Back to School Lunch and Snack Tips for the GFCF Diet
A gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet may have benefits for some children with autism. It can be a difficult diet to maintain, but some studies have found that it can improve the behavior in some children on the spectrum. Cooking at home is one thing, but now that it is “back to school” time, parents may be at a loss for what to do about lunches and snacks for their autistic child.
Although studies have found differing results, there are several that find that some children with autism can benefit from a GFCF diet. One theory states that some autistic persons cannot properly digest gluten and casein proteins and they form substances that act like opiates in their bodies. This then can alter their behavior and responses to the environment. The nutrients may also cause GI symptoms such as diarrhea or colitis which can be relieved by removing the offending ingredients.
Gluten and gluten-like proteins are found in wheat and other grains, including oats, rye, and barley. But staying away from bread is only part of the equation. Gluten can also be found in the starches in some processed foods and in artificial colors and flavorings. Fortunately, the food industry has become aware of a need for more gluten-free products and is stocking the shelves with alternatives.
Casein is a protein found in milk and foods containing milk such as cheese, cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whey and some brands of margarine. Processed meats such as hot dogs may also contain caseinate.
One challenge at school is the inability to heat foods, so creating something that will taste good cold (or at room temperature) is an obstacle to overcome. An easy solution is making a sandwich on a gluten-free bread and adding sides such as fruits and raw vegetables. Use a sandwich meat that is free of added ingredients and preservatives. You can also make a chicken salad using a vegan mayonnaise such as the one by Spectrum Naturals.
Chicken nuggets are a food that kids typically don’t mind eating cold. Teri Gruss MS of About.com offers a recipe for a chicken nugget coated with a panko-style breading made of chex mix. The recipe does call for a ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, but this can be replaced with a vegan Parmesan-style product such as one made by Galaxy Nutritional Foods. You can also substitute the egg in the recipe for Ener-G vegan egg replacement.
Create a “Lunchable” style meal using mini-GF pizza crusts and your child’s favorite pizza toppings, including a cheese made with almond, coconut, or rice milk. Daiya makes a wonderful cheese-like product that actually melts like real cheese!
Using a thermos, you can keep leftovers relatively warm until lunch time. The GFCF casserole, chili, or soup for dinner last night can make a great entrée for school the next day.
For a comprehensive list of gluten-free, casein-free foods, visit “Talk About Curing Autism” or TACA. This national non-profit organization is dedicated to educating, empowering and supporting families affected by autism.
Before your child returns to school, sit down with his or her teacher and the school nurse to help map out a plan for what do to during special school occasions. It seems like every week, a well-meaning parent brings in foods for the children for birthdays or school events and it may be something your child cannot eat (ie cupcakes, regular crackers).
If there is space at the school, make some GFCF cupcakes ahead of time that the teacher can store in the freezer and break out in the event of a spontaneous party. Have a special stash of GFCF snacks for those days when the teachers give out rewards for behavior or performance. Keeping open communication with the school about your child’s needs is crucial to maintain a good relationship and to keep your child on his or her special diet while he is away from you.