Coeliac disease in children

Coeliac disease affects 1 in every 100 people in the UK, including children. The likelihood increases to 1 in 10 if an immediate relative – such as mother, father or sibling – is a sufferer. So if you or someone in your family is already diagnosed, be extra vigilant for symptoms in your children.

While symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and tiredness occur in both adults and children, in kids you may also notice a failure to thrive – being small and slight compared to other kids their age.

Due to the potential complications that can be caused by coeliac disease, it's important to get a diagnosis as early as possible. Children can be diagnosed without the need for a biopsy – if the blood test shows high levels of antibodies, a genetic test will confirm the condition.

Once you've got a diagnosis confirmed, the only way to prevent your child suffering symptoms is to remove gluten entirely from their diet. Fortunately, many tasty foods will still be safe to eat, and you'll be able to get a gluten free prescription and receive specialist foods such as breads and rolls.

Of course, there are still some situations that parents should be wary of when your child is following a gluten free diet.

Tips for parents with gluten free children

  • In the home - If you are cooking a separate gluten free meal, take care to avoid cross contamination. For example, use separate utensils while cooking, and keep spreads and condiments separate to avoid crumbs being transferred. Keep gluten-containing treats well out of sight of younger children.
  • At school - Call and tell your child's school as soon as you have a diagnosis. They will most likely need to avoid school dinners and take a packed lunch instead, with special preparations made for school trips or special events.
  • Friends and family - If your child is invited round for tea at a friend's house, speak to their parents in advance and consider giving them a list of 'safe foods'. Remember birthday parties and family get-togethers can also be a gluten minefield, so make sure your child knows what they can and cannot eat, and consider giving them a special gluten free treat to take along.
  • Out and about - Check out our tips for eating out gluten free to find some of the high street chains with safe menu options, as well as what to ask restaurant staff if you have gluten free kids. Many restaurants now have gluten free options such as Pizza Hut, La Tasca and Carluccio's.
  • Staying healthy - Like adults, children with coeliac disease may be deficient in calcium, vitamin D and B12, iron, folate and fibre. These all occur naturally in many foods (see our coeliac disease page for more information), or alternatively you could consider fortified foods or a vitamin supplement.

Ideas to help kids go gluten free

Any child may struggle when they are told they're 'different' and they need to avoid some of their favourite foods.

That's why it's really important to outline the reasons for the change, and explain the consequences so the child understands it will help them in the long run. Fortunately lots of gluten free breads, rolls and other products look and taste just like the real thing, so they needn't feel like they're missing out. You may even find the rest of the family wants to get in on the action, which of course will really help the child adapt to their new lifestyle.

Of course, it can also help to introduce an element of fun and games to the process. Why not put stickers on all the foods that aren't safe, or make a special, brightly coloured box full of gluten free treats? Kids love cooking too, so let them get hands-on in the kitchen - check out our gluten free recipes for some inspiration to get you started.