A Sleepover Survival Guide
Part 1 of 3: The Parent
Written by: Amy Macklin RD, LDN
Does the thought of your child asking if s/he can stay over so-and-so’s house totally stress you out? Sleepovers can be quite nerve racking when you have a child on a special diet, but don’t let that stop you from letting your child experience such a fun and exciting occasion. Kids love to hangout with their friends. They’re most likely more concerned with what they will be doing than what they will be eating, so keep the focus on the experience not the food. With the right planning and preparation, your child can enjoy this time and most importantly you will be able to get a good night’s sleep. There are preparatory steps for you, your child, and the host of the sleepover. This post will focus on the seven simple steps you need to take to make sure your child will have a safe and enjoyable time away from home.
- Fill their bellies – Feed your child dinner beforehand so they’re not hungry when they get there. This eliminates the need to have a complete meal and the stress of figuring out if the meal the host is serving is gluten free and free of contamination. With a full stomach your child will be concerned with getting right to the fun and will only need a snack, if anything, before bed.
- Send a gluten free snack – Ask your child what snack s/he wants to bring and send enough for everyone to enjoy. Set nutrition aside, it’s more important to have a “cool” snack than a healthy snack. This is a great way for your child to feel included. Take your child to the grocery store and let them pick out what they want. The last time my son had a sleepover he picked out Nachos and cheese sauce, canned lemonade, and Jolly Ranchers. The dietitian in me was okay with the nachos and cheese, but cringed with the lemonade and Jolly Ranchers. I didn’t dare say a word. This was his time to feel empowered and I let him have that. I usually don’t send drinks but there were a few teenager boys staying over (we all know how they can eat and drink) and the host has four children of her own, that’s a lot of mouths to feed a snack to.
- Make a list of gluten free foods – This will help the host know what foods they already have on hand are gluten free and which ones not to serve when your child is there. It also alleviates any stress the host may be feeling when it comes to offering your child food. It’s a good idea to have a conversation with the host as well. I always make sure I let the host know that I take a nonchalant approach to my son’s diet. Ask them to not make a big deal and draw attention to the diet. This helps to eliminate any awkward feelings for the host and your child. Remember; keep the sleepover about fun not food.
- 4. Ask what’s for breakfast – See what the host plans on having for breakfast and go from there. Send whatever gluten free alternatives you need to such as waffles, bagels, bread, or a box of cereal. I withhold from sending bread since gluten free bread looks so different form regular bread. This stops any comments or questions that may make your child feel uncomfortable. Make sure to toast the waffles or bagel beforehand to remove the concern with cross contamination in their toaster. The toasted food can be reheated in the microwave. I also send single serve margarine, jelly, or cream cheese. I collect any extra-unopened ones from the restaurant. Make sure to discuss cross contamination issues such as the toaster, double dipping into condiments, and crumbs on counters.
- 5. Review symptoms – Let the hosts know what symptoms your child may experience if accidental or intentional gluten is consumed. Discuss what you prefer happens if this does occur. Make sure to give a number where you can be reached. If accidental gluten is consumed, don’t blame the host. I’m sure they had good intentions and didn’t carelessly make it happen. Keep in mind how challenging the gluten free diet was when you first started. There’s a lot to learn and some things are “second nature” like double dipping into a condiment, sharing utensils, or placing food directly on the counter.
- Encourage your child - Sleepovers can be an opportunity for your child to “cheat” on their diet. Remind your child not only of the physical symptoms they may experience if they consume gluten, but also of the nutritional consequences that ultimately can interference with their growth and development. Encourage them to call home if they feel uncomfortable or have any questions. Most of all encourage them to have fun.
- Be a positive role model - Attitude is everything! Kids are very in tuned to their parents’ feelings and reactions. Keep your cool and don’t stress out. The goal is for your child to have fun, feel comfortable, and be free of worry. You don’t want your child to be reluctant to go in fear something may go wrong.
This list isn’t all-inclusive, but is a great starting point. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns that haven’t been addressed in this post. For more tips on raising your gluten free child visit www.glutenfreeroots.com and download “Ten Simple Steps to Help Moms Jump into the Gluten Free Lifestyle”.
Amy Macklin RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian, Nutrition Expert in Celiac Disease and the Gluten Free Lifestyle, and most importantly a MOM raising a gluten free child. She understands firsthand how overwhelming a diagnosis of celiac disease can be and for that reason, started Gluten Free Roots . Her mission is to make a difference in children’s lives. Amy is determined to not let the gluten free diet get in their way of experiencing all that life has to offer and most importantly, define whom they are.
Amy is the consulting dietitian for the Celiac Disease Center and the Gluten Free Food Pantry Project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She’s the President of the Pittsburgh Dietetic Association, sits on the medical advisory board of the Gluten Intolerance Group of Western Pa, and speaks throughout the year at celiac awareness events across the Pittsburgh area. To learn more about Amy and download the “Ten Simple Steps To Help Moms Jump Into the Gluten Free Diet” tip sheet visit www.glutenfreeroots.com.