If you have a child with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, your concerns about food reactions may get in the way of enjoying some of the pleasures of summer, like family picnics and trips to the beach. But with a little planning and care, you can make summer outings both safe and fun.
We spoke with experts from the Center for Celiac Disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) about ways to make gluten-free picnics and beach trips easy and enjoyable for the family.
Many parents tend to focus on the negatives, but there’s no need to deny your family the pleasure of a day at the beach because some of the food on the boardwalk is off-limits. Bring your own food and scout the food stands to see if there are any safe options for a special treat.
Here are a few of the team’s suggestions:
- Peanuts, almonds and other nuts make great outdoor food. They are gluten-free and can go right in your beach bag or picnic basket with no extra effort.
- Fruit is a safe, portable, and tasty treat for outings. Wash some grapes and pack them in a plastic bag in your cooler. Freeze them overnight for a refreshing snack. Bring apples, oranges or bananas for easy grab-and-go options. Or chop some melon and combine with your favorite fruits in a fruit salad. (You’ll just need to bring forks and bowls.) Pay attention to what’s in season. There’s almost nothing better on a warm day than the taste of fresh strawberries, peaches or watermelon from a farm stand.
- Hummus with sliced vegetables for dipping is another delicious and healthy gluten-free snack option for beach trips and picnics. Carrots and celery are the typical dipping vegetables, but your kids might also like broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, peppers, green beans or sugar snap peas. Gluten-free crackers are also great with hummus.
- Make sandwiches with gluten-free bread. Or make roll-ups using lettuce wraps or with a lettuce and tomato as the filling and sliced meat as the wrap. Small open-face sandwiches on slices of cucumber or pepper can be assembled on the beach blanket or picnic table. If you’ve been making school lunches, you probably know what sandwich alternatives your child loves. Just remember that tuna or chicken salad and sliced meat need to be kept cool on a hot summer day.
- Hard-boiled eggs come with their own packaging. On a hot day or for a long outing, you’ll need to keep them in a cooler.
- Cheese, especially individually wrapped sticks, are a very easy beach food.
- Popcorn and potato or corn chips are another easy gluten-free snack. For a healthy alternative, you might try making your own kale chips.
- If you’ll have access to a grill, another range of possibilities is open to you. You can expand your menu to include hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken or fish, and grilled vegetables. To prevent cross-contamination when using public grills, use a grilling bag or cook on a sheet of aluminum foil.
- If you’re in a place with food stands, scout them out for a special gluten-free treat. If there’s an ice cream stand with an understanding scooper, talk to them about gluten-free restrictions and find out if they are able to serve you safely. They’ll need to assure you that the flavor you choose is gluten-free, and that they will use a fresh or carefully washed scoop away from the cones and mix-ins. Bring gluten-free brownies and top them off with a scoop of ice cream.
- On a warm day, everyone will need to keep hydrated. To avoid the temptation of the sugary drinks that are often sold at the beach, fill a thermos with ice water. Better yet, plan ahead and make a batch of infused water by putting a few slices of fruit or cucumber or some mint leaves in a pitcher of water and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight.
There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a gluten-free day at the beach or a picnic with your family. With so many simple options that require only a minimum of preparation and care, you can spend less time worrying about food and enjoy the day as much as your kids do.