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Updated: Nov 24, 2022

I know, I know... it's easier said than done--especially when that holiday buffet is laid out like pretty poison under the twinkle lights and the kids are so excited about the snowman cookies.

That's why the mantra I'm going to share with you needs repeating. And repeating. And repeating again:

It's not (just) about the food; it's about the people, places, and experiences in our lives!

And yes, I'm fully aware that we all need sustenance, a little detail that feels so much bigger for anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance (and their parents). Still, life--and I'm talking about real, wholehearted living--includes not just one sense, but five. And there's so much to see and smell and touch and hear... yet at times, we deemphasize this fact and overemphasize our fear around "getting glutened." I know. I've been there.

And that's exactly why, after realizing my own misdirection, I realigned the ship and created a mantra. Then, nearly every day through our celiac daughter's elementary, middle, and even high school years, I--and eventually we--repeated this mantra. Now that she's in college, it's basically woven into her DNA. And, given how involved she is in a long list of clubs and activities, the mantra may have had an even more profound impact than I'd imagined.

At first, when you say it, you may be met with resistance. And sometimes, that resistance will be your own.

Because when this or that parent (or teacher or coach or other person who should know better) hasn't provided a single item that your poor David can eat at the event--even after you'd called to inform them of the situation--it's easy to revert to the idea that yes, it IS all about the food. It doesn't matter that David always carries an "emergency" bag of GF snacks in his backpack; still, you expected better. So your inner voice rages: Now my son will have to be the weird kid, the sad kid, the left-out kid who can't eat what everyone else is eating. And so does a nine-year-old’s birthday celebration become, in your mind, a complete DISASTER!

Again, been there.

But having lived and learned, I'm here to tell you that the calamity in your mind was not invited to this party. Unless David has not eaten all day (which is never a good plan for any kid, let alone a GF one), he is probably operating with an adequate level of nutrients in his system to survive the event--with or without that emergency stash. And for the record, David is probably out in the jumpy castle with his friends, playing a game of robot invasion in zero gravity. Food? What food?

The thing is, the more we worry, the more they worry. They sense it. They're like super-sponges when it comes to taking in our anxieties. And our fears aren't just heard; they're actually MADE and then amplified.

So remember to breathe. And say it alone if you must:

It's not (just) about the food; it's about the people, places, and experiences in our lives!

Shift your default setting away from fear and towards more encouragement for your child to get out and take an active role in the world. Food be darned (because "emergency" stashes come in many flavors and sizes). Bring back the focus to what matters most, and your child will follow suit. And when the event allows, send along something delicious to share with everyone, every time. Because sharing isn't just about what's on the plate; it's about connection.

OF COURSE there will be difficult moments. When you love your child, you want him or her to feel great about every aspect of life. It's natural to feel a twinge of loss in thinking about those spontaneous pizza parties or gingerbread house-making gatherings (though there are ways around these, too). And I'd never suggest that we stop being vigilant--because we absolutely must! But ultimately, our vigilance must become their vigilance--and the sooner, the better. You will relax more as your child learns to self-advocate and to navigate the world on her own.

So as the holiday season launches, go ahead and check all the candy lists twice. But do it with your child, as an exercise in growth. Host a gluten-free soirée at your house, and continue to encourage a walk-on role in life. And, if there is something at that not-so-safe buffet table that looks particularly enticing, suggest keeping a "GF wish list" of things to recreate later in your own kitchen! We've recreated cake pops (though ours were square), calzones, and so many other dishes through the years. Many were great, and a few were total busts. But we learned and had lots of laughs and delicious memories in the process.

The bottom line? Don't let the fear of what your child can't have or do eclipse the richness of all she can have and do. Because after 12 years of parenting a celiac child (now a young adult), I realize that the journey has been far more sweet than bitter. In fact, I am 100% certain that our girl wouldn't be as self-assured, multifaceted, resilient, or involved in life as she is today had she not been diagnosed all those years ago.

She is a healthy, flourishing example of the truth that indeed, it's not (just) about the food; it's about the people, places, and experiences in our lives.

Say it. Teach it. And most of all, live it.

Elyn Joy is the author of the newly-revised and pediatrician-recommended book, The Gluten-Free Parent's Survival Guide , as well as The Gluten-Free Teen's Survival Guide. Her articles and interviews have appeared in Gluten-Free Living, Whole Foods Magazine, Allergic Living, and numerous other GF sites and publications. Elyn has been a featured presenter at Celiac Awareness events and has taught various courses on the topic. For more information, visit or contact


Updated: Oct 12, 2021

(From The Gluten-Free Parent’s Survival Guide by E. Joy [2020,])

Neither we—nor our children—should live in fear of the great wide world. Aside from its obvious downsides, being gluten-free is also a sort of adventure, an opportunity for personal mastery over one's health (which can translate to other areas of life, too!). One of the most important tasks we face in raising gluten-free kids is that of helping them to help themselves, and ultimately to become the drivers of their own health and destiny.

That said, when you're starting out on this GF venture, you may need to intervene to show them the ropes. You will have to decide how much or how little your child should take over these, or any, steps towards gaining social confidence. Trust your instincts, and teach your child to trust theirs.

In the meantime, let the following helpful (and proven) tips guide you through the seasons of celebration ahead:

  1. If possible, check in with the hosting parent/guardian before an event. Let them know that your child is gluten-free, and ask about food-related plans. That way, you will have the option of preparing items to coordinate with the existing menu. (For instance, if they are serving chocolate birthday cupcakes, you may be able to make or purchase a GF version to bring to the party.)

  2. In our experience, kind hosts may offer to make or serve gluten-free food items. In these cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to mention cross-contamination, and/or to simply decline and say that you’re happy to provide your own snack or meal. If offered a questionable item, guide your child to always be gracious and appreciative; however, if she has celiac disease, she should not partake. SO…

  3. From a safety standpoint, always bring your own something—be it a snack, a dish to share, a dessert—whatever will help make the event a bit more carefree.

  4. Another rule for the celiac child to live by: Avoid going to any event hungry! By eating a little something beforehand, your child will be better able to enjoy the company and the experience--with or without the food. Remember, no social gathering is worth days of illness!

  5. One of our all-time favorite tips for your GF child to take into the future: Take note (either literally or mentally) of any intriguing food items at an event. Keep these ideas in a notebook, and commit to making something similar, but gluten-free! (We did this right after a party during which my daughter was longing for a cake pop. Our next-day version, more like a frosted cake-square on a stick, made a fun activity--and they were yummy, too!) Edyth was thrilled--and every since then, she keeps a list of "Things to make GF" on a little notepad in her purse.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly, remember the mantra, and say it again and again: We go to events for the people and the experiences above all!

And in this sense, being gluten-free is the blessing that reveals the most important gifts in our lives.

Happy Autumn!

For a list of GF candies considered safe for Halloween, or to order The Gluten-Free Parent's Survival Guide, click below:

Elyn Joy is an author living in Denver, Colorado USA. Her health-related books, The Gluten-Free Parent's Survival Guide and The Gluten-Free Teen's Survival Guide, have helped guide children and parents everywhere transition to flourishing gluten-free lifestyles. Elyn has been a featured speaker for Children's Hospital of Colorado; her writings have appeared in several magazines, including Gluten-Free Living, Simply Gluten-Free, Whole Foods Magazine, and Allergic Living, among others.


Updated: Mar 7, 2021

It may be an "off" year, but that doesn't mean you can't continue your child's journey towards a joyful and productive (and hopefully closer to "normal") future. With spring approaching and vaccinations underway, that may become a bit easier—especially with the promise of more outdoor fun just ahead!

This is a great time to try new hobbies, to ride the season of new beginnings into our own new ventures. For kids who are gluten-free, we recommend adding (or mastering) skills that will continue to serve them in years to come. Here are our best suggestions for your GF troopers to keep growing strong:

  1. Practice the Fine Art of Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking. . . Because why not try something new? Here's a challenge to try: The dish must LOOK as great as it tastes. This ups the fun-factor and becomes a feast, both for the eyes and the stomach. A few “pretty” escapades in our kitchen have included sushi, quesadillas, pancake sculptures, chocolate-decorated strawberries and bananas, and triple-layered finger sandwiches.

  2. Try Self-Guided Music Lessons. You can easily find many online courses for helping kids teach themselves how to play an instrument (such as Let's be honest--our kids have all become online pros this year—for better or worse—so let that translate into a lifelong skill! Besides, what better time than now to polish up that old piano, and bring a new song into your home!

  3. Build (or Fix or Revive) Something. Kids who enjoy hands-on activities might enjoy a project they can take indoors or out. Go through your storage room and find an old table or lamp that could be repainted or collaged, or (for older kids) even an old tech item that might be repurposed (we’ve had a speaker become a robot and a VCR become a box full of craft parts). Or visit the hardware store and get inspired for a new build. For any such project, of course we trust you’ll put safety first.

  4. Pre-Game Your Favorite Warm-Weather Activities. Break out that bat and ball, play a game at the park, dust off those bicycles, and make the most of those somewhere-in-between chilly and balmy days. Fresh air makes for rosy cheeks and happy kids!

  5. Plant Seedlings. A love for gardening is a life-long gift, and this is the perfect time to plant for later spring & summer. Best of all, giving your kids something to care for builds empathy and responsibility--not bad for a crafty spring venture!

Most of all, enjoy the changing of the seasons, and remember: It’s always the PEOPLE, PLACES, and EXPERIENCES in our lives that matter most.

Happy Spring!

Elyn Joy has written two books to help gluten-free parents and kids: The Gluten-Free Parent's Survival Guide and The Gluten-Free Teen's Survival Guide (just released). Her articles have appeared in Gluten-Free Living Magazine, Whole Foods Magazine, The Gluten-Free Resource Guide, and several GF-related sites and blogs. She has presented educational programs for the Colorado Children’s Hospital, Natural Grocers, and other GF educational forums. For more information, visit

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