I just received this message from a reader who needs help to get her 4yr old Celiac child to eat healthier. Any advice from mom’s out there who could help would be much appreciated.
“Hi, what do you suggest about a 4 yo who was diagnosed about 3 months ago with Celiac and she’s EXTREMELY picky? We went from boxed food to GF boxed food because I’m trying to give her what her friends eat because she comes home from school crying about how she’s “weird” and “different” so I match the crap they consume to make her happy and not “different.” There are no support groups here in KC so we’ve been winging it ourselves. I’ve gotten her to successfully eat one vegetable – carrots – and only one “kind of” meat – pepperoni and beef, only if it’s in a taco. Any other suggestions? She basically lives on “bars,” Fruity Pebbles and dairy products.”
Here are some products that you might want to try:
Here is a great article Kati with some alternative choices:
Help, My Toddler Won’t Eat
My daughter is SO picky; it was a nightmare when she was diagnosed! *hugs* It’s been about five years for us now, and I still remember the first few months with a shudder.
Bentos seriously saved my life. I cannot even say enough good things about them. (I’ll put some links for them at the end – pictures really inspired my little ones to let me try and make one!)
1. They are great for avoiding contamination, because they are both the plate and the lunchbox, so you don’t have lots of containers and packaging being opened and laid on the table, then put back among things she might eat later, contaminating them.
2. With a little extra work, they are amazing looking (just getting a few little items can help make them wonderful, like some special cookie-cutter type things, a couple molds, a couple funny or silly toothpicks)
As an example, I just bought these little picks for my kids’ bentos – they’re little reusable toothpicks with little hats on top, to make things like little meatball people (obviously, have to get age appropriate:
3. If you look at traditional bento recipes, they are pretty much almost all gluten free, as long as you get GF soy sauce (which is better soy sauce anyway, the way it was made before wheat filler was used so much).
4. There is typically a lot of variety. It’s…lots of little things, rather than a few big things. Like, a meatball with a little sauce, some rice, a carrot stick or two, an egg, a couple grapes, a slice of cucumber – many people just save those tiny, almost ‘scrap’ leftovers and then just put them all in a bento as they combine it to look like something fun.
This was really useful for us, because so often, we could only get our little ones to try ‘one bite’ of something. But with a lot of variety, she’d usually at least try a few of the foods in there, you know? Our son – he just enjoyed us making things like people, and then eating their heads off, LOL.
5. It’s something fun for them to help make, or at least ‘supervise’ as to what shapes they want to use the cookie cutter to make their fruit, or what ‘colors’ should be used to make the right ‘picture’ in the bento – a lot of fruits and veggies ended up in the box because the kids wanted just the right color, so that was great.
I know this doesn’t work for every child, but I guess I really liked this because in the end, it makes the lunch box FUN for them. And often, especially at a young age, other kids see how neat it is and rather than your child feeling left out, the other kids want what SHE has, because it looks really neat. 🙂
Some bento sites:
http://justbento.com/handbook/bento-basics – recipes, basic ideas, links to places to get supplies
http://en.bentoandco.com/ – They have just some super cute stuff – like the little picks I linked to earlier.
One example – a bento that is shaped like a giant lego block (:
There are things like chopsticks, frequently, but they also have built in cases for little spoons and forks frequently – http://en.bentoandco.com/collections/chopsticks-cutlery/products/my-cutlery?variant=39119362
A blog with some very cute, kid friendly bento things – http://dosirakbento.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/animal-farm-bento-2/
Another one –
Some amazing bentos, showing just how elaborate they can get –
My husband is a Celiac and my son was diagnoswd with Type 1 Diabetes at 3 years old. Though he doesn’t test positive for Celiac (yet), he did wage a 40 day hunger strike when he was diagnosed with Type 1. It was the hardest 40 days of our lives! How can a Type 1 live without carbs?!
Forcing did no good at all. Don’t even bother with this method. It is ineffective and just makes you feel awful. A toddlers gonna do what a toddler WANTS to do! lol.
What did work for us was offering the GOOD stuff to him. “You don’t have to eat it, just suck on this delicious Graham Cracker. It’s so good!” (Pamela’s GF Grahams ARE pretty good…) Just give themwhat they WILL eat for now, that’ll open he door to your little one being willing to try more, and eventually eat.
It’s hard when your head strong little one won’t eat for ANY reason, but just heartbreaking when it is due to a medical one. I have totally been there, I get it!
Toddlers are picky eaters, even when they don’t have celiac disease! I have three pieces of advice:
1) give them a plate with a wide variety of options to eat (all healthy of course), and just let them choose what they are going to eat. My kids never liked things mixed up, like stew or casseroles. Its easier on mom anyway – just plate up some cold cuts, cheese (if she can do dairy), fruit, veg (cherry tomatoes are always fun), plantain chips, and let them decide!
2) toddlers get their nutrition over the course of three days, so if they eat all fruit & veg one day, all carbs another, and all protein on the third, they are still doing just fine.
3) you have to present a new food to a toddler up to 10 to 15 times before they may even try it, let alone accept it. So just put the new food on the plate with the other stuff, and don’t fret if they don’t eat it the first few times. They will eventually. 🙂
My kids were picky toddlers, but now (5 and 7) they eat anything! Kale chips, sushi, pho, swiss chard, you name it… so just keep at it. Be persistent, but don’t make fights out of it.
I hope that helps!
We do a lot of peanut butter balls (http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/recipes/energy-balls/12948/), homemade granola bars, and homemade fruit snacks (http://sillyyakwife.blogspot.com/search/label/snack). Chex are decent for snacks and they have a lot of flavors (my kids favorites are chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon). Find a bread they like (homemade or Udi’s or Rudi’s are our favorites), then you can make sandwiches or add nutella or jam or whatever. There are GF chicken nuggets available and lots of new GF products coming out all the time. Good luck!
Mom of 4 kids ages 7, 6, 4, 2 & all eating GF because the 4 yr old & I have been GF since she started reacting as an infant (non-celiac gluten intolerance). We eat a lot of ethnic foods, especially middle eastern & asian. The reliable favorites for us are curry, chilli, & “sushi” rolls… I get the big nori sheets & cut them in quarters & the kids put their rice in them & make little rolls 🙂 a little honey, coconut aminos & mustard makes a delicious dipping sauce.
My 2 oldest have had classmates make comments about their food at school (lots of low-income families & most kids get the school lunch). We’ve had lots of discussions about it. Most importantly I remind them that if they think it’s yummy then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says but also that they shouldn’t have to listen to kids being rude/mean about their lunch. Second, the kids commenting about it being “gross” have probably never tried it & are just saying that because they are scared of a new/different food. A gentle reminder that they can use respectful communication to ask their classmates not to say putdowns about their lunch. Lastly, remind them that if they can’t resolve the situation to ask a lunch monitor for help.
Bento inspired lunches (basically a diy Luchables) are awesome for GF kids. It’s an adjustment to be sure, it took us probably a year or 2 to really settle in to the GF lifestyle.
Hi My Celiac Toddler won’t Eat
I felt the same with my son when he was diagnosed as a teenager… you might find some of what I have blogged useful especially regarding transition and lunchboxes and social activities.
Connect with Kate from
Her daughter is now 7 and was diagnosed at 4
Also, Dana at Celiac Kiddo http://celiackiddo.wordpress.com/ who has a young daughter with celiac disease.
Hi Help My Celiac Toddler Won’t Eat
Unfortunately we don’t realise how important taste, texture, smell, colour of food is to our enjoyment of food. My teenager discusses gluten free food in terms of ‘too furry’ ‘too sandy’ ‘smells like dirt’ and most of the time I have to agree with him. We taste tested many many gf products to find products that a teenager likes and enjoys. And no doubt you will have to do the same for your toddler.
My problem is that my teenager has a disregard for salad and vegetables. Spaghetti bolognaise is always good… you can hide vegetables. Mild curries (butter chicken) and rice.
I found lunch the most frustrating and maybe some of the lunch suggestions I have on my blog will help you. Meatballs are good: they don’t have any ‘funny’ gf stuff in them.
My blog is Help! My Teenager has Coeliac Disease at
You guys rock!!! This is so helpful! When I asked her school to use a new toaster I provided, they looked at me like I had 12 heads, so this has been a learning process (if they only saw her glutened reaction, they’d see why the toaster was so important!). We’re lucky in that there is a GF bakery – Mama Resch’s, https://mamareschs.com/, nearby so we call that her “special place” and we let her pick some things out from there on occasion and try to pick up birthday party cupcakes from there, but she can’t live on sweets! It’s definitely a learning process!! I’m going to try the farmer’s market and letting her cook more of the food. I’ve also found that I have to be more of a planner or she will eat the boxed “crap”, albeit GF.
We all know how you feel,most of us reading this have been there ourselves or with toddlers.You are not alone there is an army of us!
Remember this is not a bad diagnosis to get in life.Gluten is a really stupid thing to be consuming whether you are a coeliac or not.In the whole of her life it will probably mean she adheres to a healthier diet than the general population as you are now at the beginning of a food revolution in your lives.I say you not her because you need to embrace this as a family.You will probably thank her in the long run.
The worst mistake a newly diagnosed coeliac can make (maybe it’s just part of the journey) is the walk down the gluten free aisle.You come home with all unhealthy processed snacks and sweet things and no actual proper food.I did it too with my son.He actually got much sicker when I put him gluten free ,the reason was beacuse I started giving him processed foods albeit gf as you say yourself.He also became insanely constipated as he like alot of coeliacs had a starch intolerance.Look at the ingredient listing on any gf bread ,cakes etc there is an insane amount of starch in them.I have come to the conclusion that gf processed food is actually worse in ways than regular processed foods as they need to add more crap to make it look the same as it’s counterparts.Hint if it looks as good as food made from flour it’s probably totally toxic!
You need to change how you think about food now.Forget trying to recreate traditional snacks ,create your own ,fill little snack box’s with coconut balls or date balls or chocolate balls or three ingredient cookies from wholefoodsimply.coms website.She uses only a few ingredients to make wonderful nutrient dense snacks suitable for school.her website is gluten,wheat,dairy and refined sugar free.Don’t be afraid of the hulled tahini it’s worth getting.Give her little box’s of cut up carrot, kale crisps,fresh coconut,fruit,organic whole dates,skewer some cooked veg onto a rosemary skewer of skewer alternating ham and cheese.We only eat goats dairy in our house it seems to be easier on everyones tummies.Roll up little balls of goats cheese and put it in a little box with a few gluten free oatcakes and some homemade beetroot relish but these are just the snacks to suit school.Just eat real food at home.
Start the day with a bowl of gluten free porridge oats ,soak it in water overnight in your pot ,cook it in the morning on the stove ,add in some milk raisins or blueberries whatever she wants and let her squeeze in her own honey ( let her put in an arsenal at the beginning and then reduce it down when she has come to like it)Make sure the porridge only has porridge oats in it,which sounds obvious but when you start to read packs you’ll see what I mean!if you only did this it would be so good for her.Don’t give her the option of other gluten free cereals ,she will obviously want them as they will be full of sugar.BE consistent with this it will pay off.
Go back to basics with dinners.Roast chicken,brocollii,cauliflower,carrots,parsnips,beef,turkey,brown rice,sweet potatoes,parsnips,keep it simple with meat,veg and brown rice or sweet potatoes for dinners.Sounds boring but she will get reintoduced to ordinary food,if you can keep offering it she will eventually eat it.You may find she is not actually picky at all but knew somehow food equalled her feeling bad.
When she’s ready for something more adventurous (or you are) do some indian food ,Madhur Jaffrey has fabulous authentic recepies.Alot of the spices used in Indian food have amazing healing properties ie turmeric and mostly use gram flour so are naturally gluten free.
Instead of eating sandwiches for lunch try having an egg and some ham or salmon,an omlette,make some quick egg fried rice with peas,roast chicken legs and eat them like the croods!the easiest thing is probaly to eat a mini dinner from leftovers.My kids love roast sweet potatoe chips for a really easy go to small meal.Make some homemade chicken strips by dusting some cut up chicken in some rice flour (mix in some spices like cumin or turmeric in the flour)
I hope this helps,sorry I’m so long winded I wish someone could have helped me back them!Be brave ,educate yourself and look back and laugh at how you used to try and fit in with the crap!
……but most of all try the porridge…..
Kirsten asked me to respond & well, this is something I could talk about all day. My little guy is almost 4 and was diagnosed celiac 2 years ago – so I know what you are going through. I also have a 7 & a 9 year old and can tell you… It’s a transition but they will be so much easier and better off in the long run if you make the changes now! So it takes some extra work for momma – one more thing for your plate, but eventually you’ll get used to it.
Since your daughter was recently diagnosed, here’s a few things to keep in mind and some advice….
• she probably has some bad feeling towards food. These feeling might not be something that she even knows how to express but food made her feel icky. You almost need to reestablish trust in food again. And eating the processed crap isn’t going to make her feel good about food again because it isn’t making her better. Dairy is often super hard to digest for a newly diagnosed celiac too, so too much dairy is going to keep her feeling ick!
* right now she needs healthy food, and a lot of it, to rebuild her system. Celiac causes all kinds of problems, turns the digestive system into a mess and blocks the absorption of key nutrients. This not only causes stomach problems but can affect mood and behavior too. Sometimes it takes a little time to get over the hump but the right balance of food can make everything better
* it is hard to be different than everyone else!! But it also can be cool. Something that makes a child unique. Gets then a little extra attention & tlc. The secret is to make being GF a Good Thing. It’s so easy to focus on what they can’t have or how hard it is – but try really hard to fight that. Focus on feeling good and Get her involved in the food decisions. The shopping. And the cooking. And the snacks. 4 is the perfect age to start! Go to the farmers market & find stuff to try together. Go apple picking. Let her help make scrambled eggs or mix up some gf pancakes. Bake together. It can be kind of cool to become an kid expert and good mother-daughter bonding. And it’s way more fun to eat an apple that you picked yourself!
* be creative with meal planning. If she loves chicken nuggets – make a big batch from scratch with a healthy gf flour & homemade gf breadcrumbs. Make homemade potato chips and homemade gf Mac & cheese. You can still eat those things but without all the other crap that goes into the packages! Make a list of the food she thinks is “normal” and try to find similar, healthier substitutes or a better way to use them… For example – my little guy could eat a bag of gf pretzels, but we discovered he loves to dip them – so when served with peanut butter or hummus or fresh salsa, it becomes a fun healthy snack.
Good luck mom. There is a lot to figure out and can feel super overwhelming & stressful. Take it day by day and keep asking for help, someday you’ll be the one dishing the advice!
I am a fellow Celiac, I was diagnosed 9 years ago and it is nice now with how many things are available for us to eat. There is so much more awareness and so many GF labeled foods. I also have a “picky eater”, however she has not been tested for Celiac yet so we do not have that hurdle to tackle. Some of my favorite products are Udi’s Bread and Bagels, Schar’s Bread, Betty Crocker has several dessert options, Amy’s GF Mac and Cheese, Glutino “Oreo” like cookies.