When Nathan looked at the menu for day camp this week his eyes filled with tears.
"You don't understand, Mom," Nathan said. "I have to watch all of the other kids eat the yummy snacks that I can't have."
He was right. The menu was gluten-filled with fast-food hamburgers, corn dogs, pizza, Goldfish crackers, Cheez-Its, brownie bites and more. He knows all of those items are on his"no-no" list. His tears turned to wailing which was hard for this mama bear to watch. I was heart-broken. Nathan has to know that I am going to move heaven and earth to make sure he has a healthy alternative--probably something even better than what the "normal" kids would be eating, but he didn't want to be different. I made sure he had gluten-free options of the same items the others were eating, but they were still different. And he was not a happy camper.
I understand how he feels. My office had a pot-luck luncheon today to celebrate a co-worker's retirement and I felt excluded. I'm 40-years-old and felt that way. I can't imagine how difficult that is for a 10 year old. I brought 2-liter drinks to share, but I skipped the buffet because nothing was safe. Even if I had brought a gluten-free dish, it would have likely been cross contaminated before I made it through the line. It isn't worth getting sick. I don't enjoy taking my "different" lunch into the room with 100 people asking 1,000,000 questions, but that's exactly what happened. I'd rather sit at my desk and eat my sandwich.
I don't want my child to feel this way. There has to be a way to get through to camp organizers, teachers, students, friends, and family so Nathan and other children with dietary restrictions won't feel excluded or different. There are plenty of tasty options that ALL kids will enjoy. Honestly, I think all of the kids would feel better and behave better if they ate real food instead of junk. And they will eat it if that's what is offered. Kids that come to our house don't even know we only serve gluten-free food. They like eating here and they keep coming back--sometimes too often!
So, we've decided to take Nathan to a gluten-free camp next summer. There are no options in Mississippi, but I've found a gluten-free camp in Michigan that I've been following on social media and it looks awesome! I've already been recruited to help in the kitchen, which I am honored to do. I want to help make sure Nathan feels like a regular kid without having to worry about reading labels and inquiring about gluten. I'm hoping to help him and other kids like him have a great experience.
Have your children attended gluten-free camp? I'd love to hear about their experience.
Going to a restaurant or shopping for groceries is so much harder when you have to eat gluten free. I constantly ask questions to the wait staff to ensure a safe meal and I read every label every time I go shopping to make sure there is no gluten hiding in the ingredient lists. Gluten is everywhere and it is really hard to avoid. I have often wondered if there is some way to make life easier for those with celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders where a gluten free diet is essential.
During a recent trip to Florida, I met Rosie, a gluten detection service dog who does just that! Rosie is a service dog trained to sniff out gluten, a tiny protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats--and she does a great job to protect her owner and trainer Jillian Skalky from eating something that could make her really sick. Rosie goes everywhere Skalky goes--to work, to the doctor, to the grocery store, to restaurants, and even to the beach!
We met Skalky and Rosie at Weezie's GF Kitchen, a dedicated gluten free restaurant in Fort Lauderdale (permanently closed in June 2017 when owner retired), where we knew everything was safe to eat. Skalky still presented her plate to Rosie and commanded her to "check." Rosie sniffed the food and then sat, to indicate that the food was all clear and safe to eat. To put Rosie to the test, we took her outside and presented her with an assortment of snacks--some gluten free and some not. It was fascinating to watch her sniff a chocolate chip cookie that we knew was not safe. Rosie detected the scent of gluten through the sealed foil wrapper and bowed down to alert Skalky that the food wasn't safe. She repeated those actions on every food that we knew contained gluten. The last item Skalky asked Rosie to check was a package of Lance Gluten Free Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers that I had in my bag. She confirmed that those were indeed gluten free. I was excited to know that I had packed a safe snack in my carry-on bag! I assumed those would be gluten free, but Skalky told me to not always trust gluten free labeling. Not everything labeled gluten free actually is 100 percent gluten free. Rosie checks every item before Skalky puts it in her grocery cart. Skalky recalled how Rosie alerted that Cheerios which are labeled gluten free were not gluten free--both before and after the recall last year. She had Rosie check every variety on several occasions. Every single time she indicates that the popular breakfast cereal is not safe for her owner to eat.
Skalky, a professional dog trainer with Creating New Tails in Hollywood, Florida who specializes in assistance service dog and obedience training, didn't get Rosie with the intention of turning her into a service dog, but Rosie is very smart and was naturally a good candidate for that line of work. Skalky, who suffers with Crohn's disease and has undergone many surgeries which prevent her from a lot of bending, needed a service dog to detect gluten and assist with light mobility work and Rosie was up for the task! Rosie's full training took almost two years and she is very good at her job. In addition to gluten detection, Rosie assists Skalky with basic tasks like picking up dropped items, turning on light switches, and even helping with laundry. Skalky explained that training times vary from 90 days to two years based on the tasks they are being trained to master, and every dog is different.
The cost of service dogs greatly vary in price as well ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on the breed of the dog. Skalky said if a person finds a great rescue dog like Rosie or already has a dog that is suited for service work, they could save a lot of money, but many rescue dogs have problems that prevent them from this line of work. There is a lot that goes into selecting and training the right dog.
As long as Rosie is wearing her service dog vest, she knows she is on duty and she takes her job seriously. But when the vest comes off, Rosie transforms into a normal, fun-loving pup who loves chasing squirrels, playing at the beach and showing off for people. It is obvious in the way Skalky interacts with Rosie that she is part of her family and she loves her very much, but she and Rosie both know she has an important job to do and she loves her job.
For more information, visit www.creatingnewtails.com.
Be a genius and watch our video that features Rosie, and please subscribe to my G Free Genius YouTube Channel and follow me on Facebook and Instagram to keep seeing more great videos and stories that educate, inspire and encourage those who have to live the gluten free lifestyle. Thank you for your support.
I got home from work this evening and was so tired when I realized I hadn't made a plan for what to fix for dinner. I usually do a better job with meal planning since we rarely eat out, but after a super busy weekend of home projects, I was simply exhausted. As I stood in my kitchen looking inside the refrigerator with no ideas for dinner, I shouted across the house asking the kids what they wanted to eat.
"It's Taco Tuesday, Mom," said Nathan. And with that, the menu was set. Fortunately, I had everything needed to prepare tacos for dinner. The whole family loves tacos and it is quick and easy to prepare--and a breeze to make gluten free.
Within minutes of Nathan's Taco Tuesday declaration, everyone was in the kitchen to help get dinner ready. Lauren was slicing tomatoes, Nathan was grating cheese, and Thomas was browning the ground beef that we bought at our local farmers' market this weekend from DeSoto Meat Company. I love it when we can all work together and share about our day as a family.
Ingredients we keep on hand for Taco Tuesday
Taco Shells (Make sure crunchy shells or corn tortillas are labeled gluten free.)
Ground beef (Grass fed beef is lean and is always better)
Taco Seasoning (Be careful--seasonings aren't always safe. I use McCormick's Gluten Free Taco Seasoning, but I can only find it at Walmart.)
Cheese (We shred our own. Pre-shredded cheese isn't always gluten free.)
Pancho's White Cheese Dip (Pancho's is a regional brand in the mid-south and is labeled gluten free. There's nothing else that tastes as good as Pancho's Cheese Dip, but if you do shop for another cheese dip, carefully read the label. Many dips and salsas are not gluten free.)
Tortilla Chips (Most brands are gluten free)
Sparkling Lemonade from Aldi (It is awesome!!)
Paper plates (I was too tired to cook and definitely too tired to wash dishes!)
Taco Tuesday is well known in our household, as is Taco Thursday and Wait-We Missed Taco Tuesday So We're Having Taco Wednesday. The kids love being able to help "cook" dinner and I appreciate the help. We used to eat at our local Mexican restaurant all the time, but since we can no longer eat anything containing gluten, the risk of cross contamination is just too great. The chips are cooked in the same fryer with everything else. The kids say if we can't have chips and queso there's no point in going. Nathan and I know what it is like to be "glutened" so we are content eating tacos at home. We save a lot of money that way, too!
What is your favorite "go-to" gluten free meal? Please comment to give us all some fresh ideas!
Be sure to check out next week's blog post! We will have a video of a gluten detection service dog! How cool is that?
Do you have a product or service you'd like for GFree Genius to review? Please contact me!
UPDATE: Weezie's GF Kitchen permanently closed in June 2017 due to the owner's retirement. Weezie's will be missed.
Have you ever avoided restaurants or travel because of fear of cross contamination with gluten? Me, too! With a little research before our vacation last week, I found UWeezie's GF Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and was able to dine with ease at a 100 percent dedicated gluten free bistro and bakery that provides deliciously gluten free breakfast, lunch and takeaway dinners, PLUS mouth-watering bakery items including cakes, pies, muffins and CINNAMON ROLLS! If you live in or are planning to visit South Florida on vacation, Weezie's GF Kitchen is a must!! It is a short drive from Miami--and totally worth it! It was such a relief to tell my 10-year-old son that he could order anything he wanted on the menu because everything is safe for him! What a blessing! Even if you're not gluten free, I think you would still love Weezie's GF Kitchen! The food is so delicious that many of the customers had no idea that the food was gluten free! They were just eating a great meal.
Our family stopped at Weezie's before our cruise vacation for breakfast and ate so much we skipped lunch! Waffles, chocolate chip pancakes, veggie omelets, local eggs and sausage, and muffins filled our plates and bellies! Everything was so delicious that we knew we would come back after the cruise, so we preordered takeaway dinner (lasagna and homemade rolls) and joined them for lunch when we got off the ship. Lunch was amazing, and the takeaway lasagna was even better! Since Weezie's is closed for dinner, it was great to have a safe dinner option and we didn't have to search for a potentially dangerous meal. I should've ordered double, because even the kids asked for seconds!
Owner Louise Dutton told me that she has regular customers who drive as far as Orlando and Key West on weekends to enjoy one of the only dedicated gluten free establishments in Florida! She literally has customers from around the world who head straight to her restaurant from the airport to enjoy a delicious, gluten free meal. She told me that one customer who was in town on business purchased Weezie's T-shirts to take home to his daughters. Their response was, "The shirts are nice, Dad, but where are the pies?" Needless to say, he never went home without apple tarts again!
Please watch our video review below and subscribe to the G Free Genius channel and be sure to make plans to visit Weezie's GF Kitchen if you will be anywhere near Fort Lauderdale. If you are a Weezie's customer, leave a comment to tell me your favorite menu item.
Do you know of other dedicated gluten free establishments I should try? Please share your tips in the comments! I'm ready to plan another vacation!
I wrapped up the last week of Celiac Disease Awareness Month (#CDAM16) aboard Royal Caribbean International's Empress of the Seas, and believe me, I raised a lot of awareness about celiac disease and gluten intolerance. In fact, many of my fellow passengers would probably say that I raised more than awareness! I got "glutened" at some point on the third day and experienced terrible effects--in a stateroom with a non-flushing toilet. That was fun.
So, would I go on another cruise? Of course. I've sailed with Royal Caribbean 15 times and this sailing is the first time I've ever had a problem. Last year's family vacation on Freedom of the Seas was a wonderful experience filled with gluten-free goodness and a fabulous chef that we have kept in touch with and consider part of the family. The whole dining room staff was terrific on Freedom of the Seas! Our head waiter even gave my son pre-wrapped Udi's cookies to take back to the stateroom for a snack each evening. I can't say enough about how wonderful that cruise was for my 10-year-old son and I who both have dietary restrictions.
Would I sail again on Empress of the Seas? Probably not. The Empress of the Seas is an older ship that RCI revamped and put back into service last week after a two-month delay. We were on the first sailing and there was a lot to be learned by the crew about EVERYTHING--especially gluten-free dining. The only option for breakfast, lunch and snacks was the Windjammer buffet. Anyone with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or food allergies would probably tell you that buffets are their worst nightmare. If there were other non-buffet dining options for meals and snacks, I would reconsider Empress after the crew has a chance to get things together. Right now, they are not prepared to meet the needs of gluten free guests--with food or plumbing.
I met two passengers with celiac disease who experienced many issues dining on this ship. Vegetables were cooked in pasta water, no gluten free desserts most nights, and cross contamination risk at every meal. I assured them that our experience on Empress of the Seas was unlike any other cruise that I had been on and hoped they will give cruising another chance. The crew was wonderful on Empress of the Seas, but in my opinion Royal Caribbean didn't give them much to work with. The ship still needed a lot of work and after I returned home and starting reading comments on social media, it appears that a freezer stopped working early in the cruise and a lot of food and ice cream was ruined. That information, if that is what really happened, was never shared publicly with guests, and I feel like if the cruise line had been up front with guests, there would've been less anger and bad publicity.
Tips to keep you from drowning in a sea of gluten
If you are gluten intolerant and are considering a cruise vacation, you may find the following tips helpful:
1. Be sure to ask what options are available for guests with dietary restrictions when you book. Travel agents can offer a lot of assistance with these questions. Most cruise lines require guests with special dietary requirements to send an email listing their needs at least 45 days before sailing so they can better prepare.
2. Pack extra snacks that you can keep in your stateroom for emergencies. Protein bars, pretzels, pre-packaged bread, etc. travel well. Please note that you cannot take fruit or vegetables on or off a ship. There is a hefty fine if you get caught doing this.
3. Take wet wipes. Cruise ship toilet paper isn't soft. You'll thank me for this tip if you get glutened.
4. Do some research and read reviews about restaurants that can accommodate your dietary restrictions at ports of call before you leave home. You may want to print directions from the airport or pier so you will know how to get there.
5. If you're sailing out of Fort Lauderdale or Miami, be sure to stop by Weezie's Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale for breakfast or lunch. Weezie's is a 100% dedicated gluten free restaurant that is wonderful! The owner also has takeaway options that you can reheat at the hotel if you're staying overnight since she isn't open for dinner. The lasagna is fabulous!
Stay tuned for a vlog post about Weezie's Kitchen next week and follow her on social media at Weezies GF Kitchen! We ate there twice because was so delicious--and ordered takeaway dinner so we didn't have to chance getting glutened at other restaurants. The owner, staff and customers were such a joy to be around.
Please comment to share your tips that may help cruisers with gluten intolerance avoid drowning in a sea of gluten.