I’ve been reading about the gluten-free, casein-free diet for kids on the spectrum and with ADHD. I’ve spoken to mothers I know who have done this and swear by the results. The scientific evidence is promising, though not anywhere near solid. But in this case I’m willing to overlook that. First, because there is no harm to trying such a diet for a while, and second because it appears the results really depend on the individual. Population studies make sense if you are trying to market a treatment but, with respect to one child and their family, if the results work for them the statistics really are moot.
I pondered over whether to do this for some time. To be honest, the thought filled me with fear and anxiety. My kids are already such picky eaters and they definitely have a penchant for gluten and dairy products. I worried how they would handle this, and how much my daughter would rebel and/or take it as a personal betrayal of my promise not to force her to eat foods she didn’t like. It turns out that I needn’t have worried so much.
After a few talks, and some tears, Daughter accepted what we were doing, even though she doesn’t like it. She also asked if she could not be dairy-free, mostly so she could have butter on her popcorn, and I agreed though she understands she can’t have cheese b/c it wouldn’t be fair to her brother. It helped to focus on all the favourite foods she does like that fit within the limits of the diet, and to promise to indulge her in more treats than usual to help her get through this. For Son, he really doesn’t pay that much attention to aspects of his environment that aren’t important to him. As far as he’s concerned, if he says he’s hungry and I present him with something he’ll eat, he’s happy. So far…and we’re on our third day now… I’m feeling much more confident that we will be able to stick it out long enough to see if there are any positive results.
I’m looking for two things in particular: a reduction in Son’s disruptive behaviours, which includes lack of flexibility (resulting in tantrums) and physically violent rages. I’m also hoping that, for both of them, weaning them off these possibly addictive foods – which may be enhancing their sensory issues around food – will allow them to try new foods and expand their culinary repertoire.
Deciding to implement this diet meant having to relax some of our standards, though we consider this a temporary sacrifice for the hopes of long-term good. The cost of buying GFCF foods is more than our usual staples, and will be significantly impacting our food budget until we can either expand on the foods we prepare or the kids expand on what they will eat. I’ve also broken down and bought some grocery-store brand chicken breasts for Daughter. Normally we buy our chicken right off the farm and limit that to one whole chicken a month, but without the usual dinner selection of pizza, cheese quesadillas, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches she’ll need to eat chicken at least two or three times a week until she can (hopefully) find some new foods to like. Also, I’m planning on experimenting with some pureed chicken for Son (hidden in muffins) and a GFCF chicken nugget recipe. It would kill me to prepare $10 worth of chicken breast only to have to feed it to the pigs! Thankfully in 4 more weeks we’ll have a freezer full of our own farm-raised chicken and I won’t have to buy the store stuff anymore.
I’ve also had to accept that my kids will be eating more treats and processed foods. For example, we’ve found a brand of hot dogs that is GFCF – Schneiders Country Naturals (I’ve confirmed this with the company, too). Daughter doesn’t like them but Son does and right now he’s eating a lot of them. He also eats slices of salami (Freybe’s is gluten-free and, as far as I can tell, casein-free too). To replace the wheat products that usually accompany their lunches and snacks, I’ve stocked up on GFCF rice crackers. Daughter likes those and rice cakes. I’ve also bought some GFCF cookies to make the ordeal of GFCF seem more positive to them, and I’m buying one container of chocolate almond milk each week (despite being full of sugar, it is at least fortified with vitamins). When we go to visit friends in two weeks I’ll be bringing lots of GFCF candies, Rice Dream, and GFCF cookies so my kids don’t feel left out when they can’t eat the goodies their friends are eating. I’m also going to find some candy-type multivitamins for them, at least until they can eat a more balanced diet.
We are on day 3 of the diet, and Daughter has been living mostly off rice crackers, rice cakes, and Rice Chex cereal. She does have 1 or 2 bananas each day. For protein she’s limited right now to cashews, roast chicken breast (totally plain), and tofu. For the latter, I had to buy gluten-free soy sauce (tamari) and I replaced her usual oyster sauce with GF teriyaki sauce. It’s testament to how poorly Daughter accepts even the slightest change in her food that her thumbs up on the tofu last night made me dance around the house with joy. I’m trying to find a GF sausage she will eat: she’s rejected three different kinds already but I found a recipe for a homemade one and I’ll try that some time soon. If she likes it I’ve learned I can slowly sneak veggie purees into the sausages, starting one tablespoon at a time and increasing as tolerance builds. I’m also going to experiment with gluten-free baking, namely pancakes and waffles which used to be a staple for breakfast and into which I would often sneak pureed sweet potatoes or carrots. The coconut/almond flour Paleo pancakes that Husband and I eat aren’t cutting it with the kids.
As for son, he’s not quite as tough a problem. He likes meatballs and I can continue to make those GFCF, with the added bonus that I now realize I can sneak veggie purees into the meatballs themselves (as well as adding pureed carrots to the sauce). I’ve found a muffin recipe that I can sneak some pureed chicken into, as well as pureed veggies. And I’m hoping I can perfect the chicken nuggets I mentioned earlier. Meanwhile he’s eating meat and crackers and a piece of fruit for pretty much every meal. I wish his diet didn’t rely so much on processed meats but for now I’m not complaining.
If anybody is interested in learning more about this diet, I highly recommend The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook. It talks about the theory behind the diet, shares real-life experiences from other families, includes lots of recipes, and – what I particularly appreciated – is they specifically address the issue of extremely picky kids and strategies to deal with that. I honestly don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep this up: I said we’d do a one-month trial but others suggest it may take longer to see results, so now I’m just trying to take this one day at a time.