Guest Post from Cindy Winther—Teaching Children to Understand, Accept, and Support Others with Food Intolerances/Allergies

When gfe reader Cindy Winther recently won a copy of Silvana Nardone’s cookbook, Cooking with Isaiah, both the comment she left on the post and her email reply intrigued me. She said that not only was she excited to try Silvana’s recipes herself, but she’d also be making them with the preschoolers that she teaches on their “baking days.”  I inquired further and Cindy told me that her baking days are another way to teach her preschoolers about diversity, in this case, specifically how to accept and support others with food allergies/intolerances. I was truly moved and delighted to hear of Cindy’s approach. I asked Cindy to do a guest post on the topic because I think that each of us has opportunities to use this same type of approach with all the children with whom we interact.  

Cindy has a degree in Early Childhood Education and has won several teaching awards including the Governor’s Quality Care Award and a Diversity Champion Award.  Her teaching ideas have been published in several books by Gryphon House.  Cindy hopes to write her own books on how to teach children tolerance and understanding. Cindy also teaches workshops on the topic of teaching diversity to young children. That’s just a little about Cindy. She’s a very sweet and caring person who is doing an amazing job with her preschool students.  I’ll let her tell you more about herself and her teaching approach. I’m truly thrilled to have her sharing with us all today!

I was very honored when Shirley asked me to write a guest post on how I teach tolerance for food issues with the preschoolers I teach.  It is something I am very passionate about.  I would like to share a little background on myself.  First and foremost I am a proud mom of three adult children, Scott, Michelle & Megan, and their significant others:  Melissa, John & Nate; as well as doting grandma to Kaylin and Kamryn.  I am a preschool teacher and director of my own business, Sunny Day Preschool in Lake Orion, MI.  I have taught preschool for over 25 years and still love to go to work/play each day.

Cindy Winther (center) and her beautiful family on her youngest daughter’s wedding day

I have always had an interest in teaching diversity and anti-bias to preschoolers.  I really feel teaching tolerance and compassion for others starts when they are young.  With a little careful thought we can all make a difference whether we teach preschool, Sunday school or really any interaction with children.  I actually thought I was doing a great job until I took an anti-bias class at Baker College.  It opened my eyes and made me realize I wasn’t doing enough.  I set a goal for myself to incorporate diversity in every aspect of my curriculum – from art to dress up to books and wall hangings. Part of our school’s mission plan is to teach acceptance of others regardless of their race, religion, age gender or culture.  I expanded it to food issues about 15 years ago when there was a HUGE uproar in our small town over the local elementary school deciding to become a peanut-free school because of a child that had enrolled with an airborne peanut allergy.  There were protests and angry letters to the editor of our local paper against the school becoming peanut free for one child.  I was shocked to say the least at the reaction of people.  I could not understand how they could not put themselves in the child’s position.  Would they want to be excluded from a life of friends and the experience of school because of something they had no control over?  I think not.  Luckily, the school board held fast to their decision despite the uproar and made the school peanut free. 

I started to talk about food issues with the children at circle time or when baking.  I read stories that deal with anti-bias issues and also keep books on our book shelf for the children to look at that show inclusion of all types.  Your local librarian can be a great asset in finding books on the subject.  Some titles you may want to check are:  Cillie Yack is Under Attack:  A Story about a boy with celiac disease by Caryn Talty and No Nuts for Me by Aaron Zevy.   In the last 10 years I personally have seen a huge increase in the amount of children I have attending that have food allergies–to nuts, eggs, dairy.  We bake each week with our four-year olds.  If we have an egg allergy we use an egg substitute so that child will not feel excluded.  Whatever the food issue–we accommodate it.   I myself was diagnosed with celiac 2 ½ years ago so I now have the unique perspective to really understand how it feels to be excluded.  It’s not a good feeling.

We teach the children to care about their friends with food allergies by having them say before we serve snack “is this food safe for Estevan or does it have peanuts?”, for example.  We always respond with “thank you for caring about your friend and reminding him to check for nuts”.  Our goal with this is two-fold, first to teach caring and compassion of their friends and secondly to help the child with food allergies learn how important it is to check the food content before they eat.   Of course now they always say “does this have gluten, Miss Cindy?”  At the Play doh table when they make me a “muffin” they will say “it’s gluten free.”  I love it!  Last year one of the children drew a picture of a birthday cake at home for me and when she brought it to school her mom said “she wants you to know that it’s gluten free.” :-)  Too cute.  My goal with this is to make it second nature to the children so when they are in elementary school and they are sitting next to someone at lunch with a food issue it will be no big deal to them.  I know for a fact my approach is working.  This year I have had at least five children ask their parents if they can bring in a gluten-free snack because “I want Miss Cindy to get to eat snack with us.  She never gets to eat our snacks.”  That really touches me.

Photo credit: Flickr kcolwell

The biggest lesson I learned in my anti-bias class is to not look the other way when you see bias of any sort.  Bring it out in the open.   When you see a child hurting someone with words or by excluding them – use it as a teachable moment.  Talk about it.  As adults we have the power to make a difference for our future generation and raise them to be tolerant and compassionate of others no matter what their differences are.

Final note from Shirley:  Imagine all our children graduating from preschool with these values of tolerance and kindness already instilled, like Cindy’s Sunny Day Preschool students. Let’s follow Cindy’s lead and use any occasion that we’re dealing with children (e.g., coaching recreational sports, being the “snack mom”) as an opportunity to actively demonstrate the importance of accepting others and their food concerns, ensuring that accommodations are made so that all may eat safely and without exclusion.

Not just gf, but gfe!

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29 Responses to “Guest Post from Cindy Winther—Teaching Children to Understand, Accept, and Support Others with Food Intolerances/Allergies”

  1. Ina Gawne on June 28th, 2011 8:29 am

    Wow, beautiful post! How encouraging, and inspiring, to know there are such great teachers out there – and even more so to be teaching the youngest children about tolerance and compassion. I applaud your achievements Cindy!

    • Cindy on June 28th, 2011 6:50 pm

      Thank you for your kind comment, Ina. My hope is by starting to teach about diversity and compassion at a young age, it will become second nature as they mature.

  2. Tina @madame gluten-free vegetarian on June 28th, 2011 10:58 am

    I wish there were more teachers like Cindy! I think her approach of making it second nature to inquire if a food is safe for someone is a wonderful idea. And how reassuring for parents that their child’s teacher truly understands what it’s like to have a food sensitivity! I’m sure it helps the children with food allergies to know they are not alone, and that Miss Cindy understands, as well as creating empathy in those without food allergies. What a difference Cindy is making in the lives of all those families. :) Tina.

    • Cindy on June 28th, 2011 6:52 pm

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comments on my guest post, Tina!

  3. Barb on June 28th, 2011 2:36 pm

    As a retired teacher, I wish Cindy would write a book for other teachers, especially preschool and kindergarten teachers where snack time is a big deal every day. I’m sure there would be a huge market for it and she would touch the lives of many children as well as their teachers.

    • Cindy on June 28th, 2011 6:53 pm

      Writing a book on the topic of tolerance is a goal of mine, Barb. Thanks for your encouragement.

  4. glutenfreeforgood on June 28th, 2011 4:17 pm

    Cindy (and Shirley),

    This may sound weird (and I don’t mean it that way), but I think it’s awesome and part of your journey that you have celiac disease. That makes your mission so much more meaningful in many ways. Kids look up to their teachers and since you can’t eat certain snacks, it gives the kids an opportunity to be helpful and caring to their teacher in a different way.

    Great story. Thank you for sharing it! Keep up the good work. =)


    • Cindy on June 28th, 2011 6:54 pm

      They say everything happens for a reason, Melissa. Maybe being able to share my challenges is helpful in a small way. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  5. Maggie on June 28th, 2011 9:31 pm

    Oh how I wish my babes could go to Sunny Day Preschool! What an inspiration you are Cindy. I’ve learned a little bit about tolerance and anti-bias here, I can’t wait to start teaching my own kids next time the opportunity arises. Thank you Shirley for knowing your readers would find this lovely and inspiring. xo to both of you.

    • Cindy on June 29th, 2011 7:20 am

      Thank you, Maggie. I wish your children could go to Sunny Day too! :)

  6. Linda on June 28th, 2011 9:36 pm

    Great job Cindy! It’s so important, especially with little kids who will eat anything they are given.

    Our home school group is doing a high school nutrition/cooking class next year. I’ve been asked to teach a class on special diets and I’m really looking forward to it.

    • Cindy on June 29th, 2011 7:22 am

      That’s wonderful that you will be able to share your knowledge about special diets, Linda. We need to empower our young children that being different is not a bad thing.

  7. Fran K on June 29th, 2011 1:05 pm

    Thank you for making Cindy available to us.
    Was wondering what you thought about the Dr. in Italy who developed a modified flour.
    Celiac patients seem to report good results. Have you seen any thing along these lines in the states or any research like this?

    • Shirley on June 30th, 2011 7:24 am

      Hi Fran–It looks like you are new here–welcome. :-) I’m glad you appreciated Cindy’s post.

      As far as this modified flour that’s been developed, I’d have to dispute the “good results.” I actually shared this study quite some time ago on my Facebook page because I thought the good results were totally misleading. When info such as the following is reported, I wouldn’t call the results good at all.

      “Two patients who ate extensively hydrolyzed flour baked goods had no clinical complaints, but developed subtotal atrophy which is a complete absence of villi. Villi are necessary for absorption.”

      And it’s far likely, that many more of those eating the flour would have adverse reactions (physical damage with or without “clinical complaints”) over time. Frankly, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t touch a product like this with a 10-foot pole. My opinion is that we should just eat gluten free and following the gfe approach is the best way to do so.


  8. Janet on June 29th, 2011 3:40 pm

    Love this post! So true that we need to teach preschoolers tolerance of differences, even differences in foods we can eat.

  9. Shirley on June 30th, 2011 7:33 am

    Thanks everyone. I so applaud Cindy’s efforts! I hope we’ll all be inspired to teach children in this way, so it’s exciting to see that some of you already are or have plans in place for the future. :-) Let’s all look for those teachable moments!


    • Cindy on June 30th, 2011 7:48 am

      Thanks for the comments Shirley, Janet & Fran. I thought I would share another moment that happened yesterday that shows it does make a difference to make children aware of food issues. I teach a summer camp program and one of the children brought in popsicles for a special birthday treat. I commented that I had just read that this brand might be gluten free and maybe I could enjoy one. I was reading the ingredients but part had torn off with the tear strip. This little sweetheart said – with so much concern in her voice – please don’t eat it if it has gluten, Miss Cindy. I assured her I would never do that unless I was certain. I thanked her for caring so much about keeping me healthy – and all the kids started clapping for her. (:

      • Shirley on July 1st, 2011 9:43 am

        Cindy–That is just such a wonderful example of how your teaching is having a real impact. I love the little one’s concern and that everyone else recognized her for that, too. Beautiful story!


  10. Christy L on July 1st, 2011 8:06 pm

    Wow, Cindy!

    Thank you so much for your efforts. My youngest son (2yo) was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in January of this year. I have been worrying about him going to preschool (and school in general). After reading your post, I am feeling very hopeful about it. While I wish he could attend your preschool (we’re in AZ), I am more confident I will find the right school for him when the time comes.

    And Shirley, your blog was the first I found that didn’t bring me to tears feeling overwhelmed. Your blog is appropriately named- gluten free can be easy. Thank you for your efforts, too.

    You both have helped ease this mama’s worried heart. :)

    Christy L

    • Shirley on July 2nd, 2011 8:13 am

      Hi Christy–This looks like it’s your first time commenting … welcome to gfe, well officially anyway. ;-) I am honored and moved by your words about gfe, dear. I’m so very happy that my approach has helped you and your little guy!

      I’m sure Cindy will comment later, but I know everyone reading wants to place their children in her preschool! I wonder if a printout of this post shared with the teacher would be helpful. It could be included in an info packet. I think most of us would share some info with the teacher on living gluten free and Cindy’s story could be part of that. What do you think?

      Big hugs and thanks,

      • Cindy on July 3rd, 2011 12:14 am

        Hi Christie,
        I’m glad my guest post made you feel a little better about enrolling your son in preschool. I can completely understand your apprehension but it is totally possible to work around this. I think Shirley’s suggestion is great – to take in a copy of my post and I would also suggest bringing in a handout that explains celiac and all the possible ways of cross contamination. Another suggestion in regards to snack each day would be to give the teacher a safe back up snack to keep on hand as well as offer to type up a snack suggestion list to hand out to the parents of healthy safe snacks all the children would enjoy together. In the beginning – until you feel comfortable that the teachers truly understand celiac you could always plan to be one of the last to arrive and ask if you can check the snack ingredients yourself. I had a mom a few years ago with a child with an egg allergy and that made her feel more comfortable – and eventually she began to trust us to read the label. I personally liked the double checking and did not feel offended in any way. You also may want to offer to make gluten free playdoh or provide a recipe. Trust me, it will soon become your new way of life and will get easier. Take care!

  11. Kamryn on July 8th, 2011 11:12 am

    Mimi, you are an inspiration to our whole family. We all love what your doing, i actually think some of the Gluten free foods are good! Every time i go to to the store and see a Gluten free item i think of you. -<3- Your granddaughter (also in the picture) Kamryn(:

    • Cindy on July 19th, 2011 7:35 am

      Thanks so much, Kam. I LOVE you so much. xxoo Mimi

  12. Lisa on July 12th, 2011 1:09 pm

    Thank you for this post and your great site. I linked to it on my blog This should be required reading for all teachers.

    • Shirley on July 14th, 2011 12:44 pm

      Hi Lisa–It looks like you are new to gfe–welcome, and thanks so much for the kind words! :-) I truly appreciate you sharing Cindy’s guest post with her inspiring approach on your blog. I agree that it should be required reading. We can all do our part to help educate teachers though. Hope that more and more anti-bias classes will be taught so everyone will “get” that food intolerances/allergies need appropriate support and not the opposite.

      Thanks again!

    • Cindy on July 19th, 2011 7:36 am

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Lisa, and for linking it to your site. I’m going to check out your blog. :)

  13. Angela on June 25th, 2013 8:59 pm

    Wow! How beautiful this is! Loved it, and thanks for sharing!

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