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January 4, 2008

We've come a long way . . .

Several weeks ago, I was browsing the new improved health food section of our local Kroger's store, which now includes many of our favorite GFCF (gluten-free/casein-free) dry and frozen foods. Another mother overheard my comments to my husband about the relevant merits of Ian's Gluten Free French Toast sticks vs. Ian's Gluten Free Waffles and asked if we had a celiac child. No I said, just a 5-year-old picky eater with food allergies, asthma and SID (Sensory Integration Disorder) issues.

I suddenly found myself telling this women all about our favorite GFCF foods, because she mentioned that she was having trouble finding gluten-free foods for her 9-year-old, who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease.

When we started our GFCF journey more than five years ago, the new federal labeling standards were non-existant, you couldn't tell if a product contained milk, casein or whey and I constantly had to tell my husband not to buy anything for our son, unless I gave him a specific product name.

Of course that meant not grocery shopping for the GFCF kid, unless you were lucky enough to live near a health food store and even then, you couldn't always trust the store's supposedly Gluten Free products. A sales person once tried to convince me that spelt was wheat-free. When I took exception to her comment, she informed me that most wheat-allergic people are not allergic to spelt. I think I'll stick with Wikipedia's definition .

Back then, I felt like a freak in a milk & wheat world and, when I told people that my son was allergic to milk and wheat, they looked at me in horror and asked "What does he eat?"

Well, until age 16 months, he ate no solid food.

Then we discovered Kinnikinnick breads, Gluten Free Pantry mixes and Roberts Tings. A couple of years later, after bi-monthly trips to the only really good health food store within 30 miles, I discovered that we could purchase many of our favorite GFCF foods cheaper on the internet.

  • Amazon sells a wide variety of GFCF and Gluten Free foods and, if you sign up for Amazon Prime, you get free 2-day shipping on eligible products. Amazon also tracks your favorites and notifies you when they are on sale or subject to a special offer.
  • Kinnikinnick allows you to order up to $200 in foods and pay only $10 in shipping, plus they give you GFCF points toward future orders. (Kinnikinnick is now available in select grocery and health food stores. The prices are considerably higher than buying directly from the company; however, I recommend trying their products locally before you buy in bulk.)
  • Ener-G and other GFCF sites offer sales and promotions on various GFCF products.

Buying in bulk doesn't have to be difficult. If you don't have a pantry (or your pantry is already overflowing like mine), store the non-perishible items in your garage, get an extra freezer, if needed (our's cost < $150), and invest in a food saver vacuum sealer, which keeps breads and other foods fresh in your fridge or freezer for months. This may seem overwhelming, but, if you're like me, you probably don't have the time (or in my case the talent) to cook GFCF foods from scratch. (Case in point, it took me 3 years to create an edible birthday cake.) And, many of our favorite foods come pre-packaged in small sizes for car trips, school lunches, eating out etc. . .

Word to the wise, let your child choose his/her favorites. Not everything will be a hit. I once got a great deal on gluten free apple and blueberry fruit bars from Amazon. My son (the world's pickiest eater) hated them and they stayed in the pantry for months, until my athletic tween, who will and does eat everything when she's hungry, discovered them. They are long since gone.

  1. Check with your local store about return guarantees, many stores will take an opened item back if you or your child aren't satisfied.
  2. Don't invest in a bread machine, mini-fryer or other small appliance for GFCF cooking, unless you will use them frequently. If you want to try a new recipe, such as a GFCF coating mix, borrow a fryer from a friend or follow the pan fried instructions. (Our deep fryer has been on the pantry shelf, since we discovered after only one week that it was more trouble than it was worth and the GFCF bread mixes we tried in our bread machine weren't as good as the store bought breads.)
  3. Be on the look out for sales and manager's specials. You will save money in the long run.
  4. Sign up for e-mail alerts and coupons on your favorite GFCF food sites. Many of them track your purchases and highlight your favorites when they are on sale.
  5. And, last, but not least, create a GFCF safe kitchen. Set aside a counter area, cabinet or pantry shelf, use matching or easily identifiable containers for loose foods, such as chips and snacks, and label all of your child's GFCF foods. (My son has a GFCF corner and pantry shelf dedicated to his foods, all of which are labled with his name and our personal logo. That way relatives, visitors and sitters know what they can and cannot feed him.)

As I said, we've come a long way. The GFCF diet has finally come out of the dark ages and is fast becoming a main stream topic. New Federal labeling rules require foods to state in plain terms whether they contain certain allergens, such as wheat, milk, soy or peanuts, many manufacturers now state that their products are produced in plants where items containing such allergens are prepared and restaurants/fast food chains are now listing food allergen information on their website.

Stay tuned for my next post on the GFCF diet in a fast food world.


January 1, 2008

Welcome to my World . . .

If you are a parent of a special needs child, then I'm willing to bet that you've heard some version of the poem "Welcome to Holland," which has been adapted over the years to fit many special needs children and parents. Nearly 6 years ago, I found myself on a plane to "Holland," except that it never seemed to land. I felt like we were circling Siberia.

My son was premature, had severe reflux and was allergic to "everything on the planet." He survived on specialty formula until he was 16 months old and then goat's milk, until we finally found the gluten free/casein free (GFCF) diet.

I met an angel, in the form of another special needs mother, who gave me a wealth of information on the GFCF diet, directed me to web sites where I could learn more about living with the GFCF diet in a milk, bread and potatoes world and gave me a cyber shoulder to cry on when my son passed another birthday without a cake.

Imagine spending three days with your child in the pediatric ward of your local hospital fighting croup and asthma and they have no food to feed him. They had no dye-free jello and looked at me like I was crazy for asking if they could make a scrambled egg without milk or butter.

Welcome to my planet!

I spent the first two years of my son's life in a holding pattern over "Holland" trying to find a safe place to land. Then, just when I thought it was safe to exit the plane, my then 9-year-old daughter was diagnosed with high functioning autism. In reality, she is high functioning only because we learned very early on in her life that we had to live on a very strict schedule with her or our entire world would come crashing down on us. We used to think she was a "difficult" ADHD toddler.

If I'd only known then what I know now.

Hindsight is not always the best sight, however. It turns out that we instinctively helped our daughter function on a higher level by involving her in sports (gymnastics & soccer) at a very early age to improve her coordination and by enrolling her in a Montessori pre-school and elementary where she could learn at her own pace and in her own space. To this day, after years of speech and social therapy, my now 6th grader still has trouble sitting at a desk, raising her hand and answering questions. Imagine what she would have felt like in public Kindergarten when she was practically non-verbal.

Austim used to evoke an image of a child sitting in a corner banging his head against the wall and I have a hard time explaining to people, who don't know much about autism and who don't really know my daughter, that an autistic child's behavior can have varying degrees. My daughter seems quite "normal" on the soccer field, as long as she knows the exact time and place of the game, the exact color scheme of the uniform she has to wear and whether or not both her parents will be able to attend. But, a sudden change of plans can send her into a meltdown worthy of the terrible twos. Try and explain that to spectators.

So now you have a brief introduction to "My World." We live on a different planet in our house. A planet where it's safe to be on the autism spectrum, you can always find something gluten free and casein free to eat, Mom knows how to make an "edible" GFCF birthday cake and we don't rush to the ER for a middle of the night asthma attack. Mom knows how to use a stethoscope, always has the asthma meds and nebulizer ready and knows when to say UNCLE and head for urgent care.

Our lives may be hectic, but we've long since landed in "Holland," learned the lingo and learned how to navigate the back streets.


December 31, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes. . .

It's New Year's Eve and we find ourselves once again at the Zoo for free entertainment. Actually, its better than free, because we got a big fat tax deduction for joining, not to mention free train and carousel rides and invitations to neat events, like the Noon Year's Eve party we attended today.

Naturally, given all the past week's hullabaloo (rightly so) over zoo tigers, we made a point of visiting our own local big cats today. As my son sits down in front of the viewing window for a photo op with the male tiger asleep behind him, he puts his finger to his lips and tell everyone "Sshh, don't wake the tiger." I swear he doesn't watch the news!

I really need to rent this child out for commercials and make him pay his way. As it is, I barely have time to blog about his dangerous adventures, which today had something to do with a bag of very sharp nails from Home Depot. Sorry, dear readers, that's a story for another day.