Gluten-free required

Erin Robertson and her mother, Gina, relax between vendor shopping June 23 at the Gluten-Free and Allergen-Friendly Expo at the Glendale Renaissance Hotel and Spa.

Peoria resident Erin Robertson, 13, an incoming eighth-grader at Copperwood Elementary School, is in her fourth year of living without a slice of regular white bread.

Erin was diagnosed four years ago with celiac sprue, an allergy to wheat and other food products that contain gluten. That means no cakes, pies, cookies, gravies, flour tortillas and any kind of sauce made with ingredients containing gluten. Even salad dressings pose a threat to her health if they contain gluten. Soy sauce also contains gluten, unless otherwise produced gluten-free.

The diagnosis also means Erin must inform her classroom teachers and cafeteria staff about her allergy.

“When they see me coming, the lunch ladies go back and get my lunch,” Erin said. “My classmates have gotten used to it.”

Her mother, Gina Robertson, said she had to provide documentation to prove to the school Erin needed extra attention to the food on her lunch tray.

Erin and her mother joined hundreds of other residents in attendance at the Gluten-Free and Allergen-Friendly Expo held June 23 and 24 at Glendale Renaissance Hotel and Spa. Like other individuals who strolled around the hotel ballroom, they tried samples of various cookies, pizzas and cakes on display. Lines were long, and like several attendees, Erin tired of waiting and found a table with a tall stool to relax and talk about some of her favorite gluten-free foods.

Her No. 1 favorite is a little Brazilian bread with cheese, with her aunt’s banana-blueberry bread a close second. She likes waffle fries from Chick-fil-A because the restaurant cooks them in canola oil and does not cross-contaminate them with the peanut oil used for frying other foods. Olive Garden is another favorite because it offers different kinds of pasta for gluten-intolerant diners.

Then, Erin talked about a couple places where one can purchase packaged gluten-free staples: Gluten-Free Creations at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard; and My Gal Sal’s at 35th Avenue north of Greenway Road, which has a dedicated kitchen. It offers cake pops, éclairs, macaroons, canoli and salted caramel brownies. And, as is the case with most gluten-intolerant residents, Erin looks to the local Sprout’s market, which stocks a wide variety of gluten-free foods, including frozen dinners and snacks. Even Walmart has a few products in its gluten-free corner. Its Sam’s Special gluten-free bread rivals other brands when it comes to texture and taste.