Ask Shelley Case: Picky-Eaters and the Gluten-Free Diet – How to Tackle Both!

My 6 year old daughter just got diagnosed with celiac disease. She’s such a picky eater, I’m afraid she won’t eat anything! Please help!

Over the years I’ve heard this question many times – so rest assured that you are not the only parent with this concern. The key to making your child’s transition from “picky eater” to “gluten-free eater” effortlessly is to give your child a bit of control and decision making in her food choices and meal preparation. Here are a few suggestions on making this transition go from hassle-free to gluten-free in no time at all!

Help them understand the gluten-free diet: Age permitting, make sure that your child understands what the gluten-free diet is all about. Encourage them to ask questions. Introduce them to books that are geared towards children and address the gluten-free diet such as:

“Gluten-Free Friends: An Activity Book for Kids” by Nancy Patin Falini, RD

“Gluten-Free Kids: Raising Happy, Healthy Children with Celiac Disease, and Other Conditions” by Danna Korn

“Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?” by Katie Chalmers

Take your child grocery shopping with you: Letting your child have a say in their gluten-free food choices may take longer while you are in the market, but will avoid bad tempers and problems at mealtime. Get them to select a new fruit or vegetable each week to try, or pick a recipe beforehand and have your child help find the ingredients while in the grocery store with you.

Check out the many kid-friendly prepared gluten-free choices. Some manufacturers that cater to gluten-free kids are: Allergaroo, Enjoy Life FoodsEnviroKidz, GlutenFreedaGlutino, Ian’s Natural Foods, Kinnikinnick , Orgran and Pastariso.

Get them involved! Let your child help you in the kitchen while you are preparing meals with small, age-appropriate jobs. Some ideas are reading recipes and measuring or mixing ingredients. Engage your child!

Serve food that is fun for kids: Get creative with your menu options. Some ideas are:

  • Have the kids top it off! Try having your own gluten-free pizza night! Serve gluten-free pizza and let your children top their own personal pizza with a choice of fresh cut vegetables, lean cuts of meat and cheeses. Another idea is to cook-up some gluten-free burgers or hot dogs and serve them on a toasted gluten-free bun.  Let the kids make their own with fun and non-traditional out-of-the box toppings like salsa, chopped veggies, shredded cheeses and sauces.
  • Make a meal or snack item in a different shape. Try “Eggs in a Hole” by using a cookie cutter to cut out a small circle in the center of gluten free bread. Butter both sides of the bread, place in heated frying pan, crack an egg into the center, cook on one side and then flip to cook the other side. Or use a cookie cutter to make different shapes in a gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich, French toast or pancakes.
  • No bread needed. Breadless sandwich are fun to make! Take a large romaine or other lettuce leaf and place a slice of cheese and gluten-free turkey or ham and roll up secured with a toothpick.
  • Get creative! Try making “Ants on a Log” –   Spread peanut, almond or sunflower butter on a celery stick and decorate with raisins.

Encouraging children to build their own creative meals and snacks gives them ability to explore new food options that you may have thought they never would have tried!

Charm with condiments: So many parents tell me that their kids won’t eat vegetables. My solution? Serve them with a side, low-fat gluten-free ranch dressing, yogurt or hummus.  Suddenly broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peppers or baby carrots become fun.

Make meal time “family time”: Although schedules can be crazy and family-members can be running here and there, try to make as many meals as possible “family time”.  This will let your child know that you are all in this together. Things as simple as setting the table for the occasion, turning off the TV set and eating as a family can take the focus off the food, and onto the experience.

Travel the world! Try introducing new tastes and foods with a little international flair.  Have a taco night on Cinco de Mayo and serve gluten-free corn tacos with all the fixin’s. Make the dinner even more festive by wearing sombreros from the party store! Cook up some gluten-free Asian influenced foods on Chinese New Year, or traditional Irish foods on Saint Patrick’s Day. Food can be educational, fun and delicious!

Rock & Roll: Look for a “ROCK” (Raising our Celiac Kids) group. These celiac support groups are a great resource for parents and children. And they often have special events such as potlucks, parties or meeting at restaurants where your child can be encouraged to try new foods that other children are eating. For a R.O.C.K. Chapter near you check out this list of gluten-free support groups.

And finally, here is a helpful article from dietitians Mary K. Sharrett and Pam Cureton called “Kids with Celiac Disease” that has some other great ideas.

Ask Shelley Case is a feature of It is published the second Tuesday of each month. Shelley Case, RD is a Consulting Dietitian, Speaker and Author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Visit Shelley and get more gluten-free tips & info at:

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6 Responses to “Ask Shelley Case: Picky-Eaters and the Gluten-Free Diet – How to Tackle Both!”

  1. Shirley Boberg Says:

    Another thing to wrap sandwiches in are the oriental rice wrappers. You dampden them, let them dry a little bit, put your filling in and roll them up. They are easy and tasty and are only about 12 calories each.
    We have been diagnosed as Celiac for almost 13 months and it has been quite a journey. I was overwhelmed but my hubby has seen it as an adventure. He was right. We have learned to enjoy so many new foods this past year. Improved health has made the diagnosis a boon to us.
    Imagination helps too. We named our new creations. We pretend we are opening a new restaurant and try to determine how we would describe these items on a menu.

  2. Kelley Says:

    You might find this is actually a key to her enjoying more kinds of food. My son’s appetite was drastically better after he had been gluten-free for just a short while. I think he had previously come to associate food with discomfort or even pain, and so, understandably, was afraid to eat much even if he felt terribly hungry. Many times before his diagnosis, we’d have a meal, he’d eat very little, and then just 20 or 30 minutes later, we’d be in the car (so not where we could get him something to eat), and he’d begin crying that he was “starving!” Seemed like a 4-year-old ruse to me at the time; little did I know how accurate his statement truly was – since his body wasn’t absorbing nutrients due to celiac. I just thought we weren’t doing a good job teaching him to observe mealtimes and eat a balanced diet.

    I hope you find lots of encouragement and that she makes the transition quickly. It will get better!

  3. Susan Says:

    Maybe the reason the little girl is a “picky eater” is because she has a sense of what is making her sick. My son was 2 1/2 when he was diagnosed. We tried to do a gluten challenge before doing his biopsy, but he would scrape peanut butter off his wheat bread and eat that; at the end of the challenge, he was eating almost nothing…scary. He looked like a picky eater. He wasn’t. He was afraid to eat, I think! As far as condiments, that was out. He wouldn’t touch them. The book that saved my sanity was “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense,” by Ellyn Satter. I learned to offer him food that was safe for him and nutritious, and wait for his hunger to guide him. It did. He gained weight, grew, and started to act like a normal kid. He’ll eat anything that’s gluten free, though it has taken years for him to start to like salad dressing and other condiments. In addition, try to keep meals mostly (or entirely) gluten free so your daughter sees everyone enjoying the same meal. It will encourage her to try new things and know they’re safe for her, too!

  4. Jenn Says:

    GREAT article…THANK YOU!!!!

  5. Kathie Says:

    One other suggestion is to make sure that what you do cook is good tasting. All too often, GF foods bought at stores (mainly breads and pastry) tend to have a grainy taste….they all have the same type flour as a basis. When I was diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago (at age 50), the best advice given to me … from the mother of a 6 year old who’d been eating GF for 4 yrs….was to order a certain brand of flour online. I did, and have never looked back. The creator of the flour was diagnosed with CD herself. She has cook books, e-cook books, a weekly newsletter with recipes and other important information (free), does cooking demonstrations (I’ve been to 3 of them), a blog, and twitter & f/b following, videos online that show you step by step how to make dishes, a frequent guest on a TV station up north (she’s in Maryland, but from here in NC where I live); and is a tireless advocate for the GF community and those of us with CD. I loved her book “The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free”. She’s the mother of 2 young children who now only eat GF. Google Jules Shepard (some of the books have her as Jules E. Dowler Shepard). I only use her flour (has the feel of corn starch and is so soft) and can make almost anything I want with it–it’s an all purpose flour and can be used as a 1 – 1 substitution in any recipe that calls for flour (unless the recipe specifically says it must be self-rising). When I bake and take things to school….nothing comes home with me. My coworkers are most impressed, and said they’d not know the food was GF if I’d not told them so. Often they say my food is better than any other they’ve tasted. I teach K-5 special ed. kids, and they are always asking me to make food for them the way “you eat it” as they say. I’ve had a great time educating them on how and why I must eat GF, and they are fantastic about learning something very new, and trying out new foods that are homemade (not from a box, can, fast food place). I agree with the comments above that the little girl is probably picky about what she eats because she’s afraid of being sick “again” after eating. With time, and good food…she will heal and be healthy again. This article and comments are very good. Before you know it, she’ll be helping mom in the kitchen and inviting her friends over to “bake/cook” and enjoy the way she eats! Go get ’em mom!

  6. What to do about picky eaters and the gluten-free diet « Gluten Free in Binghamton Says:

    […] can read the full article over here, or I have copied it […]

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