Birthday Party. Just that bit alone right there is enough to make many parents take a big deep breath.
Birthday parties are supposed to be fun and enjoyable for all, but for the parent of a child with a special dietary need it can be a hugely stressful event.
Just as every Celiac (intolerant / allergic) child is different, so is every parent of a Celiac child.
While some parents are happy with a host preparing food for their child, others are not, others again cant be. Because no matter how hard a host may try, the child will almost certainly get sick.
I get many people approach me to ask what they should feed a gluten free guest at a party, and my reply is always the same, ASK them, ASK the mother. Because what is right for me and my child, may not be right for someone else.
My own child is hyper sensitive, so for someone to feed her would be an absolute no go. I will make her food thank you very much, less stress on the host and less stress for me, and above all, SAFE for my child. People sometimes get offended when you don't want them to cater to your child, but lets remember here, that as little as a part of one stray crumb can cause a reaction, thats as little as a speck of gluten stuck in a chopping board. A tiny speck not because your chopping board is dirty, but because its been used for gluten foods. We all have to remember here that this is not about being polite, its about being safe. So yes, Im happy to give brands of gluten free sweets for a goodie bag or list gluten free ice cream brands and drinks, but the food, thats my department and I wont have it any other way.
Off course, this means that every party we go to, I have to replicate all the party food best as I can. If the other kids are having mini burgers, pizza and chocolate cake, so will mine! Lots of work on my part, but I will gladly do it to have my child not feel left out.
There are parties and there are parties. I used to love going to birthday parties in someones home. Sit and chill with the other adults while the kids play. Those parties now look very very different. There is often a buffet set up with food, which means children and adults are all helping themselves throughout, often running around with a biscuit in their hand. Its a total gluten horror scene when you are the parent of a small gluten free kid. I often find myself stalking my child with my packet of hand wipes making sure she doesn't put her fingers in her mouth. Over reaction? I challenge anyone who thinks so to spend 5 days with my daughter after she is contaminated.
Much better now the play area parties, the kids play for an hour or 2, no food in sight, then they all sit nicely and eat before going home. Easy to control.
What about the gluten free childs own birthday? We have had 3 now, and all were great, a learning curve for me and also goes to show that even the parent of a hyper sensitive celiac can learn to relax if only just a little :)
Party number 1.
We were just over a month in to our diagnosis and Celiac kid was turning two. I was still very much learning the ropes but I had made the house a gluten free zone. I was not yet the expert gluten free baker / cook that I am today and I was very very worried about getting things right while keeping her safe.
I ended up having a small birthday breakfast, the only people invited were 4 close mum friends (and their kids) who 'got it' and who were all super supportive. I made fruit salad, coffee & tea, had biscuits and crackers available, and for the cakes I did a chocolate fudge cake (Swedish kladdkaka) and an ice cream cake. The party was a success and as the setting was small and intimate in a gluten free environment we were all able to relax.
Party number 2.
After just over a year of being diagnosed we were ready to take on the bigger party in a gluten environment. I went with the easier option and we went to a play area. The other kids ate gluten foods and my kid ate her food, then they all ate a gorgeous gluten free chocolate cupcake with pink icing and princess decorations. I went with cup cakes because I was nervous about the blowing out the candles part of the party with so many young kids, the kids often help to blow and cant help themselves but may also touch the cake possibly contaminating it with gluten. Cup cakes made me relax because I was able to give birthday girl a fresh cup cake when serving with no risk of contamination. None of the gluten eaters even realised they were eating gluten free so all in all a success again.
Party number 3.
This is actually not Celiac kids birthday party but big brothers. He wanted to have a party at home, and with us being gluten free it was off course a gluten free party. Gluten free food is expensive, and hard work doing it all yourself when you cant get anything catered! With some imagination it all worked out. We did chicken drum sticks, crudites and chips and dips and a pasta salad. Then big brother wanted cup cakes because thats what his sister had had. A very successful party and the first time I catered to many people gluten free in my home. It was so nice watching my kids play at a party and just be 'normal'. No hand wipes in sight!
Party number 4.
We are experts by now. Celiac kid wants a BIG party. So its off to a play area again, to much stress doing all the food myself again. My daughter wanted just one thing this year, to have a party, a BIG party, and to eat her cake. So I put my big brave pants on and ordered a cake from skinny genie. We are not easy to bake for as we always aim for 0 gluten, but skinny genie did a great job, no food colourings, no artificial flavours no ingredients that may have come in to contact with any gluten at any point during the manufacturing process. They even managed to make it pink, and with chocolate. When my daughter saw the cake she gasped and said, 'Mummy, is it mine? Can I eat it?' She was so so exited. She didn't stop smiling for over 2 hours, then ate 2 huge pieces of cake. I fought hard to blink back tears.
As parents all we want is for our children to be safe and happy. It IS possible to make sure they are both, at the same time, although sometimes it takes some extra work. Im exited to add more parties to our list in the years to come. Please keep inviting the food intolerant / allergic / celiac kids to your homes, talk to the mums, we are happy to help.
A big thanks to the National for once again writing about Gluten Free UAE and helping us to spread awareness. Read the article Guidance to the world of gluten-free
here (opens in new window).
Its Impossible for me to do all the reviews we get asked to do myself, I have a busy house and my family must come first. But When Russo's Pizzeria sent me an invite to their opening, I knew someone must go. American chains often do a great job with gluten free, and I wouldnt want the gluten free community to miss out on the good news. I asked Ramona and Yasmine if they would like to go in my place, and they were happy too, who could turn down an offer of pizza anyway? Here is their review, enjoy :)
As a Coeliac, you always get excited when you hear about a new place to eat out. Especially when it's a pizzeria! We don't have many options in Dubai where we can indulge in gluten-free meals so any addition is more than welcomed!
Gluten Free U.A.E. asked if Yasmeen and I (we are are both Coeliacs) could go on its behalf to the opening of Russo's New York pizzeria, as they would include gluten-free pizza in their menu. The idea was to see how they prepare their pizza, whether it safe or not for people with gluten sensitivity/intolerance/Coeliacs.
We went on a Thursday night. After a hard day at the office, I was already starving and I was keeping my fingers crossed that their pizza would be safe, else, I'd have to endure my hunger till I reached home.
Russo's welcomed us with wide open arms. They immediately informed their staff that we are "the gluten-free table".
They invited us into their kitchen, they were very eager to show us around.
Their gluten-free base is made from scratch in their US branch and then frozen and shipped to the UAE. Since they don't have a separate kitchen here, they do not want to take the risk of making the pan in the same kitchen as the non GF pizza.
They keep the GF base in a separate cupboard, away from non GF ones. The person handling the GF pizza will not touch the other pizza. The toppings are also separately kept. All utensils for GF pizza are purely used for GF pizza. In fact, the GF pizza is handled in the back, the other one is in the front. The shovel used to put the pan in the oven is separate. Each GF pizza is on a grill, only used for GF base. In the oven, although cooked together, the GF and non GF will not touch each other, they are always at a reasonable distance.
We did make a couple of suggestions, like to check if their soap is GF or to dedicate a shelf for GF pizza in the oven. They were receptive and promised they would consider them. However, all in all, I found Russo's New York pizzeria to be very tuned into cross-contamination and very knowledgable. They are Coeliac Org. certified in the US.
And now after the all cross-contamination technicalities, let's get down to business. The pizza tastes like DROPS OF HEAVEN! In all honesty, I haven't tasted "drops of heaven", but they must absolutely taste like this! It is absolutely delicious! We've tried the Margherita and one with mince topping (I can't remember the name) they are out of this world!! My husband (who is anti gluten-free anything, he had some pretty bad experience with GF tasting) said if I hadn't told him that it was GF, he wouldn't have been able to tell the difference! Yasmeen who is not into eating that much (sorry Yasmeen, but it's true! :-) munched down on two pizzas and got a third one for take away! :-)
I am not a sensitive Coeliac, I cannot tell when I eat gluten, however, I eat in only a couple of places and I decide to eat in a new place only once I've had the confidence that the staff is knowledgeable or reliable. At Russo's I felt at home. Yasmeen is a sensitive Coeliac. She did not have any reaction after having their pizza.
Yes, Russo's does not have a separate kitchen and you can never be 100% certain contamination doesn't occur, still, I had the assurance that they are professionals and putting all their efforts into avoiding it. It's also worth mentioning that they are focused into providing natural ingredient pizza, free of any preservatives. They will soon include in their menu Gluten-Free pasta, as well.
If you feel like having a bite and see for yourself, go visit them in Jumeirah Centre on Jumeirah Beach Road. They are opening a branch in Sharjah soon, one in Abu Dhabi, the next around Marina/Motor City area.
Big thumbs up for Russo's New York Pizzeria! They made two Coeliac girls very happy!
Ramona & Yasmeen
Now Open in Jumeirah Centre and soon at Al Wahda Mall- Abu Dhabi and Sahara Centre- Sharjah.Jumeirah Centre, Beach Rd. Jumeirah 1, tel; 04 3856549, find them on facebook here: Russo's UAE
The first few weeks of being a gluten free family can be very daunting, especially when it comes to making lunch boxes for kids, even more so if you are used to sending sandwiches every day. It can take some time to get used to gluten free bread, and a gluten free bread slice often doesn't do so well in a lunch box because of crumbling. After a year and a half of being gluten free I am sure I am close to being an expert now. It has become almost a 'sport' to see how many days I can go without sending bread! My older child used to be nightmare when it came to eating at school, we have used every trick in the book to get him to eat.
- Forget bread. Don't miss it, don't think about it. You don't need bread for a lunchbox. If the lunch is appealing enough, your kids wont even ask for bread.
- Decide in advance how many foods you are sending and what they should be. By having 'rules', making the lunch will be faster and easier, as you are always following the same 'rules'. I send 4-5 foods for my older child, and 3-4 for my younger. Each child has a vegetable or fruit food, a 'main' food, a dairy food, and a snack.
- Sending one big portion of something often means it goes uneaten. Smaller portions are less daunting for a fussy child, and usually there will be less waste. If your child doesn't eat, send less foods (less choice) for a week and you may be surprised.
- Let your child choose within the food rules that you have set. 'Do you want yogurt or cheese sticks today?', 'Do you want pasta or pancakes today?', 'Cucumber with hummus or an apple?' etc.
- Prepare some foods in advance. While I always do the fruits and most veggies fresh on the day, many of the 'main foods' can be prepared in advance and kept for a few days in storage containers in the fridge.
- Experiment! Don't be afraid to try new crazy things, get the kids involved too. Very often the crazy stuff is what works.
- Become best friends with your muffin tin. Really. Im serious. Its amazing what you can do in it, and its just the right size for a child! Try Spanish Omelette, baked eggs, pancakes, quinoa bakes, pasta bakes, crustless quiche etc etc.
- Try to stay away from pre packaged gluten free stuff, more often then not its not very nutritious, and it probably cost more then dinner in a fancy restaurant too! Make things yourself if you can, or use mainstream products that are naturally gluten free.
- Don't give the same food every day, even if your child requests it. The last thing you want is for your child to stop eating the one thing he always eats! Its also not very good from a nutritional stand point. A varied diet is usually better (unless you have managed to get your kid to eat a superfood of some kind).
- Keep an emergency (non perishable) lunch box with the teacher! You don't want your child to go without food if his lunch box becomes contaminated, dropped on the floor etc. Our emergency box has 2 muesli bars, some raisins and gluten free crackers. It's sealed shut, with my child's name and gluten free stickers all over. Its kept with the teacher and I check the box regularly to see if it needs updating.
-by Linda Forster Founder of Gluten Free UAE and mum of 2 in a glutenfree house
Edit to add: You can find lunch box ideas
in our recipe section!
Did you all see our Amazing banner? A BIG thank you to Mr Lootah from Integrated Green Resources llc, the distributor of Schaer products in The UAE. This will make it so much easier to find us during events!
I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease and sIgA deficiency a year ago. The first thing for me to do after that, was to have my children tested. One of them tested negative but the test results for my older son came back positive plus sIgA deficiency.
The doctor recommended we do a biopsy, so we did. The biopsy showed no damage to the small intestine. Yet!
Our doctor recommended we keep the gluten in his diet and do another test 6 months later. My son has always suffered from constipation from the time he was a toddler but no other major issues, health wise. During that period he started to have more frequent periods of constipation as well as complaining from aching muscles, nausea and stomachache more and more every time after he had pasta or large amounts of gluten.
So we did another blood test and it came back negative (to my complete surprise) but still sIgA deficient!!!
He continued to complain from stomachache, nausea and constipation. At that point my husband and I decided to go for Genetic testing at XY clinic on Al Wasl Rd (as far as I know, this is the only place you can have those done and they are actually sent abroad for analyses).
The test came back positive showing gluten hypersensitivity and predisposition to Coeliac disease.
The awareness I would like to bring to everyone’s attention is, that not everyone has the same symptoms. Some children grow normally and look very healthy, yet that doesn’t always mean they do not have gluten hypersensitivity or even Coeliac disease.
I feel happy and relieved that we have an answer. He is now on a gluten free diet and never has to suffer the way I have (my Coeliac was detected when I was 35y.o. after numerous visits to different specialists).
-by Daniela Maitland-Walker
In my home country it’s all about making sure no child feels left out, or different. Being coeliac shouldn’t mean you cannot join your friends for a school outing or go to a friend’s birthday party. This is one thing I couldn’t agree more with.
I was 21 years old when I was diagnosed and it was a big change in my life but the worst part was feeling like a pest. I don’t know how many times I found myself feeling guilty for making demands, always asking my friends for ingredients in the food they cooked and always having to have the final say in where to go for lunch or coffee.
One event that I remember clearly happened in the first year after I was diagnosed. My whole extended family was away on holiday when we visited a museum and stayed there for lunch. It turned out they had nothing gluten free in the restaurant and while my family sat down to eat I could only stare at them and feel even more starved. To be honest, I don’t blame them, they all had young children that had to eat and there was no other option, but that feeling inside, hungry and left out, was horrible and I struggled to hold my tears back until I got home. I was an adult! I can’t even imagine a child having to feel that way.
Having experienced the feeling of being left out I always ask my children’s teachers about food allergies before baking something for the class and try to adjust to make sure everyone can eat the same thing.
To have someone thinking about you and making sure they have some gluten free biscuits is of course always nice, but nothing brings me greater joy than when I attend birthday dinners at one of my aunts.
It would never cross her mind to bake a normal cake and give me something else. Since she is not used to gluten free flour she will search the internet and find a recipe that is naturally gluten free so that we can ALL eat the same cake.
As a coeliac I feel different on a daily basis and I would recommend family and friends of anyone with a food allergy to do your outmost to try to help that person to feel as normal as you can. For example, one could easily avoid buying a “cookie” ice-cream if someone coeliac is invited or if going to a restaurant, ask the coeliac person for his/her preference first.
I also think that if people knew more about our condition and what we can or cannot eat, they would be delighted to help out. It is up to us to make more people aware of coeliac disease and I encourage all to spread the word as much as you can. I think it’s the least we can do for our children!
-by Anna Saliba Kindstrand
Look at us in another 2 page article! Spreading awareness about Celiac in the region, one magazine / news paper at a time!
Quick quick, go get your hands on the October Mother Baby & Child Mag before it runs out :)
I often get asked about why our whole house is gluten free, are we all Celiacs? If not then why aren't the rest of you eating gluten? Well, let me explain how I see it...
Our Celiac is 3 years old. Still a young child. A young child who doesn't yet fully understand the ins and outs of cross contamination. But thats not the main reason we have made our house gluten free. We made our house gluten free because we want our child to feel normal. Because she is! She's just a normal kid, she likes pink, she likes to dance, she likes to play football with her brother and she loves squinkies! She's only different from most 3 year old girls when it comes to food. And she is only different when we are out.
Why? Because we, her family, have decided that this diagnosis is not hers, its ours. We are a Celiac family and this is how it has to be.
I personally believe that every Celiac has the right to feel safe in their own home. If there is gluten in your house, no matter how many systems are in place, you always run the risk of contamination.
Cooking, in a mixed house where both gluten foods and gluten free foods share a space is extremely stressful, or at least it was for me. Watch a pot of pasta boiling. Did you know water can jump out of the pot and jump in to the pot next to it? Never mind the spoon confusion, gluten free to the right, gluten to the left, gluten free to the right, gluten to the left.... then the phone rings, the doorbell goes, the dog barks, older child spills a juice and which spoon was it again???
For a Celiac, less then a bread crumb (or a very tiny bread crumb) is enough to cause a reaction. For my older (non Celiac) child this took the enjoyment out of eating his chocolate cupcake, I was a nervous wreck, right there with my tissues, waiting to clean any crumbs, 'lean over the plate, careful, careful.... don't touch anything, come, now wash'. I was on edge, worried, and most meals I had tears in my eyes when she asked for something she couldn't have.
We lasted like this less than 2 weeks. The decision to make our home a safe home for our girl, was the best I ever made. Now we all eat chocolate cupcakes together and the crumbs can go wherever (although my cleaning nerve does twitch a little), we all eat the same food, and everyone is able to open any cupboard and eat anything they want. It is all gluten free, all safe.
From the work I now do with Gluten Free UAE, it seems to me that those who have a mixed house (gluten and gluten free foods sharing a space), have a much more limited diet with less variety. Why buy variety if its just for one person anyway, its a waste if it goes off?
In the beginning our food costs were sky high off course, they over doubled once we all went gluten free, now, a year and a half later, they are back to almost the same as they were when we were gluten eaters, and I must tell you, we are all, much much healthier.
If you are still mixing products in your home and finding it a challenge, try making your house 100% gluten free for a while - it may just work for you too - if not, you can always change back :)
-by Linda Forster