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NEW Series: Kids In The Kitchen
I’m excited to share this story about Gabe, a 13-year-old 8th grader who was diagnosed with celiac this school year. What makes this different from other celiac stories I share, is that this story combines celiac, school, and most importantly his own personal growth. It even includes something that most kids can relate to at this time in 2020: Remote Learning.
Removed From the Classroom
(ahhhh, that heading, Removed From the Classroom had you thinking I was going to refer to the pandemic, didn’t it. Nope)
One of the saddest courses to nearly disappear from schools over these past years are those life skill classes: Home Ec and Shop. They’ve been gone so long that you might even be wondering what the heck those are. Cooking, sewing, basic tool use and mechanics. I’d love to see them return, with some modern twists, of course. As a girl in the 70’s, the shop classes weren’t available to me.
Reading, Writing, Arithmetic (and Social-Emotional Development)
As an Early Childhood professional, my education towards my degree focused on the importance of hands-on learning. As someone who still, at age 60, learns best through experience vs paper, I see this type of learning vital through all ages, not just those early years.
With the fact that so many people are so busy, and with the fact that quick food has become such a norm in so many homes, there are far too many who just don’t cook these days. Many kids lack the exposure to those basic cooking skills. I would love to see this change.
This might sound a little crazy, but what if we combined academics and cooking, providing an ultimate hands-on experience.
Following a recipe requires reading skills. Fractions now have real meaning when we have to measure ingredients. The changes that take place through combining, mixing and cooking is science. Add nutrition and self-confidence, and you literally have a classroom right there in your kitchen.
If you are reading this in 2022 or 2023, what is happening in the world today is now just history. As I write, however, we are in the middle of a time none of us could have imagined. And a big part of the unimaginable is the fact that schools all across the country, and throughout the world, have been closed for several weeks now. Remote learning is a phrase we are now all very familiar with.
Teachers have been forced to create classrooms through their computer screens. What happens on the other side of those screens, however, varies considerably, depending on the circumstances in the homes. The most important part of this whole process is to check judgements at the door and respect individuals and families for the place they may be at any given time.
Finding The Joy
I recently looked for some sunny responses on my Gluten Free Respect Facebook Page when I asked folks to “Share something that made you smile today.” There were so many wonderful replies. Tara responded with a picture of her son and the following comment: “My son made a GF quiche for a cooking class (online) as a school assignment. His confidence is increasing since his diagnosis.”
Her positive response gave me instant direction. I asked her if she and her son would be interested in sharing their story.
Gabe, age 13, had quite an impactful 8th grade year. It began with an increase in the stomach aches he’d been experiencing, requiring doctor visits and tests to find out why. Midway through the year found him facing a medically required gluten-free diet. And the end of the year, well…. that brought a whole new kind of change: remote learning.
Gabe was fortunate to have a doctor that actually added celiac tests to the list of blood work he ordered when trying to find out why he experienced pain every time he ate. While the physician thought there was something going on with Gabe’s gallbladder or appendix, or that he might even have an infection, he considered the possibility of celiac disease as well. Good thing he did; that test came back positive. A biopsy was scheduled next in order to confirm celiac disease.
Gabe’s biopsy, in January, showed enough damage via the scope to indicate celiac disease. Once gluten was removed from his diet, he could finally eat without pain. “He’s eating constantly,” mom shared. “Like a normal teenager.”
Within just a few months, he grew an inch, gained ten pounds, lost the dark circles under his eyes and was able to say good-bye to medication for constipation and reflux. He had experienced a sensitivity to dairy his whole life, but now that he is gluten free, that is no longer an issue.
That process of switching to gluten free can be daunting at first. As moms do, Tara worried, “Was I doing things the proper way so he doesn’t get sick?” Their kitchen is now nearly void of all gluten, other than dad’s bread and sister’s bagels.
Kids With Special Diets Become Adults With Special Diets
As parents, one of our biggest jobs is to prepare our kids to be independent, self-reliant adults. And for kids who need to be gluten free, extra attention to this area is required.
Gabe had helped somewhat in the kitchen prior to discovering he had celiac. Once he was diagnosed, however, mom told him he had to be more involved in the cooking. “He doesn’t have the same luxury as his siblings where he can live off of ramen during college,” Tara said.
Mom also made sure he went with her to the grocery store in order to give him the experience and education in label reading that is such a vital part of being gluten free. With a current limit of one person per cart at the grocery store due to COVID, however, mom does the shopping on her own (for now).
An Amazing Learning Opportunity
Even though Gabe had his biopsy in January, it was mid February by the time the pathology report was in. Mom now had the note from the doctor that was needed to complete Gabe’s 504 plan.
He’d been signed up for a Creative Chef Class for his 2nd semester. OK, how cool is that to have a school that offers such a course! I love it! With his new gluten-free requirements, however, Gabe considered dropping the class. “He didn’t think he could eat any of the food,” mom shared. He ultimately decided to stick with it rather than having to make up six weeks of work in another class. Good thing he did!
His teacher was completely onboard with making accommodations for Gabe’s needs. As it turned out, he wasn’t the only student in that class that required gluten free. “On the day they made cookie dough, the teacher had a gluten-free work station set up for these two,” Tara said. But they weren’t the only two at the gluten-free station. Another student joined them, in support and in an effort to learn more about gluten free. Aren’t kids amazing?!!
As schools closed across the country (and the world) this spring, Gabe’s teacher had to learn how to create cooking lessons remotely. And it sounds like she did a phenomenal job. Each assignment added increased independence in the kitchen. “It started out with ‘help make a meal,” mom said. Lessons progressed to “cook a meal,” then “plan & cook a meal,” and on to “pick a country and make a breakfast, lunch or dinner that is specific to this country.” Wow, what a great learning experience.
One lesson required students to watch an episode of Cupcake Wars and then make a batch of cupcakes. They were instructed to decorate at least two of the finished cupcakes as though they were contestants on the show.
How fun! I wonder if he told his teacher that he needed to use a pair of pliers when he couldn’t figure out how to get the gel food coloring open. Sometimes we need to think outside the box and find tools outside of the kitchen. If it works, why not!
Such a Gift!
I cannot help but think what an amazing gift that class was! The stars were certainly aligned when Gabe was diagnosed. Imagine if everyone was given this opportunity to learn how to cook and to be comfortable and confident in the kitchen, (special diet requirement or not).
Of course, while each lesson required him to put his reading, math, and problem solving skills to use in meaningful ways, what developed the most was his self confidence. What a great springboard for developing a joy for cooking and a desire to continue experimenting in the kitchen.
Mom shared that Gabe was fairly independent in his various assignments, but she was available for support when it was needed. “When he would doubt himself I had him look back at the recipe. I didn’t answer things unless he was truly stuck,” Tara shared.
Of course, allowing complete independence can prove a bit difficult at times. As moms, we might have to sit on our hands (literally) in order to refrain from helping or speeding up the process. But just as Gabe’s teacher gradually increased independence with each assignment, parents have to let go and let grow in order for learning to take place and independence to develop.
Gabe cooks much more now. While he knew some basics prior to his diagnosis, and helped in the kitchen as required, he now jumps in without parent prompting. The increased opportunities have taught him how to make those substitutions when it comes to converting recipes to gluten free.
Go Gabe! Keep on cooking!