Kris Smaldon’s passion as a health assistant was to help kids in hospital and their families cope with difficulties resulting from a medical diagnoses. She thought she’d heard of every ailment a child could possibly suffer from.
Until her own daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease. With what?
Shock, disbelief, powerless was how she felt hearing four year old Skylar had it, confirmed by blood test. Pale with dark circles under her eyes, she’d suffered brain fog, fatigue, bloated-belly for years. “I did a search on the internet and panicked when I read what Celiac was’, Kris, now 45 remembers. “My first trip to the grocery store, I cried. I didn’t even know what gluten was. I was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out what was safe because of the way food is labeled.”
It’s a lot to handle as a young mum with three girls; Skylar was four and a half. Sisters, McKenzie was two and Addison just a few months old. Over the next few years, each of them would be confirmed celiac. The youngest by two and a half years, brother Jack, also has the gene but not the disease.
Back to Skylar’s first diagnosis in 2009. Social media support groups and all the internet information that exists today, weren’t around then. Luckily ris discovered the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, a world-leader in Celiac research and treatment.
They confirmed through an endoscopy that Skylar had no villi at all in her small intestine, (villi are frond-like projections in the intestinal tract that absorb nutrients from food), and she was suffering from malnutrition.
|A gluten-free Cooking class at Colombia University, teaching the kids how to navigate life gluten-free.|
Luckily and unusually, there was local help too. On Long Island, NY, where the Smaldon family lived, there was a support group called Raising Our Celiac Kids, (R.O.C.K.). There Kris learned from others in the same boat. “Using normal cookbooks, but subbing out wheat flour for gluten-free flour one-for-one was a great help early on”, muses Kristin, “But I wasn’t great in the kitchen, so I had to learn”.
Kris was soon driving forty minutes to the only store around that stocked gluten-free-anything, and most of those ingredients weren’t great. Except Kinnikiritter Animal Cookies, the first kid-friendly option she could find that was both safe and scrumptious.
|Skylar building gingerbread houses at school only because mom bought 100 boxes of S'moreables® Graham Crackers for the whole class.||Years later Mackenzie's thoughtful teacher brought S'moreables® in so she could also join in the gingerbread house festivities.|
“The whole family went gluten-free so the girls would feel safe at home”, explains Kristin. As the girls grew, so did the choices. Kinnikinnick cookies and donuts were always asked for, but S’moreables® Graham Crackers were the top favourite. Particularly because Skylar’s first year at elementary school meant Kris had to buy enough S'moreables® -- 100 boxes -- for her whole class to make gingerbread houses so Skylar could join in the fun and stay safe. The alternative would have been sitting all alone and building her own. Belonging and feeling normal at school is one of the most important things parents want their kids to know.
As the years have gone by Kris’s ‘I want to help people’ attitude has grown alongside her skills in the kitchen. That’s why she decided to start an Instagram account to share recipes, tips and news with parents struggling to find safe and scrumptious ways to feed their allergic kids. It’s on Instagram that we found Kris @glutenfreewith3.
“I enjoy helping parents find safe products, share recipes, discover safe ways to eat out”, Kris elaborates. “I post about travel hacks and planning for school events. It’s really important parents know about the 504 Plan – it’s a legally binding protocol which outlines procedures that schools in the US need to stick to--like notifying parents ahead of time when a food-related activity will happen”.
|The Smaldon children at the Nourished Festival 2019 learning about the latest in allergy-friendly foods.|
The 504 plan has led to measures like getting a dedicated gluten-free microwave for the girls at school. Small but meaningful steps so they so they can enjoy a hot meal like their peers without getting “glutened’.
Kris’s Instagram account and blog have become a pantry of great gluten-free recipes and tips to make life with celiac feel as normal as possible. Ideas like getting a second small freezer at home for pizza and cupcakes on baking days to take later to birthday parties so the girls don’t have to go without.
At large family gatherings the family decided the safest and simplest way was to eat before they go and takes snacks and desserts so they could share some aspects of the meal without taking risks.
Traveling is a challenge when you’re not on known home turf. So that usually means taking their own pots and pans when they go away and backpacks full of food.
The family also appreciate the effort airlines go to accommodate celiacs, which is why they travel Jet Blue by choice.
|Mackenzie & Addison enjoying S'moreables Graham Crackers mom had to bring with her to the restaurant so they could have a safe & scrumptious dessert.|
“Disney has always been a saving grace for family vacations as they cater really well for people with celiac and allergies”, Kristen laughs. ‘On our first trip, after two days, I wanted to live there forever as it was the only place out we could really relax and not have to worry if the food is safe”.
Now that Skylar is almost sixteen, avoiding gluten is second nature for her. Mackenzie is thirteen now and Addison twelve, and they’re also learning to navigate a social life that often revolves around sharing food and going out for meals. So mum and daughters turn investigators, researching restaurant menus and only going to those they can guarantee will be safe.
|The Smaldon children at Disneyworld in Florida, USA.|
“Educating others is so important,” Kristen muses, “You’ve got to encourage those who want to learn. One of Skylar’s friends is so supportive, they even have a dedicated set of pots and pans for her when she visits so they can eat together and even bake with her friends”.
Kris is philosophical about living with celiac disease, which she believes has rubbed off on all her kids. “We know it’s a part of us, but we know it doesn’t define who we are. It’s so important to do the things that make you feel good, not to feel deprived”.
Learning what you can do and not focusing on what you can’t is how Kris continues to fills her social media and blogs with positivity, great recipes and life hacks so everyone can share good times with loved ones, allergic or not.
For more tips and tricks on navigating gluten-free family life follow Kris on @glutenfreewith3 and www.glutenfreewith3.com
|There's no better fun than a S'mores beach party on holiday in Montiauk, NY, USA.||A healthy happy childhood, on holiday in the Turks & Caicos. (Madison, Skylar, Mackenzie, Jack).|