When we decided to try the gluten free/ casein free diet I really wasn’t prepared. I heard Jenny McCarthy on the Oprah show and made a rash decision to start, cold turkey, the next morning. Matthew ate scrambled eggs, bacon and orange juice for breakfast whereupon I immediately realized I had exhausted my knowledge of “safe” foods.
I had to get a game plan and I had to get one fast. Like most diet newbies, I went out looking for every single substitute food I could find. I was buying substitutes for foods he didn’t even eat, because I was sure there were no other foods out there for him TO eat. But as I settled into the routine of going gluten and casein free I realized preparing food on the diet isn’t that hard if you just make a few simple, yet powerful, adjustments. I started with simple foods such as a grilled portion of protein (beef, chicken or fish) accompanied by a starch such as rice or baked sweet potatoes and a green like broccoli. These made great, easy GFCF meal. Yes, I needed to stop using butter, but it was easy to find acceptable substitutions such as cooking oil or a butter substitute like Earth Balance. These types of meals have become a staple in our home. I always keep meats on hand and we have a CSA that delivers veggies right to our door. You can dress these meals up or down depending on the occasion and what seasonings you decide to use.
We were also very lucky because Matthew is a fruit junky. The kid really could live off of bananas and blueberries, I think. This makes finding healthy side dishes rather easy as I can always give him some berries or melon, his all-time favorite, and know that he is getting nutrients and filling up his belly.
The only problem with the “caveman” dining approach is that it can get pretty boring. So I started looking to other cuisines to help me boost our recipe selections. I generally steer clear of menus that rely heavily on pastas, casseroles and cheeses, opting instead for Asian, Mexican, and even Middle Eastern foods. These cuisines rarely rely on dairy and often the only major substitution needed is Tamari Wheat Free Soy Sauce. Many Mexican dishes can be made with corn tortillas, and the final product does not suffer if you leave out the cheese. There are some delicious rice pastas available, making your favorite spaghetti dinner still accessible, and if you can add some vegetable puree to the sauce you can get an additional vegetable in your child (your spouse too). I do like some of the cheese substitutes, but I think they make better toppings or garnishes. I wouldn’t try to make lasagna with them!
Lastly I took a quick run through my cookbooks and discovered many recipes were already GFCF or could easily be converted. Start by looking for recipes where the cheese is sprinkled on top of the finished dish. You can easily leave that out. Then look for recipes using flour as a coating, and sub rice flour instead. Use oil instead of the butter, and coconut milk for cow’s milk. I make a killer coconut cream pie this way. Once you get started you will see that gluten/casein free can be done gracefully. It doesn’t have to keep you tied to your stove and you get a chance to explore cuisines you may never have tried before. Have a little fun with your meals. Stay well.
Maryann DellaRocco is the mother behind the blog Matthew’s Puzzle, which chronicles her journey into the world of autism and biomedical interventions. She is married and has three boys, her oldest is on the spectrum. Follow her on Twitter: @mehmig.
Photo Credit: Mehmig’s Album, Photobucket, March 31, 2010