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Parents’ Tool Kit – A quick guide to rehab your child’s diet

The word “rehab,” stems from the Latin word meaning to make fit again. That’s the point of a dietary change.

Foods can trigger a multitude of medical concerns, even in healthy individuals. When the body is compromised due to autism spectrum disorders, certain foods can aggravate an already stressed immune system and manifest new challenges, including food intolerances, pH imbalance, yeast overgrowth, bacteria and autoimmune disorders.

For those on the autistic spectrum, gluten and casein may also prompt an “opioid effect,” a condition that occurs when morphine-like peptides cross the blood/brain barrier. Symptoms can include hyperactivity, moodiness, inappropriate giggling, poor memory, sleep problems, constant hunger, lack of urine/stool control, craving for only gluten- and casein-containing foods and extreme “picky eating.”

When properly implemented, the Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet (GFCF) or the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) can help heal the digestive tract. Implementing these dietary changes is more than simply replacing gluten and dairy with substitute ingredients. It also means switching to nutritious whole foods and eliminating items that are toxic.
Here’s the fundamental info you’ll need to switch your child to a fit diet that may help restore health. Whether you’re following the GFCF diet, SCD, the Low Oxalate diet, Body Ecology or a rotation or elimination diet, start with these basics.

Dietary Do’s

Consume nutrient-dense foods. Whole foods (versus processed, premade foods) offer the most nutrients. These include vegetables, fruits, quality meats, eggs (if tolerated), homemade broths, gluten-free grains and flours, seeds, nuts (if tolerated) and beans.

Eat natural probiotic-rich foods. These include fermented foods, such as homemade sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kombucha, kefir and dairy-free yogurt.

Select pasture-raised, grass-fed animal protein and eggs. Animals raised entirely on a natural diet of grass have less fat, and the meat is higher in omega 3 fatty acids than corn/grain fed meat. Grass-fed (also pasture-raised) animals are not fed added hormones and antibiotics which mean healthier animals and uncontaminated meat and eggs.

Choose organic foods. Whenever possible, buy produce that is locally grown and free of pesticides and herbicides. See when to buy organic below.

Consume quality fats. The right kind of fat is important for healthy cells and proper nutrient absorption. It supports growth and provides energy, especially for brain development and function and fats aid in hormone balance and reducing inflammation. Beneficial fats are found in chia, salba and hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, fatty, cold-water fish, eggs from pasture-raised animals and grass-fed meats. Quality monounsaturated fats are available in avocado, olive oil, grape seed oil and nut oils. A few saturated fats are also beneficial, such as tropical coconut and palm oils, which are rich in short- and medium-chain fatty acids and high in antiviral lauric acid. Ghee (clarified butter with lactose and casein removed) is advantageous and considered GFCF and SCD compliant. However, it may be off limits for those who are allergic to dairy.

Use the right cookware. Avoid aluminum pans and those with Teflon-like plastic coatings. Instead, use stainless steel, cast iron, enameled cast iron, ovenproof glass and clay bakeware. Store foods in glass containers, not plastic. (When freezing foods in glass containers, allow room for expansion as glass will break.)

Dietary Don’ts

Avoid all “trans” fats. These are hydrogenated oils developed to increase the shelf life of packaged and processed foods. Known to cause inflammation, trans fats are found in many store-bought margarines, processed baked and frozen items and restaurant fried foods.

Eliminate toxins. Check labels for artificial ingredients, colors, preservatives and additives.
Reduce or remove refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup (also called corn sugar/sweetener). Instead, use fresh and dried fruit, honey, date or coconut sugar, pure maple syrup/sugar, tapioca or brown rice syrup, and stevia as a better sweetener.

Tips for Picky Eaters

Children can be super-finicky. These suggestions can help introduce nutritious variety into your child’s diet.
Be the role model. Kids pick up on parental attitudes. Make a healthy diet priority for you, as well as for your child.

Start small. Transition gradually from the foods to be eliminated using a safe GFCF version of favorite foods and snacks. Incorporate one new food one at a time.
Avoid snacking. A hungry child is more willing to try a new food than one who’s been snacking and drinking juice all day.

Use rewards. Offer a bite of a favorite food after your child takes a taste of a new item.
Be consistent. Introducing new foods requires patience and perseverance. Decide you’re in it for the long run and don’t waver in your resolve.

Make it pleasant. Use whatever method works for your child. Cut food into fun shapes or present it on colorful plates. Serve meals in an environment that’s safe and comfortable. Eat lunch in the park or dinner in your child’s bedroom.

Address the issues. Some children have food texture or appearance concerns and real fears. If your child likes smooth and creamy foods, puree vegetables and even meat and stir them into puddings or batter to make into pancakes. For crispy, crunchy texture, meats and vegetables can be sautéed, fried, broiled and even dehydrated. For appearance, if your child will only eat McDonald’s chicken nuggets, buy an empty (preferably) package and replace the contents with your new GFCF or SCD version. Try to mimic favorite foods in appearance and flavor.

Kitchen Helpers

The right tools are a good investment. This equipment saves time and effort in meal preparation.
A powerful blender makes easy work of silky smooth purees and smoothies. In addition, the right machine can easily grind grains, seeds or nuts into flours and butters, ensuring freshness and saving money over store-bought varieties. Try Vita-Mix® or Blendtec® brands.,

A high-speed stand mixer is a great aid for busy people who enjoy baked goods. Try KitchenAid ®, Cuisinart®, Sunbeam®, Bosch®, and Viking® brands.

A heavy-duty bread machine gives you the option of quickly creating nutritious loaves that you can adapt to your taste and needs. Zojirushi®, Cuisinart®, Breadman®, or and other fine kitchen stores.

Quality knives help in chopping vegetables and cutting up meat. For efficient, long-term use, select a brand that can be re-sharpened multiple times such as Wüsthof and Henckels. Shop online at or, or in favorite retailer.

Pantry Superstars

These favorite staples add nutrients and flavor to a special diet.

Grains and Flours Gluten-free whole grains and flours, like rice, bean, lentil, sorghum, quinoa, teff, millet, and others, are packed with flavor and nutrients. See for tips on using these powerhouse flours.

Seeds Shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are a good source protein, fiber, minerals (magnesium, manganese, phosphorus), iron and zinc. Pepitas can also be ground into a flour to use as a thickener or added to baked goods. Hemp, chia, salba and flax seeds contain fiber and protein and are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Add them to smoothies, hot breakfast cereal and baked items.

Coconut milk is great item for creating creamy nondairy creamy soups and stews. It is sugar-free and high in antiviral lauric acid. There are a wide variety of nut, seed and grain nondairy milk alternatives.
Herbs and spices enhance flavor without adding salt and offer health benefits. Turmeric adds a yellow-orange color and a bit of extra taste but it packs a huge antioxidant punch; add it to rubs, soups and stews. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme can transform a simple dish into a memorable one. Buy dried and fresh herbs in season and experiment to find your favorites.

Lemons or limes are healing fruits high in vitamin C, which brightens the flavor of many dishes. Use the real juice, not a bottled alternative.

When to Buy Organic

To save money on groceries, these fruits and vegetables don’t have to be organic. They’re generally low in pesticides: onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potato and honeydew melon.
The produce generally highest in pesticides are: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale/collard greens, potatoes and imported grapes. These should be avoided unless they’re organic.

Source: Environmental Working Group (, Dirty Dozen, Clean 15.

Tell Me More
Check out these resources for additional help with special dietary issues. Resources (websites for local produce and meats, eggs, search by state)
Pasture-raised/grass fed:,
Local farmers markets, pastured eggs:
Alternative Diet info:
Cultures For Health
Autism: (Autism One) (Autism Research Institute) (Talk About Curing Autism) Diet questions answered, parent support and more
As seen in Living Without Magazine, June-July 2011 issue

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