Gluten Free at Centerparcs

I’ve now reclaimed my three very tired children from their weekend away with my parents – they’ve been to Centerparcs in the Lake District, and are quite worn out with excitement and activities.

I’ve never been to Centerparcs, though have heard good things of it, and so am relying on the feedback from my mother and my daughter …

Centerparcs is a complex of lodges/apartments, with a variety of restaurants/cafes and a supermarket, so my family self-catered. But they did eat out one night – Italian – and found that the restaurant had its own stock of gluten free pasta, so our coeliac had a pasta dish and icecream. Apparently there was also a good stock of gluten free products in the on-site supermarket too, for the self-caterers.

Rumour has it that it is possible to have a gluten free (and dairy free, if necessary) pancake at the Pancake House at Centerparcs, too – though I am rather amazed by this, and would like to see it myself before recommending it! According to the messageboard, Centerparcs restaurant staff now have a list of what is/isn’t OK to eat, and even the chicken nuggets are gluten free (if you like that sort of thing).

It sounds like a great place to take children to, though more than a bit expensive. Still, the children loved it, and haven’t stopped discussing the swimming, the cycling, the water-slides, the kayaking, the zip-line, the pottery-painting, the fencing, the owls, the …

No wonder they’re tired.

Cafe Life: Rheged

I think I’ve finally become a grown-up.

We’re home alone this weekend – no children. And far from having the wild time that you might imagine, what have we done? Chores. For the first time in my life, I’ve washed curtains.

How sad is that?
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The children have gone to Centreparcs with my parents, and are the ones having the wild time. We met for the handover in Rheged.

We’ve been there before, and it’s a great place to spend time on a wet holiday – a 3D cinema, mountaineering exhibitions, shops (books, chocolate, gourmet food, crafts, mountain gear) and activities (soft play, crafts, chocolate workshop). And cafes – at least three.

We had elevenses at the Terrace coffee bar – which had gluten free Mars Bar cake. Since I feel obliged to buy gluten free food if a cafe provides it, we tried the cake – very sweet, but just right for the occasion.

More eating: a light lunch in the Rheged Cafe. They very kindly made up a sandwich for our coeliac using her bread – and even came out to check that the tortilla chips they would normally serve with a sandwich would be OK. Gold star for that catering team …

We have previously eaten at Taste!, which also catered well for our coeliac – though their style is much more of a proper restaurant meal. We did go into the Taste! food shop this time, though, and pick up some gluten free chocolate pudding to go with the coeliac for the weekend.

Congratulations to Rheged on their approach to eating gluten free – and the service provided by the staff in the Cafe.

And something I hadn’t realised before: Rheged is the largest grass covered building in Europe.

Gluten Free – at the Chelsea Flower Show?

‘Know Your Risk’ – the Royal College of Pathologists runs a campaign at the Chelsea Flower Show to raise awareness of allergies to wheat, apples and carrots, according to FreshInfo.

At the Chelsea Flower Show? The Royal College of Pathologists? What’s more, they won one of the highly prestigious RHS Gold Medals for the exhibit.

What’s going on? The Chelsea Flower Show is a very upmarket gardening show. Pathologists study the causes of disease and death. Relationship: the bad effects some edible plants can have on your body.

Unusual as the combination of the Chelsea Flower Show and pathology might seem, apparently the RCP estimate that 3-6% of Britons are unable to tolerate one of these three: wheat, apples and carrots. Coeliac UK estimates that 1% have coeliac disease, which means that allergies to apples and carrots must be surprisingly high.

Coeliac disease is best known – though experience tells me it isn’t all that well known, and isn’t usually described as an allergy (though I will admit, it does make it easier to explain to people if you say ‘allergy’).

Oral Allergy Syndrome can be precipitated by apples (and a long list of other foods). This is more like an allergy: itching or swelling of the tongue, lips, mouth or throat, and sounds very unpleasant. It isn’t an allergy to the food, but a syndrome that develops in hay fever sufferers – the immune system mistakes the food proteins for the pollen proteins, and causes an allergic reaction. Apples are a cause, but also almonds, cherries, hazelnuts, peaches, plums and walnuts.

Symptoms of carrot allergies range from mild, through abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting (sound familiar?) to life-threatening anaphylaxsis. Not at all good.

So – round of applause, please, for the RCP for raising awareness. Coincidentally, this would have been immediately after Coeliac Awareness Week 2007.

I wonder whether it would have been possible to eat gluten free at the Chelsea Flower Show?

Staying gluten free away from home

Are you sending a child off on a school residential course or other camp this summer? Are you worried about keeping them gluten free?

This question came up again on the message-board this morning, and it prompted the following questions in my mind:

  • how sensitive is your child to cross-contamination?

    Some people seem to be more sensitive to this than others, and it is something to bear in mind when planning the trip. Obviously you will be alerting the carers to cross-contamination issues, but they do need to understand the importance of this.

  • how far away are they going? Could you easily rescue him or her if they fell ill?

    Clearly any child could fall ill on a trip, but it has to be said that those with chronic conditions that are vulnerable to the environment are more likely to have a problem – including asthmatics and diabetics. It is no fun to be ill away from home, particularly if there is the ongoing risk of further problems because the caterers haven’t properly understood the issues.

  • how long are they going for?

    You might be able to send foodstuff for two or three days, but if it is longer then you will almost certainly be relying on others to prepare and cook meals for your child.

  • is it literally camping, or is it somewhere with trained caterers?

    In theory, trained caterers should be aware of the issues, but this isn’t always the case. Check!

    If it is camping, there will be constraints over availability of preparation space, cooking utensils etc, and possibly an increased risk of contamination as a result.

  • is it a destination where just your child’s group will be present, or will there be other groups there too?

    Going to a location where just your child’s group will be there offers a better chance for control of the environment than if they are going to a large mixed venue. On the other hand, if it is a big place, used to catering for lots of people, they are more likely to have come across the need for a gluten-free diet before.

  • how much responsibility does your child take for their own diet?

    It can be difficult for a child to say to a relatively strange adult ‘I can’t eat that’ or ‘don’t use that spoon to serve my meal’ – but this is an important skill that they will have to learn if they are to control their own diet in the future.

  • does your child know what they can or can’t eat?

    Again, this is something that they will have to learn for the future, and part of the point of this kind of away-trip is to increase independence in the children. This is why I think these trips are so important – and it’s amazing to see how different your child seems on their return.

  • is your child likely to swop food with his or her friends?

    Well, do they do this at the moment? Dreadful thought …

  • Or are they likely to succumb to peer-pressure and have what everyone else is eating?

    Children vary in how they react to peer-pressure. Problem is, if they do eat what everyone else eats and don’t react, they may think it is OK to do this more often. And, of course, it reduces the importance of a strict gluten free diet in the eyes of those around them, too.

  • How supportive of your child’s diet are the other children in the group?

    If your child has been gluten free for a while, and they are going with their school, it is likely that the others in the group will have accepted that your child eats differently. But in a group of children your child doesn’t know, the other children will want to know why your child isn’t eating X Y or Z. Does your child know how to explain? How will they react to any teasing?

  • how much trust do you place in the carers?

    You will be able to assess this better if you speak to them and discuss the issues. Some people are more knowledgeable than others about gluten-free issues; some people are more open to learning than others. Ask yourself – does school/Brownies/whoever cope with the gluten free diet at the moment?

  • do you want to send food with your child?

    There may be practical difficulty with this – as well as financial. Usually, I have found, you don’t get a discount for food that your child doesn’t eat!

  • how integrated do you want your child to be with the other children?

    Eating a completely different meal because you sent food, rather than a slightly modified meal prepared on site, may simply make your child seem even more ‘different’

  • have you discussed the menu plan with the carers?

    If not, then you should. Even if you trust them, going through every meal with them will help emphasize the importance of the detail. Remind them that snacks and sweets can be dangerous too …

  • do the carers know what symptoms to look out for?

    Not all celiacs react the same way. If you make sure that the carers – and your child – know how to recognise a gluten episode in your child, then your child is likely to get care quicker. And if your child is likely to vomit at the table (as some do) it might just help focus their minds!

I’ve now sent my daughter away four times (Brownie camp, two separate weeks holiday with ATE, and a school residential) and we have another week with ATE and two more school residentials coming up this year.

On each occasion, I have discussed things carefully with the teachers and/or caterers at the destination. I send her with a box of GF items (bread, buns, cake, breakfast cereal, biscuits, pasta, pizza base, flour) based on the menu plans, but not with pre-prepared meals. Part of the worry with pre-prepared meals is how they would travel or keep! Perhaps you could send known and trusted brands of non-perishables as an emergency supply (such as a tin of beans, snack meals).

I believe strongly that this kind of trip – without the support of family – is an important step in raising an independent adult. Your child will probably have a wonderful time, and their meals should not be the main focus of the trip – the trip should be the focus.

And if there are mistakes – unpleasant as they might be – your child will learn from that too.

Successfully gluten free in Spain

We’re back from our holiday in Spain (yes, very restful, thank you) and can tell you that we did manage to be gluten free very successfully.

The small town we were staying in (Nerja) has several supermarkets, all of which had various gluten free items available. We found:

Chocolate chip cookies made by Gullon – bought in Supercor
Baguettes made by Proceli (these are available in the UK, too) – bought in Mercadona
Chocolate chip cookies made by Hacendado – these came from Mercadona (own brand, I think)
Pasta made by MolinodiFerro – we bought these in Iranzo
Chocolate covered rice cakes made by Pagesa – we bought these in Iranzo too
Brioches made by Pagesa – bought in Iranzo
Baguettes made by Santiveri – bought in Iranzo.

There were others available, but this list covers the things we bought.

Several of these items, especially the baguettes, were very good indeed. We all enjoyed the chocolate covered rice cakes – in the UK, I think Kallo might do a chocolate covered rice cake, but we haven’t tried them before. We bought extra Hacendado cookies to bring home, and we would have bought more Santiveri baguettes, but they were sold out when we went back to the supermarket.

Foods were clearly marked Sin Gluten, and of course lots of food is naturally gluten free anyway.

Eating out was more of an issue, as our young coeliac doesn’t eat meat – luckily she will eat fish and eggs, as I do. But we managed, and nobody went hungry.

Small son has come home unwell, though, so we must just go to see the doctor now …