By Rachel Sircy
Well, just like Halloween, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge to the gluten-free eater. For those of you out there with children with celiac or who may have classmates or friends with food allergies, this can be an especially challenging time of year. Valentine’s Day can be fun, but being left out of the celebration can be heartbreaking for school children. There are metric tons of candy on virtually every store shelf in the country but figuring out which ones are actually safe for celiacs to eat is so difficult that it’s almost depressing.
Many major brands (like Hershey’s and Nestle, etc.) have certain candies and chocolate bars which are only gluten free in certain seasons and in certain shapes and sizes. For instance, Hershey’s milk chocolate bars are gluten free ONLY in the 1.55 oz size – all other sizes, shapes and varieties of the Hershey’s plain milk chocolate are NOT gluten free. The same applies with Nestle’s Butterfingers. The regular and fun size bars proudly proclaim that they’re gluten free, but all other sizes, shapes, and varieties are not gluten free. Hershey’s and Nestle aren’t alone. Jelly Belly Jellybeans are all technically gluten free, HOWEVER, they are sometimes packaged by different companies, and the Jelly Belly corporation cannot vouch for these other companies. They tell you that you must look closely at each individual package of Jelly Bellys and call the packaging facility on the back to find out if this particular package is gluten free or not. Honestly, I feel like I need a flow chart, a food scale, a calculator, and possibly a Ph.D. to keep up with some of these candy companies.
It’s really important in light of all of the confusion to teach your celiac (or allergic) children to resist temptation. Easier said than done, right? Temptation often gets the better of adults, let alone kids. The best way to ensure that your child stays safe while unsafe candy and wheat-based cupcakes are free-flowing is to make sure that they have their own safe-to-eat treats. I wrote in the summer about the Be a PAL program. PAL stands for Protect A Life. This program teaches children how to be a safe friend for others with food allergies by helping to make sure that these other children stay safe from dangerous foods and also from food-allergy bullying. Even if your child doesn’t have food allergies, you can help protect and reach out to other children who do have potentially dangerous allergies by being intentional when purchasing candy and treats for school parties.
I’ve said all that to say this: I am going to provide a list of companies who strive to make products that are safe for everyone:
- Enjoy Life Foods: Hands down, this is the absolute best company for food allergy sufferers. ALL of the products made by this company are allergy friendly. They are free from all of the 8 major allergens (including gluten of course), and they are delicious. I have been a loyal customer since the early days of my diagnosis. They are expanding their repertoire lately, and they have Valentine’s candy packs which would be perfect for parties at your child’s school. They also have baking mixes,
snack bars, cookies, you name it.
- Yum Earth: The gummy candies and lollipops from this company are organic, free from nuts, chemical dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and are vegan. They also come in fun heart-shapes for Valentine’s Day.
- Glutino: One of my primary go-to gluten free brands. I love their pre-packaged cookies AND their cake mixes AND their crackers AND their chocolate covered pretzels…the list could go on for a while. If you’re thinking of making gluten free cupcakes for your kid’s school, I would suggest you use the mix from this brand. The downside of Glutino products is that they are not necessarily free of the 8 major allergens. HOWEVER, their website does state that the ingredients label on the package that you’re purchasing should have all possible allergy contaminants listed in the ingredients section.
- Schar: Okay, so as far as gluten free convenience food goes, I’ve saved the company with the tastiest stuff for last. I have actually eaten myself sick on both their Chocolate Dipped Cookies and their Honeygrams. Actually, their Honeygrams are so delicious that whenever we have a family cookout with s’mores, even the non-gluten-sensitive people ask for them. If you get put in charge of bringing the graham crackers to your kid’s school, try this brand. You can find them at Walmart, and even though they’re a bit pricier than regular graham crackers, they’re totally worth it. They also have a very intensely specific FAQ section on their website. FYI: this company focuses on celiac disease, not necessarily other allergens.
Well, I hope this list of gluten-free (and some allergen free) candy, etc. helps out with your child’s Valentine’s Day! Happy February!