Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Gluten-Free Experience

The whole gluten-free thing has been an interesting experience.  It's not all bad, but it is definitely not ideal.  It is so strange to go to the grocery store and have to shop completely differently than before.  I skip entire aisles, ignore sections I used to frequent, and spend a lot of time reading labels.  It's hard to pass by certain foods or look with new eyes at everything else to come up with meals we can eat.  My list is still pretty short, but I'm trying. 

I definitely miss being able to eat out on a whim, or eat out in general.  The places we can go are really limited, and even at the places we can go, it's hard to know whether or not Jacob will eat whatever is available.  I mean, I know that a place like Chili's offers a grilled chicken breast or a burger with no bun, but will he eat it?  And given his extra negativity and stubbornness lately, it's usually a total crapshoot from day to day.  I drive by a dozen restaurants every day (and I really need to turn off some email subscriptions) and I long for so many places (like the Moe's that just opened up five minutes from our house), but most of them are off-limits now.  It's not just the food, but the fun of the adventure and the ease of not having to cook or think up yet another meal.  Though I will say, the stress of finding somewhere to eat safely does encourage me to cook at home more than I thought it would.

I suppose it's good we're saving that money, since gluten-free food costs so much more.  I know people are all, "Eat naturally!", "No processed food!", blah, blah, blah when it comes to eating gluten-free, but let's face it.  I'm a working mom who has a window of about an hour max to get dinner on the table each night before totally throwing off our schedule for the evening.  I can't make everything from scratch.  I'm doing my darnedest to explore new frontiers of cooking.  I did a pork tenderloin on a weeknight last week, and baked potatoes have become a staple.  I did a stirfry the other night with chicken, broccoli, a little edamame (soybeans--I like them but Jacob wasn't too enthused), and Wegmans stirfry sauce, which apparently has no soy sauce, as it is gluten-free.  Jacob didn't really love it, but again, it's hard to know if he's just being difficult or legitimately hates it.  I made a pizza crust from a mix last Friday (mixed reviews on that one) and I've doctored a few of my go-to recipes pretty successfully.  Tonight I did sweet potato fries, which I sort of messed up, but Jacob liked them anyway.

I'm still relying on a lot of convenience products, however.  Jacob's lunches are particularly tough in that regard.  I usually send him a sandwich and two sides for lunch, plus one afternoon snack during school and another for after school, so he doesn't get tempted to eat what they're offering.  Usually it's some assortment of yogurt, applesauce, or pudding; pretzels or another salty/savory snack; an apple; a granola bar or some sort of gluten-free cookies.  He's shot down the gluten-free cracker-type cookies (Annie's Bunny Cookies (like animal crackers)), which is a bummer since they're among the least unhealthy looking.  He's going through a phase where PB&J is a problem, so the past couple days I've sent cheese and crackers.  Better than the crappy, processed Lunchables, right?  But really, there are only so many things he will eat and that will keep in a lunchbox and aren't a pain to prepare.  Those bento box moms are great, but I'm not sure my kid will eat baby carrots or cold quinoa or whatever.  He will eat peppers and dip, however, so I should really look into that.  And that, in a nutshell, is the thing about this.  There are options out there, but the challenge is finding the ones that will work for us.  Thinking outside the box isn't easy, but finding the out-of-the-box ideas that fit with our tastes and time-constraints is even harder.

Of course, since Carter's visit to the allergist last week, I'm becoming increasingly more panicked about what the heck that poor kid is going to eat.  A rice sensitivity by itself wouldn't be a big deal.  But a rice sensitivity in a household where rice flour is in almost everything we consume?  Impossible.  I'm pretty much facing two or three years of double meals and an ongoing risk of cross-contamination.  Originally I wanted to mostly strip my kitchen of all gluten-containing items, unless I had to do something specific--say, the monkey bread my office loves.  I can clean hardcore after one cooking session, after all.  But am I going to be forced to keep regular bread in my house?  Or snacks that Jacob can't go near?  I had already resigned myself to the fact that birthdays might always include two cakes--one gluten free and one not--but now I know that Carter can't eat the gluten-free cake, and depending on how things go with the other grains and dairy, maybe none at all.  I started him on oatmeal last night.  It took a week for him to start reacting to rice cereal, so we'll see how this goes.  Once we're comfortable with that, I'm going to try adding a small scoop of gentle formula to what he's drinking now to see how he reacts to dairy.  I did that around six months and he seemed uncomfortable, but that could just be because he ended up getting teeth right after that.  I didn't take any chances, though, and vowed to try again at nine months, which is next week.  But I want to get firmly settled with the oatmeal before I try that.  I have another few weeks of his usual formula on hand, so I'm not really in a rush for that.  Still, it would be nice to know dairy is okay, since it opens up the option of yogurt, cheese, and those crunchy yogurt drops. 

Part of me is debating pushing the allergist a little harder on whether there is anything else we can do. I'd rather not just sit around and drive myself crazy until he's three and we can try him on rice again.  If we can test earlier, or if there's some sort of blood test, or if we can do a gradual introduction thing to get his body used to it...I will try anything to make things easier sooner.  While circumstantial evidence certainly points to the rice, I can't help but wonder if there was anything else that could have caused it.  I doubt it, but now that the stakes are so much higher, I find myself wondering.  What if he outgrows it sooner?  Is it worth testing in a few months to see if he's better, or is that just mean?  I don't know.  I'm just overwhelmed when I see all of the baby foods that include rice, and I worry about what happens if other grains cause issues, as well.  It's just a lot to think about, and I don't want one kid's diet to make the other one sick. 

On one hand I feel like I'm handling this with more grace that I thought, but on the other I still have all of these panicky moments and wish I had more time to search for recipes and tips so I could plan our meals better.  I'm doing what I can, but it's still a bit of a scary world for me.  I just wish the diet was helping Jacob's behavior so I could really feel like all of this was more rewarding.  I know it's important for his health regardless, but a tangible result would have been nice, too.  Maybe someday.  I just never imagined I would ever resent grains as much as I do right now.  Arg.

I'll end this post with a fun little factoid.  Six years ago tonight I found out I was pregnant with Jacob.  It's hard to believe.  Our lives were never the same, that's for sure.  The nausea and exhaustion were quick to follow, and the rest of the pregnancy was quite an experience!  Things haven't slowed down since, and it's been quite the crazy five-plus years since he was born.  I sure as heck never thought this would be our situation six years later, but God willing it will get better and we'll look back on this time wondering how we ever did it.  Let's hope.

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