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For people with celiac disease, altering recipes is a way of life
Cooking without wheat flour is key to avoiding genetic disorder
Instead of dusting them in regular flour, which contains gluten, these chicken nuggets get coated with crushed potato chips before they are baked in the oven. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

For the average kid, a meal consisting of chicken fingers, pizza and cupcakes would probably be nothing short of perfect.

However for children with celiac disease, eating those foods could be a virtual nightmare.

"Kids and adults with celiac disease can not eat gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye and barley," said Jeffrey Lewis, a pediatric gastroenterologist with Children’s Center for Digestive Health Care, which has an office in Gainesville.

And many of the processed foods found in stores and restaurants contain gluten.

"So anything made with wheat flour needs to be avoided — including pizza, pasta, mac and cheese, bread, brownies and cake."

According to researchers, at least 1 in 133 Americans has this genetic disorder.

"Many patients are screened because of an affected first-degree relative — all kids with a parent with celiac should be tested — or because of short stature, type 1 diabetes or even fertility problems," Lewis said.

Patients with undiagnosed cases of celiac disease may experience symptoms like abdominal pain and chronic diarrhea.

"Luckily for every food made with wheat flour, there is a great tasting alternative made with an alternative grain that does not contain gluten," Lewis said.

Mary Bohdan, a mother of children with celiac disease, says that replacing flour with crushed potato chips for the breading of chicken nuggets has proven to be a winning recipe in her family.

"Every kid, celiac or not loves these," said Bohdan, of her gluten-free chicken nuggets.

In 2005, Lewis helped start a support group for children with celiac disease called Georgia ROCK, Raising Our Celiac Kid. It is affiliated with the national ROCK organization, which was founded by Danna Korn, a nutritionist and mother of a child with celiac disease.

"(After creating the group) we then started having family camps where families came for a gluten-free weekend to talk, share stories and provide support for each other," Lewis said.

"It became apparent that the kids loved being at camp, so we thought we would start a camp for kids with celiac disease."

The summer retreat, Camp Weekaneatit is held at Camp Twin Lakes in Winder. It is open to boys and girl ages 8 to 15.

Although the camp features the typical activities like canoeing, arts and crafts, and rock climbing, it is an atypical experience for participants.

"Camp has all gluten-free food, so for once, the kids and their parents don’t have to worry about their diet," Lewis said.

"The kids love the food and they love meeting other kids with celiac."

It costs $400 per camper, but scholarships are available for children whose parents can’t afford the camp fee. Camp organizers are also offering a reduced camp fee of $350 to Gainesville residents for a limited time.

This year, the camp will be held from May 29 through June 3.