The Good And Free Diet

That’s how my youngest son referred to the gluten free diet until recently. It was so sweet to hear him ask, “Mom, can Camden eat that? Is it good and free?”

Camden Breakfast
Camden at 2 1/2 eating his Eggo waffle for breakfast.

Diet/food/eating habits is a common topic with autism moms…right there with sleep and poop.  Since people ask me about Camden’s eating habits, I thought it’d be good for me to pull out my notes and document our journey thus far.

Boys at Safari Park
Carson and Camden (eating his beloved “yellow popcorn”).

As you’ll quickly see, I am no expert. Our progress has been very slow and steady. We still have far to go. I have super smart mama friends whose kids are on the GAPS diet or eat good lacto-fermented foods regularly or tons of raw veggies. I have friends whose kids have been in feeding therapy for years and still struggle to make progress.  It’s a very complex thing.

Camden cookies
Camden chowing down on cookies the week before his 3rd birthday.

From the top. I nursed Camden until he was 16 months old and made his baby food at home. We recall him being a good open-minded eater for some time. It’s hard to recall when things started going south, but he became more and more restrictive. I had people tell me not to worry about it, that kids won’t starve. They’ll eat when they are hungry. That’s what I heard. My sister-in-law gave us the book Just Take a Bite.  I learned more about sensory issues and the complexities of getting some kids to eat.

Boys at Bike the Bricks
Camden (feasting on his gluten free pizza) and Carson enjoying a fun event in our little downtown.

Camden first started seeing a biomedical doctor at 2 years 10 months, which is when I started tracking his daily behaviors like food intake and “out take”, sleep habits, behaviors, therapy, etc. That doctor wasn’t sure that special diets benefited many kids.  Sadly, we were probably relieved to hear that. It’s challenging to think about taking away the only foods that your kid likes and eats. You can check out some scholarly articles about the benefits of going gluten-free here.

Spoon
Camden in PPCD learning to eat his spaghetti with a spoon. Dec 2011

Anywho, per my notes, here is how we moved from a very limited diet to where we are today.

Camden Drinking
Camden in PPCD learning to drink from an open-mouth cup. Mar 2013

At the age of 2 years 10 months (May 2-8, 2011), this is what Camden’s food intake consisted of:

  • Breakfast: 2 Eggo waffles with Aunt Jemima syrup
  • AM Snack: yogurt, applesauce, or cookie
  • Lunch: smoothie (fruit, OJ, fish oil) and Target popcorn
  • PM Snack: Teddy Grahams
  • Dinner: rotation between spaghetti, sweet potato with butter and brown sugar, macaroni and cheese, pizza, baked potato, and smoothie

    Camden Eating Oranges
    Camden in PPCD eating tangerines for the first time. April 2013

In December of 2011, Camden’s PPCD teacher asked me about sending more of an entrée-type dish in his lunch. He had/has significant gross and fine-motor struggles, and one of his goals was to work on eating with a spoon. I’m so glad she pushed me to do this, but at the time I remember thinking, “What in the world am I going to send in his lunch? We don’t have many options.” I’m all about making things manageable, so I decided to send leftovers from the night before. At this point, the goal wasn’t really about increasing his food selections, but more about working on his goal of using a spoon.

So…almost 6 months from the above-posted weekly food intake (now Oct 24-30, 2011, age 3 years 3 months), here’s what it looked like:

  • Breakfast: 2 Eggo waffles with Aunt Jemima syrup
  • AM Snack: applesauce
  • Lunch: smoothie (fruit, OJ, fish oil), leftovers (spaghetti, sweet potato, macaroni, pizza, baked potato) and Target popcorn
  • PM Snack: Teddy Grahams
  • Dinner: rotation between spaghetti, sweet potato with butter and brown sugar, macaroni and cheese, pizza, , baked potato, and smoothie

    Camden Eating on Plane
    Camden eating his lunch (sandwich on gf bread, chips, almonds, and gf cookie) before take-off. June 2013

Camden started seeing a different biomedical/holistic physician in September of 2012, and we were encouraged to work on cleaning up his diet (gluten free, no GMOs, grass fed meat and dairy, no dyes or artificial junk, no HFCS, etc). Camden was just a little over 4 years old at this point. I get overwhelmed with lots of changes at once, so we took it step by step. Camden’s physician’s wife is a wonderful resource in the area of nutrition (amongst other things). She wanted me to start working on breakfast. Our goal was to ditch the Eggos and Aunt Jemima in exchange for gluten free pancakes. Since Camden wasn’t getting much protein, she wanted me to add chicken to the pancakes. SAY WHAT?!?! I knew Camden would never ever go for that in a million years. And we were encouraged to exchange Aunt Jemima to a Grade B maple syrup. I knew Camden wasn’t going to like this or eat, but I was willing to at least try. My mother-in-law had given us a Vitamix for Christmas so I put the gluten-free pancake mix, almond milk, egg and CHICKEN into the Vitamix and I blended the tar out of it until it was a smooth consistency. We cooked the pancakes, added some pastured butter, and some maple syrup, and get this…THE KID ATE IT!! A year earlier we had added an “entrée” to his lunchbox and now we were working on breakfast changes. THAT WAS A YEAR LATER! Oh my goodness. We are not the fastest folks. We used to go out for pizza on Friday nights and switched Camden to the gluten free crust. He ate it with no hesitation. We also ditched the Target popcorn in exchange for Whole Foods non GMO sea salt popcorn. Camden has always loved popcorn. His mama went there way too many times when he was a little guy. I didn’t think he’d be jazzed with the popcorn switch, but he’s done fine. It’s been two years since we’ve switched, and he still does ask for “yellow popcorn” on occasion. Looks like we also ditched the Teddy Graham PM snack. Looking at his dinner rotation, I did forget to mention his geriatric diet…meaning that we blended all of his dinners for a smoother texture. Not sure if this developed over time because of Camden’s preferences, or a way to hide things in his food, or my husband’s stressing over any type of gagging.

Camden Eating Pizza
Camden enjoying his “good and free” pizza. Aug 2013

Here’s Camden weekly food intake just over the age of 4. I chuckle looking at his list because I recall a period of at least a year, where I knew what day of the week it was based on what Camden was having for dinner. While he was a selective eater, I tried to rotate those selections for the sake of variety and not allowing him to totally fixate on one or two foods. (Oct 22-28, 2012)

  • Breakfast: gfcf pancake with a serving of chicken blended in and maple syrup
  • AM Snack: applesauce
  • Lunch: smoothie (fruit, OJ, fish oil), leftovers (spaghetti, sweet potato, macaroni, pizza, baked potato)
  • Dinner rotation: Mon-spaghetti (blended), Tues-sweet potato (blended), Wed-baked potato with broccoli and chicken (blended), Thurs-spaghetti (blended), Fri-gf pizza, Sat-yogurt and carrot/apple juice (from our juicer), Sun-Wed-baked potato with broccoli and chicken (blended)
  • *Homemade bone broths: I also started making my own bone broths at home to add to Camden’s meals in an attempt to work on healing his gut issues.

    Camden Dining on River Walk
    Camden enjoying his gluten free chicken nuggets on the River Walk in San Antonio. Oct 2013

During this time we tried various things like gf nuggets (though my kids had never cared about nuggets), banana bread, fruit.

6 months later, Camden was a little over 4 1/2. It looks like we’d move completely to gluten-free with him. All of his food was organic, non GMO, grass-fed(when applicable). I was making gluten-free meals for Camden and separate meals for the rest of us. Here’s his food intake for Mar 18-24, 2013:

  • Breakfast: gfcf pancake with a serving of chicken blended in and maple syrup
  • AM Snack: applesauce
  • Lunch: smoothie (fruit, OJ, fish oil), leftovers (spaghetti, sweet potato, pizza, baked potato)
  • Dinner rotation: Mon-gf spaghetti (blended), Tues-gf spaghetti (blended), Wed-baked potato with broccoli and chicken (blended), Thurs-gf spaghetti (blended), Fri-gf pizza, Sat-yogurt and carrot/apple juice (from our juicer), Sun-gf chicken nuggets

    Camden Camping
    Camden feasting on steak, zucchini, and cantaloupe during our campout. Oct 2014

Camden’s PPCD teacher was working toward her BCBA credentials. One of her classes addressed feeding therapy or feeding issues. She asked about trying some things with Camden. I brainstormed some foods I’d like him to try, and then she’d pair the new foods with a preferred food. You know, the ABA approach. You do this. You get this. We had a feeling that kindergarten was coming for Camden, so we decided to work on the foods that would allow Camden to eat an independent lunch. Things like: fruit, nut butter sandwich on gf bread with apple butter, organic non GMO chips, etc. It seemed to go well. Perhaps not having mommy working on the feeding stuff, took away some of the emotion. I don’t know, but we did make progress. After this experience, Camden was way more willing to accept the whole “try this…take a bite…then you can have this other food that you love.” We would watch his body language for total dislike of foods. He has tried blueberries and grapes numerous times, and does not like them so we don’t force it.

CamdenChinese
Camden eating chicken and veggies and his kiwi. Aug 2014

In July of 2013, when Camden was just shy of 5, we started changing up breakfast. He’d rotate between pancakes, French toast, breakfast casserole, or a spinach and bacon omelet. So, at 5 years old, his weekly food intake looked like this (week of July 8-14, 2013):

  • Breakfast: rotation between bacon and spinach/arugula omelet, gfcf pancake with a serving of chicken blended in and maple syrup, and breakfast casserole
  • AM Snack: applesauce
  • Lunch: smoothie (fruit, OJ, fish oil), leftovers (spaghetti, sweet potato, pizza, baked potato) or sandwich, chips, fruit, and nuts
  • Dinner rotation: Mon-gf spaghetti (blended), Tues-gf spaghetti (blended), Wed-baked potato with broccoli and chicken (blended), Thurs-gf spaghetti (blended), Fri-gf pizza, Sat-yogurt and carrot/apple juice (from our juicer), Sun-gf chicken nuggets I-may-not-be-there-yet

After some test results showing Camden’s body’s reaction to casein, we removed it in Oct of 2013.  We used to eat pizza every Friday, and Camden loves it, so this was by far our hardest change. We tried vegan cheese with no success. We tried a cheese-free pizza with olive oil, garlic and meat instead. With the fine and gross motor struggles, it was hard for him to eat it, and if I cut it up all the toppings would just fall off. It’s been 15 months without casein, and that sweet boy still asks for pizza often. Since we had to ditch the pizza, that meant I needed ideas for two meals during the week. At 6 years old, Camden was now fully gfcf (in addition to avoiding dyes, HFCS, MSG, etc.) And…we stopped blending his food!! That was cause for great celebration on our home! (I do sometimes wonder if that is part of what helped Camden’s speech improved, as he was using various muscles for the first time.) Here’s a typical week from Dec 16-22, 2013:

  • Breakfast: rotation between bacon and spinach/arugula omelet, gfcf pancake with a serving of chicken blended in and maple syrup, and breakfast casserole
  • AM Snack: applesauce and nuts
  • Lunch: leftovers (spaghetti, sweet potato, pizza, baked potato) or sandwich, chips, fruit, and nuts
  • Dinner rotation: Mon-gf spaghetti, Tues-ham and green beans, Wed-baked potato with broccoli and chicken, Thurs-homemade gf fish sticks, Fri-hamburger veggie soup, Sat-meatballs filled with garlic, onion and greens, Sun-gf chicken nuggets

*Camden ditched the fish sticks several months later after a nasty stomach bug.

This past April 2014, I shared with my husband that I had a goal to come up with enough meals for us to be able to eat gfcf together, as a family, for a month. I was getting kind of tired of making two separate meals and felt that it was time to give all of us a little push. Slowly but surely, we did it. Now, I don’t even really track what Camden eats because it varies so much. Most of our meals aren’t complex: a meat, a veggie or two, and fruit. I continue to try new recipes in the hopes of adding to our meal options. Tonight, we had meatloaf (loaded with bell pepper, onion, and spinach), mashed potatoes (which Camden didn’t eat), green beans, and pineapple. It wasn’t my yummiest meatloaf, but he still ate it all.

Tonight's Dinner
Camden’s dinner this evening: meatloaf, green beans, and pineapple. Jan 8, 2015

Here’s what he’s eaten/will eat this week (Jan 5-11, 2015) at the age of 6 1/2:

  • Breakfast: rotation between bacon and spinach/arugula omelet, breakfast casserole, and pancakes
  • AM Snack: applesauce and nuts
  • Lunch: leftovers, chips, and fruit
  • Dinner
    • Mon (no school): In & Out Burger (2 patties and French fries)
    • Tues: ribs, broccoli, oranges
    • Wed: sausage/potato/bell pepper/kale bake and pineapple
    • Thurs: meatloaf, green beans, and pineapple
    • Fri: hamburger/veggie soup and fruit (*Camden typically eats soup on Fri night and the rest of us can be more flexible. I make it up in a large batch to freeze and last for a month.)
    • Sat: bbq chicken, roasted Brussel sprouts, and fruit  Camden often eats veggie-filled meatballs (I make it up in a large batch to freeze and last for a month.) on Sat night and fruit.
    • Sun: gf nuggets and veggie

I still send Camden to school with leftovers, chips and fruit. It works for us.

We still have LOTS of room for growth.

I KNOW we could do many things better.

But we aren’t where we used to be.

And it’s really nice to be able to share a meal together as a family!

I’d love to hear your story! What has worked or not worked? Any favorite gfcf recipes that your entire family enjoys?

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8 thoughts on “The Good And Free Diet

  1. Katie January 9, 2015 / 6:07 pm

    I love following your family. This is a great post! So great that you can all share a meal…it’s so important. Have a great weekend with your sweet boys!!

    • Candace January 9, 2015 / 8:49 pm

      HEY KATIE!! Thanks for the sweet words! =) It really is SUCH FUN to get to eat a meal together! BTW, I enjoyed catching up on your blog over the Christmas break. Camden threw up for four days, so I had plenty of time. =)

  2. Sarah Lessman January 9, 2015 / 7:53 pm

    You have no idea how happy this makes me. I am SO proud of Camden and how far he has come. Way to go!!!!

    • Candace January 9, 2015 / 8:53 pm

      THANK YOU A TON, Sarah!! It’s really fun to share the progress with people like you that have seen where we were! Really appreciate you reading and celebrating with us! Reading through this post, it truly amazes me how small changes over time result in big changes. Hope you and your guys are doing well, and that you are encouraged by the work you do helping kiddos like mine. =)

  3. Lori January 12, 2015 / 12:19 am

    I’m so proud of you. I still remember sitting at my kitchen table with you in 2011. You did it, sister! What a little stud, too, that Camden.

    • Candace January 12, 2015 / 12:46 am

      Thank you so very much for your encouragement! You were really the first Warrior Mom I talked with, and I have not forgotten how gracious you were with your time and knowledge.

  4. Lana January 17, 2015 / 4:54 pm

    Hi Candace!

    I loved this post! I love hearing about mamas who just keep plugging along, slowly but surely making progress. And how rewarding it must be to look back and see how far all of you have come. It really does show how small changes can really add up. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 BTW – I’m going to be ordering another baseball tee soon. Getting one for a friend this time.

    Love,
    Lana

    • Candace January 18, 2015 / 8:55 pm

      Oh Lana! You made my day! You know, yours is only the 2nd blog I’ve ever read from beginning to end. =) I think about you guys and The Bird often and wonder how the transitions are going. Still super eager to listen to your post/video from a few weeks ago where you and Ryan shared your story. Thanks so much for your encouragement! Slow and steady. I always loved your posts about Lily and food. Blessings to you and your crew, sweet lady!

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