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Tips on Implementing a Gluten/Casein Free Diet
(Without Driving Yourself Crazy)
Article reprinted from Pure Facts May, 1998, Vol. 22, No. 4

by Jean Curtin

I have asked for hints from members who seem to have a good handle on following a special diet for a child with symptoms of autism. Here are some of their suggestions.

Before you begin, look at your grocery list. How many times per day does your child/family eat foods that contain gluten or casein? Without making any changes, keep a log for one week. Write down the obvious foods, such as milk, bread, macaroni & cheese, but also check the soups, sauces, mixes and sandwich ingredients your child prefers. Look for these words: wheat, gluten, barley, rye, malt, casein, caseinate, milk powdered milk, cheese. These are some of the many names for gluten and casein added to foods.

Once again, record information without making any changes in the food you use. For one week keep track of the things that present the greatest challenge. Write down your concerns: some foods may be too expensive or deficient in calcium, or provide too few calories, etc. If your child eats green leafy vegetables, broccoli and fish, you could add extra portions to make up for lost calcium. If not, talk with his/her pediatrician to see if a calcium supplement may be in order. Whenever possible, use the substitute foods for the whole family.

Now, select one item at a time to replace. If your child drinks milk frequently that's a good place to begin. Start looking in local supermarkets and health food stores for one of the milk substitutes in your Foodlist. Buy the smallest size at first, to see if your family likes the taste. You might want to introduce the product very gradually by adding a small amount of the milk substitute to a container of milk. Gradually increase the amount of the substitute, until your family has become accustomed to the taste of the alternative.

Don't give your child a great deal of juice to substitute for milk, as it may cause diarrhea. You might want to gradually add more water to the juice, until your family is accustomed to drinking it in a very diluted form.

Which bread item will your child miss the most? Are pancakes or waffles a favorite? You might find acceptable waffles in a large supermarket or health food store. Look for a pancake mix or find a recipe that meets your needs.

Asian markets carry a variety of inexpensive noodles with acceptable texture and taste. EnerG Foods has a brown rice pasta with good texture and flavor. There are various mail order businesses that cater to people on restricted diets.

Buy one package at a time and experiment before investing in a bulk purchase. Once you have found products that your family enjoys you can investigate some time and money saving options. Your local market might be willing to order a whole case, which you can use, or split with friends on a similar diet. Food co-ops are a great resource for hard-to-find foods. (For information on co-ops, from the November 1997 issue of Pure Facts, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Pure Facts, 6808 Stoneybrooke Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306.)

You can contact For Pete's Sake to get special help from a Feingold mom who has her own business providing all natural foods. The number is (800) 864-7383.

There are several cereals on the market that contain acceptable colorings (from natural sources) and use unmalted brown rice syrup as a sweetener. FAUS will research any of these products if they do not already appear on our Foodlists.

The Gluten-Free Pantry makes some very good baking mixes. (We love their sugar cookies.) You can call them for information on their products: (860) 633-3826.

For school snacks, send in a mixture of nuts, allowed cereal and unsulphured dried fruit for a customized "trail mix." For variety, alternate this with a mixture of rice bread sticks, rice chips, nuts, and unsweetened cereal.

Set aside a few hours a week for baking. If you are using this diet for an older child who can help, you can make this a special family time. You might also enlist the help of an older child in scanning foods for forbidden ingredients and picking out his favorite substitute foods.

What works at our house

Tacos, non-wheat spaghetti, and Chinese food made from scratch are fun for the whole family. We have a special bowl set for taco ingredients, and a set of dishes for fruit or vegetables with dip one night a week. We also make "haystacks" with rice chips and homemade soups once a week.

When we make homemade chicken fingers we boil the chicken and save the broth in ice cube trays in the freezer. This gives us plenty of material for "instant" soup (chicken rice soup made with instant brown rice, a little escarole, broth and water.) The kids are also allowed some junk food (potato chips, dye-free soda, homemade lemonade, homemade French fries) so they don't hate their diet.

My daughter, Lisa, loves making her special chicken dishes: boneless chicken breast fried crispy with a ton of garlic powder, and chicken French style (her brother's favorite). I always keep a supply of fresh fruit and gluten free cookies on the counter. We substitute Italian ice for ice cream, indulge in really hot chicken wings twice a month, and about as often treat ourselves to MSG-free Chinese food cooked to order at a great local restaurant. That adds variety.

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