“I am overwhelmed with this onset of this new life change and am just trying to take baby steps.”
“What does a day of food look like in your house? Basically, I am trying to figure out how to get my children to not be hungry all the time…”
“My children’s doctor recommended we go gluten free as well as organic … What are your favorite gluten free recipes?”
These quotes from an online homeschool forum reflect the growing number of U.S. households adopting a gluten-free lifestyle. Often, it begins when someone in the family has celiac disease or is allergic to gluten. Beyond the initial pain and disbelief comes the realization that life needs to change. But how, when life is already so busy and full without this extra hassle?
We wanted to take a special moment to address homeschooling on a gluten-free diet, especially because it affects so many of our member families.
Interest in gluten-free dieting has skyrocketed, as a recent Nielsen study found that the amount of households buying gluten-free items rose from 5 percent in 2010 to 11 percent in 2013. Likewise, we’ve seen a similar pattern in the homeschool community.
While homeschoolers can avoid some obvious problems, such as not wrestling over “schoolbox lunches” (unless you really want to pack your lunch into a schoolbox for your kids to eat on your dining-room table!), they also face significant challenges incorporating gluten-free living into their households. We’ll discuss the two most common challenges here.
Challenge No. 1: We’re doing everything on a single income. How in the world can I stretch my limited budget to include gluten-free items?
It may seem impossible at first, but some practical tips and suggestions include:
- Experimenting until you find affordable, healthy substitutes.
Fruits and vegetables can go a long way toward satisfying your children’s hunger pangs. One enterprising mom in the Kansas City area uses celery sticks instead of bread for her children’s PB&J snacks.
Apple slices can also help, as well as more filling vegetables like spaghetti squash (baked and then forked into strands like spaghetti).
Another mom makes pancakes from buckwheat, while others have found success with all-cornmeal baking, rice flour, corn tortillas and other substitutes.
Breads from Canyon Bakehouse and Udi’s also ranked high in the KC homeschooling community for gluten-free alternatives.
Maybe you’re just looking for snacks and other appetizers to feed your kids in-between meals? Try a trail mix of nuts, raisins and seeds. Some homeschool mamas suggest food dehydrators to make jerky and dried fruit. If the loud noise bothers you, stick it in the garage or on the deck/patio in warm weather.
Remember that one alternative could work for another family, but not for yours. If your children refuse to accept one substitute, don’t get discouraged … keep trying until you find something that does work.
- Batch cooking and freezer cooking.
Homeschoolers have made a reputation for themselves in this particular area! Making multiple meals ahead of time and freezing extras not only saves you money, but it also cuts down on food preparation time and energy – a win-win for all involved.
Some families have got this down to a fine art where their meals for the next two weeks, or even the next month, are all scheduled in advance. Just as a quick example, this “31 Days of Gluten-Free Trim Healthy Mama Meals” blog post could provide you some inspiration.
Another great resource: Pinterest! Check out our “Popular recipes for homeschoolers” board, which also has gluten-free suggestions.
It’s almost always cheaper to make your own coconut muffins, for example, using coconut flour (it’s more expensive, but a little goes a very long way!) than to buy pre-made muffins from the store.
- Smart shopping, including specials.
More grocery stores are catering to families on a gluten-free diet, and these don’t just include the healthy ones like Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Natural Grocer’s and Whole Foods.
Try Aldi’s, Hy-Vee, Target, and bulk stores like Costco’s. Buying in bulk is almost always more cost-effective, though you should calculate unit pricing to confirm your savings.
When you combine manufacturer coupons with seasonal store sales, your dollars can stretch even further.
Challenge No. 2: How can I do homeschooling, which is a full-time job in itself, AND add this extra dimension of keeping everyone on a gluten-free diet?
Almost everything your family faces can become learning opportunities, and a gluten-free diet is no exception.
- Incorporate it into your children’s education.
Have your older kids study the nutritional side effects of gluten and how wheat production has changed over the centuries. Let them discover how the body attacks the small intestine in celiac disease, and possible health problems that can result: osteoporosis, thyroid disease, Type 1 diabetes, etc.
For younger kids, G-free Kid has compiled a great list of learning resources to make this journey as enjoyable as possible. For example, your older kids could help you make this gluten-free play dough for their preschooler siblings.
- Find a local support system.
Sometimes the one thing that helps you stay the course is just another friend and fellow homeschooler, who’s facing the same difficulties that you are!
We encourage all MPE members to join area support groups, and you’ll receive a list when you sign up for MPE membership. Once you build your own homeschool network, you’ll find other families who can be there to listen, offer suggestions, and just help you through whatever challenges you’re going through.
Other options include Facebook groups, such as the Homeschool Hookup Facebook group in Kansas or the Homeschool Parent Connection Facebook group in Missouri.
Do you have other suggestions for gluten-free living? Please share in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!