Ask the Expert: How Do I Make Family Meals When One Child Is Gluten Intolerant?


When one child is gluten intolerant or allergic to gluten, it can make cooking for your family much more difficult. Here, a gluten-free baker shares tips on making family meals easier even when gluten is off the table.


child holding cornAbout 3 million Americans suffer from Celiac disease, which means they’re unable to process gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For them, a gluten-free diet is necessary, but others who don’t suffer from Celiac disease choose to go gluten-free for other health reasons. If done incorrectly, removing gluten from your diet can be difficult—especially for young children. Here, Debra Sadowsky, founder of the gluten-free bakery Mostly Myrtle, discusses some key issues regarding gluten-free eating and cooking in your home.


How are gluten-free foods different nutritionally?

Nutritionally, it depends on other ingredients in the gluten-free product. Usually, to get the right texture and taste, more starch and sugar goes into gluten-free goods. Also, the protein and carbohydrate levels will change when you take wheat out of a recipe. [I] always encourage parents to read the labels so they know what they and their children are eating. You have to watch sugar and fat content.


What is the best course of action regarding food prep and meal choice when dealing with one gluten-free family member in a pack of wheat-eaters?

For the wellbeing of the family, it’s important to stress what you can eat rather than what you can’t eat. There are lots of wonderful things that everyone can enjoy, and focusing on those gives a more positive feeling in the household.

As far as specifics go, you definitely need to have separate toaster ovens so that the gluten-free members of the family can enjoy their gluten-free bread without any wheat residue. Separate sauté pan and tools are important during preparation as well. If the other kids can be active in making some of the gluten-free cookies, brownies, or meals, that would make the gluten-free child feel like part of the group. There are great gluten-free pastas that the entire family could eat or you could just cook the gluten-free pasta separately so they can still be eating the same thing as everyone else. If mom buys things that are just as good as the foods that all the other kids get to eat, there should be minimal difficulties.

Gluten-free products by nature are going to be more expensive, so you may not want to buy gluten-free muffins for everyone, but when you buy them, buy quality baked goods that are just as good as the wheat products.


Are there any common substitutes for flour and other wheat products?

The most common is rice flour. I would recommend brown rice to white rice because there’s more fiber, it is non-binding (which is best for kids), and there’s more protein. Nut flours are great too if the kids are not allergic to nuts as well as wheat, because they’re packed with protein. Sorghum is another easy substitute for wheat flour. If we’re talking about parents baking for children, it’s always nice to try, but it’s not always easy. It takes practice to get the textures and the flavors just right.

There are flour mixes out there that combine rice and nut -- major brands are starting to produce them because the need is there. There are some parents who say they did a one-for-one switch and it works fine for them. It is a trial-and-error process. There’s not one particular mixture for everything that you can switch.


There are a lot of key websites to help parents and kids make the transition to gluten-free:, the Gluten Intolerance Group, is a great resource that offers medical tips, a recipes database, and restaurant recommendations., the Celiac Disease Foundation, has listings of conferences, events, and has resources for specific difficulties with kids. is a national foundation that provides a wealth of information revolving around disease, treatment, and the development of celiac awareness.


I always to tell parents with a newly diagnosed child that they should get involved with some support groups because there are so many people who are going through this experience that have already done this research [and] they can save themselves some time.


Are there any gluten-free foods that most picky eaters like?

The fact that there are some good gluten-free pastas out there is the most remarkable thing that’s happened in recent years. One of the things that picky eaters usually like is pasta, but they might have to try some different ones to figure out which is best. With any new product, you need to try a few and see what works for you. Try to make everything positive and fun. If I were a parent of a gluten-free child, I think we’d make an activity out of testing them all and call it a science product. We’d take a survey of who likes what and who didn’t.

In the fall, there’s a gluten-free vendor fair out in Suffolk County. It’s a whole big room full of gluten-free vendors. There aren’t many places that people with Celiac can go and not worry about whether or not they can eat everything there. It’s like a carnival for them. Families can go out and try out all the vendors together and pick out their favorites. is the Gluten Intolerance Group of Long Island and they are spectacular and huge. Mostly Myrtle with be at their Vendor Fair on April 27 and 28.


Debra Sandowsky is the owner of Mostly Myrtle, a gluten-free bakery that distributes its baked goods to specialty stores across New York and New Jersey. Mother of two grown children and a grandmother-to-be, Sadowsky spent the better part of 30 years as an occupational therapist working with disabled children in schools. She lives in Rockland County where she runs the website, delivering baked goods to gluten-free and wheat-eaters alike.