Friday, September 10, 2010

Overcoming the Challenges of a GFCF Diet

We had Lemon Ginger Chicken for dinner last night and it was delicious.  The fact that my dear wife made a delicious meal is not exactly news.  What is news, however, is that my son liked it as much as I did.  He ate it enthusiastically and asked for second and third helpings.

What makes that so special is that for a number of years, like many kids with autism, Kai was an extremely picky eater. On top of that, he is on a special diet that restricts the types of foods he can eat.

We put Kai on a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet when he was two years old, shortly after he was diagnosed with autism. It was not easy having him on a special diet. Or, I should say, it was not easy for my wife as she is the one primarily responsible for shopping and preparing meals at our house.

Starting out, we had no knowledge of foods that would fit within the GFCF diet. The fact that Kai was such a picky eater only complicated the issue. He ate so few regular types of food, how would we find gluten-free foods that he would eat?

At first, it seemed like the only things he ate were bacon and hot dogs. Not exactly the healthy diet we were looking for. We almost always had separate meals for ourselves, which made preparation more cumbersome.

Later on, we discovered through testing that Kai has sensitivities for a number of foods that he should limit or avoid, thus further restricting his diet. Among the things we are currently trying to avoid in his diet are eggs and nuts. Originally, the thought of avoiding eggs did not sound too bad, but I was astounded to find how many products contain egg.

My wife persevered, doing a lot of research, and finding recipes in specialized cookbooks, as well as getting acquainted with the gluten-free selections available at grocery stores.

One of her first successes was with GFCF pizza. She found a gluten-free frozen pizza crust and combined it with soy cheese and pasta sauce to make a pretty good pizza that Kai loves.

She also found a number of gluten-free snack alternatives that taste as good as the “regular” versions we were accustomed to eating. The Kinnikinnick S’moreables Graham Style Crackers that we used to make s’mores on our camping trip is a great example. Kinnikinnick also makes a yummy cookie called K-Toos that closely resembles the taste of Oreos.

When it came to non-snack foods, however, Kai remained quite picky.

Now, you should know that cooking was never my wife’s passion before she had Kai. So, it was quite a display of tenacity on her part that she kept trying new recipes. I enjoyed her creations, as almost all were quite good, but it was  discouraging for her that Kai did not eat much of what she made.

And, then, gradually, things began to change.

Along with bacon and hot dogs, he started eating salami and sausages. Still salty, not-exactly-healthy meats, but an expansion in his diet nonetheless. Hamburger-on-a-stick was the next step, along with meatballs. A bigger leap came several months ago when he started eating chicken more easily without a fight.

Kai had liked carrots and celery from before, we think because the hard, crunchy texture is soothing for his sensory issues, but when, recently, he started craving asparagus, well, we knew that things had changed. Now, he will even eat squishy tomatoes, too.

These days, more often than not, we will all eat the same thing for dinner. My son seems healthier now that his well-rounded diet includes more than just salty meats. My wife is happier, knowing that her efforts to try new recipes are more likely to be rewarded by Kai. And, I’m happier, too, knowing that I can continue to eat awesome things like the Lemon Ginger Chicken.

The recipe for Lemon Ginger Chicken can be found in Special Eats Simple, Delicious Solutions for Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Cooking

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