All four of my kids are happy to bring their own snacks to events or classes they attend. Routine seems to be the key. They know other people will have animal crackers or goldfish crackers or something similar and they will have the snack they chose, usually a Larabar or fruit. Due to how easy it’s always been to just throw them in a room with their own snacks and not worry, I was shocked when we came across an issue that has been a huge stumbling block for Wren: surprise food.
Definition of Surprise Food: Food that is offered at an event that comes as a surprise; food not expected; food offered as a reward; food that surprises us because we can’t eat it.
Surprise food has not been a problem in the way I thought it would be. My kids do not try to eat food given to them by another adult because they know not to. It’s the emotional impact that has been rough. After attending a class where food was given for those who answered the right questions (think candy that, even if it was gluten and dairy free, Wren’s body couldn’t process) Wren came out of the door, waited until it was closed behind her and then crumbled to the floor in tears.
“I will never be special because I answered all the questions right but I still couldn’t eat the food, and the food was for special people who knew the answers. I can never eat that food, so I can never be special.”
All of us cried all the way home.
Here’s my advice about surprise food: try to anticipate as much as you can so you can be ready with alternatives; know you’re not always going to be ready, hence the reason it is surprise food.
Look, before I lived in a family of people with food issues, it never would have occurred to me not to do what so many people have done, which is offer food as a reward or add extra food to an event. People fellowship over food; food is yummy. Kids can’t talk as much when they’re chewing, so that’s nice. There are tons of problems with the food-as-reward-or-pacifier approach, but as a parent, I can’t fix them all. I have to deal with my own issues, which usually involve telling my kids to perform a task and then offering a Larabar when the task is done so they gripe about the task they don’t want to do less. I’m not bribing them with hard core sugar, but we all have our problems.
We’ve started trying to offer surprise food alternatives. Once we know someone is prone to offer surprise food, we will send a box or baggy of extra approved food for Wren, just in case. She only gets that food if other kids have received some sort of extra above and beyond snack. Her surprise food may not look exactly the same as the other kids since we’re never sure what will be served, but it’s something, and it’s worked so far. Wren said she wants to be a person who teaches people about Celiac and helps them. When I asked how she would do that she said, “I’d tell them they can’t eat everything everyone else can, but that’s okay because their mom will make them something else.” We do try to be on top of making her an alternative because the last thing I want is for her to feel so isolated or grow so resentful that she decides to just risk her health and eat whatever to fit in. I don’t think she’d ever do that, and I’d know if she did because of how sick she would be, but I don’t even want her to be tempted.
We also try to use surprise food experiences as teachable moments. We remind her that this is how it is, and it’s okay. It’s okay to be disappointed, it’s okay to feel a little left out, it’s okay to be sad and angry. However, we remind her how good she feels when she takes care of her body; we remind her of all the foods she can have.; we remind her that none of us eat those surprise foods either and that there are many people who can’t. Mostly we remind her that we’re not defined by what we can or cannot eat; we’re defined as children of God, followers of Christ.
Wren asked the other day if we thought there would be food in Heaven. D said he thought there would be tons and it would all taste perfect. Wren looked at us with doubt in her face and asked, “Do you think I’ll be able to eat any of it?”
We told her we thought Heaven would be a food-for-everyone kind of place. She was pretty happy about that.