Robin, was diagnosed with a severe gluten intolerance. It can be daunting when your child is diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance, so I’d like to share some of the questions I had and the answers I've found for them.

1.  Will it be difficult to find gluten free products in the supermarket?

Absolutely not, twelve years ago, there was a very limited range of gluten free products available to buy in the shops and even fewer available eating out. Thankfully this is no longer the case.

Since Genius launched in 2009, the availability of fresh Gluten free and Free From food has improved significantly, thanks to the huge range of products now available. Many more restaurants and cafes are also making an effort to provide exciting menu options for gluten free customers. Coeliac UK have a list of accredited gluten free partners which is really useful especially when travelling around the UK.

2.   Can we still enjoy our traditional family favourites?

When I was told I could no longer give Robin foods containing wheat, rye and barley, I felt daunted, even with my background as a trained chef. In fact, when I started to list all the ingredients and foods he could still eat, I felt comforted. Gluten free pasta was an excellent substitute for wheat pasta and rice, quinoa, buckwheat, polenta and potatoes became our other carbohydrate rich staples.

I was also relieved to discover that biscuits, cakes and pastry were still possible to make without wheat flour. Take a look at our substitution article for some tips on gluten free substitutes. I wish someone had assured me, it was totally possible to continue baking well for my son.

3.   Will it be difficult to prepare healthy food everybody will enjoy?

Although staples such as gluten rich bread, pasta and pizza were off the menu I soon realised that cooking from scratch enabled me to make most of the foods we had always enjoyed before diagnosis. Cooking the lion’s share of the food we eat at home from scratch means we eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit.

It also means the children understand what ingredients are used to prepare a dish. This is helpful for their ability to cook for themselves in the future and provides them with an awareness of foods that are safe and those that are likely not to be, when they are away from home.

4.  How can I make packed lunches without wheat bread?

My greatest concern was how to prepare normal packed lunches and party food that Robin could share with his friends so he didn’t stand out as different and this spurred me on to create the first soft, fresh gluten free bread. Genius bread makes it possible to enjoy the simple pleasure of a sandwich with your favourite filling again.

5.  Will my son eat safely at other people’s houses?

The hardest discovery was other people’s response to my son’s dietary restriction. I noticed he was not invited to play with friends as often as he had been pre diagnosis. Some parents worried about giving him the wrong food. It became clear that inviting friends to play at our house more often, made it possible for my son to continue enjoying time with his friends in a relaxed and safe setting.

When parents were kind enough to invite Robin to parties and play dates, I made every effort to put them at ease, regarding his food. If they were uncomfortable about preparing food for Robin, we agreed agree I would send food with him that resembled the food everyone else would be eating. If the parents were prepared to cook for Robin, I would give the parents cooking tips and recommendations of products that would help them prepare tasty food that everyone could share. This way, everybody was comfortable and Robin never felt isolated.

Teaching your children to check food labels before eating foods that are offered to them is essential to keep themselves safe when they are away from home. Allergens listed in bold in the ingredient list makes it much easier for children and adults alike to double check the label.

6.   Will we be able to go on holiday and feed the family safely?

Initially I worried that travelling with the family would be a complicated task, particularly in countries where gluten and dairy free products were not readily available. It has become increasingly easy to fill our suitcases with a good range of dairy and gluten free snacks, boxes of cereal, dairy free milk, longer life bread and other bakery products to keep us going throughout our stay. To protect your precious cargo in transit, pack foods that might get squashed into cardboard boxes before packing them into suitcases.

Self-catering has become a firm favourite as it gives us the freedom to cook food that is safe for the whole family and means we are not reliant on cafes and restaurants that may have a low awareness of gluten free cooking. It also gives us the opportunity to enjoy experimenting with local ingredients.

When we are on holiday in the UK we prepare a curry, pasta sauce and a stew in advance to take with us, to save us cooking every meal.

7.  Is it going to be OK?

From someone who’s been there, I can tell you that it’s going to be ok. Finding a way to provide your child with a tasty, varied and healthy gluten free diet can be very daunting at first. Just taking a moment to consider the huge variety of delicious ingredients, still on the menu, rather than focus on the foods your child can no longer eat, helps you find a way to cook delicious food at home and continue to enjoy eating out too.