What’s for dinner? In this series, meet Northwest Floridians and find out how their dinner plate looks different than yours and why. From the gluten-free Huwa family to the vegan Holliday/Browning family, find out what factors determine our diet.

Editor’s note: In this series, meet Northwest Floridians and find out how their dinner plate looks different than yours and why.


NICEVILLE — The Huwa family isn’t gluten-free by choice.


They don’t follow a diet without gluten to watch their waistlines or because it’s a fad. Amy and Daryl Huwa of Niceville banned gluten from their children’s lifestyle – and mostly theirs – for good in 2015 after discovering both of their sons have gluten-related health issues.


Markus, 13, has celiac disease, an immune disorder in which people can't eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. He suffers from gastrointestinal problems after eating gluten. Celiac disease is considered genetic. Amy has tested negative, but Daryl hasn’t been tested.


Preston, 11, has symptoms of gluten intolerance, such as blistering skin rashes after eating gluten. This is not an autoimmune response.


"We get asked a lot, ‘Will they outgrow it?’" Amy said. "No. They will never grow out of it. It’s lifelong."


Farewell to gluten tour


When the Huwas gave up gluten, they did it with gusto.


The decision came after Markus tested positive for celiac disease. Gluten is a storage protein found in wheat, barley and rye, according to beyondceliac.org. With the disease, eating gluten can cause cancer later in life, Amy said.


"What we did is I told them we had a time frame of two weeks," Amy said. "I said, ‘We’re going to say goodbye to everything you love that has gluten in it.’ I’ll make all your favorite meals; we’ll eat out, whatever. We had a farewell to gluten tour. We said goodbye to everything he loved."


The switch to gluten-free foods was an adjustment for Markus, he said. Now, the whole family has adjusted, and they haven’t looked back.


"We celebrate every year on the day I went gluten-free completely," Markus said.


"We call it his ’celiac-iversary,’" Amy said.


The transition wasn’t easy, though.


"I joined a celiac support group on Facebook," Amy said. "Our first year being celiac was a total game changer for me."


While gluten is predictably a prime ingredient in bread items, they have come across it in unexpected ones, too – paper towels, toothpaste and soy sauce. The Huwas started with simple, easily accessible recipes until they felt comfortable enough to expand into more detailed dishes.


One of Markus’ and Preston’s favorites is Big Mac Pizza, which Amy makes with homemade Big Mac sauce, pizza crust and toppings. Amy is most proud of her gluten-free chicken fried steak – a family favorite made with country gravy.


Amy calls it "match the hatch" when she tries to make a gluten-free dish comparable to one with gluten. She prepares gluten-free alternatives for her children, such as cupcakes, when they go to school parties or friends’ parties.


"Baked goods are dicey because you don’t have the gluten to make it light and fluffy," Amy said. "It tends to be more dense. Birthday cakes are more dense."


"You eat two pieces, and you’re out for two hours," Markus joked.


Some of the boys’ friends acknowledge their dietary needs. But Amy remembers Preston once getting chased around with a cookie because other children thought it was funny.


Amy estimates their switch to a gluten-free diet costs them an extra 25% at the grocery store.


"It’s not one-stop shopping," Amy said. "It’s like, ‘Walmart has these. Publix has this.’ You can find some stuff on Amazon, too. For us, we can’t just go out. We have to plan."


‘The gluten-free family’


Avoiding gluten isn’t always enough.


With every meal, they have to consider cross-contamination, Amy said.


"It only takes the tip of a pen to set (Markus) off," Amy said. "Cross contamination is very real. It’s hard when you go to a restaurant and explain that to somebody. If you don’t deal with it, you don’t get it.


"Then it also is frustrating because there are people who eat gluten-free just to eat gluten-free. They’ll eat gluten-free the whole meal and decide they want a dessert and have a cake. That frustrates the servers. They don’t take it as seriously."


Amy and Daryl primarily don’t eat gluten at home because of cross contamination. An example is with peanut butter.


"I eat a peanut butter sandwich and want more peanut butter after slathering it on my bread," Amy said. "If I stick it back in, that whole jar of peanut butter is contaminated now."


"School is the worst place," Markus said. "I have to get a flat lunch box you can roll out so it doesn’t touch the table … It’s hard because people try to hand you something. You say, ‘I can’t have that,’ and they ask, ‘Why?’ It’s a whole thing of explaining. I’ll just say ‘No, thank you,’ or give it to somebody else."


The Huwas primarily cook their meals at home.


"We wanted him to have a safe place, and it needs to be his house," Amy said. "I wanted him to have that one area where he could go home and say, ‘I don’t have to worry about anything here, in my own kitchen.’ He’s a kid."


When they do eat out, Jersey Mike’s Subs in Niceville is a safe space.


"They’re really good to us," Amy said. "The manager knows us here, and she’s like, ‘The gluten-free family – I know what they want.’ If you want a sandwich with the cold cuts, they will clean all the equipment and put paper down so it doesn’t touch. They’ve never been sick there, and that’s important to us."


Amy fondly remembers their first time eating there.


"They were starting to open up their stuff and my husband looked at me and said, ‘What’s wrong?’" Amy said. "I started tearing up because it was the first time we’d been able to sit down as a family and eat a sandwich."


The Village Door at Seascape is another in the handful of local places where they can safely eat. The owner has celiac disease, Amy said.


"They have the most amazing gluten-free menu," Amy said. "We took Markus and he got to eat calamari for the first time in years."


In the future, Amy’s sons will have to worry about cross-contamination when kissing or embracing others, sharing surfaces with others and encountering gluten while drinking alcoholic beverages, she said.


It’s real


Gluten isn’t the enemy.


Amy recognizes gluten isn’t the enemy for everyone. Many can healthily eat foods with gluten.


"I’m all about a real sandwich," Amy said. "If we didn’t have to eat this way, we would not be eating this way."


But it is the enemy of her family’s health. And it’s a running gag in their family. They’ve kept their humor.


"We joke if we’ll see a thing of wheat gluten, ‘There’s death in a bottle,’" Markus said.


Preston has a chill attitude toward everything, Amy said. Markus is amazing, too, she said.


"(Markus) pulled up his boot straps and did what needed to be done," Amy said. "I don't know many adults that would have completely changed the way they eat without any complaints. He is strong, and I truly admire that about him. He's taught me a lot. He just has handled this whole thing with grace."


The hardest part for all of them is spreading awareness to others that their health issues exist. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity or intolerance affect many people in different ways, Amy said. They might show different symptoms or not show symptoms at all.


The Huwa family hopes people will take it more seriously.


"When other people don’t eat gluten for no reason, it makes it hard paving the road for them," Amy said. "Because (Markus) legitimately can’t have it and (servers) are not as careful."