One of the reasons I wanted to reach out to special needs families was because I recognized that introducing new foods and removing favorites is a delicate issue. Kids with sensory challenges or those craving rigidity and routine may see mealtime as safe and predictable. If you are like me, you are looking for someone to understand the unique challenges of your family, and I have definitely not found a one-size-fits-all approach. The idea is go at a pace where your child stays comfortable.
Mealtime needs to stay safe and predictable as much as possible.
This is my hard and fast rule for making the Paleo diet work. There’s just no other way to do it. Lack of preparation and home cooked meals is what got us here in here in the first place. Americans eat on the run, don’t prepare food, and have become sick and overweight because of it. Okay, enough ranting. Here’s how to do it:
*Plan–one day per week, look at your protein inventory, your upcoming schedule, and any new recipes you may want to try. Make a meal plan and grocery list. Post it to remind yourself to make time to prepare dinner.
*Communicate–if you are a 2 parent household, talk to your partner about the kind of help/support you need for making the meals work that week.
*Execute–you know best how to let your child(ren) know a change is coming. Use visuals, words, model it yourself–let your child know that a new food will be added or taken away from an upcoming meal.
Plus 1/Minus 1
This tip basically means start with 1 meal at a time, one food at a time.
Plus 1 example: if you are introducing a new vegetable with dinner time, make that be the only change until your child is comfortable. Leave everything else the same about mealtime and your child’s plate.
Minus 1 example: choose 1 item that you want to remove from 1 meal. Leave everything else the same about mealtime and your child’s plate, except that 1 item.
The pace and expectations around the new food are up to you. If your child needs to see the new food on his plate for several days before trying it, that is your call. Just be consistent with your planning and expectations.
When you decide to bring in new food items, choice can be very powerful for a child that may feel like everything safe is changing too quickly.
Choice example: if you want to introduce eggs for breakfast, give your child a choice in how the egg is prepared. Show or explain that he or she may have hardboiled or scrambled. Fried or poached. Over hard or over easy.
Build on your child’s Likes
When introducing a new food, consider the food textures, flavors, and temperatures colors that your child enjoys and add or substitute as closely as you can.
Texture–My daughters both enjoy french fries. When we introduced sweet potatoes, we cut them like fries and cooked them in coconut oil. The crunch and texture was familiar, only the flavor was different.
Flavor–My girls love cinnamon. I started with very basic cinnamon almond cereal to replace their hot oatmeal for breakfast and eventually introduced them to new meals like Moroccan Chicken (in Sarah’s book) keeping the cinnamon taste and flavor strong and consistent for them.
Temperature–My older daughter Dana loves carrots, but only steamed. If I try to serve them cold and crunchy, she’s not interested. So I started with steamed carrots added some steamed parsnips to the carrots next time, and eventually added beets to make a Roasted Root Veggie hash .
Your child’s texture, flavor, or temperature issues around food may have to do with an underlying sensory issue. If you have an occupational therapist, work with him of her on identifying the oral sensory issues your child may be having. If possible, talk with the therapist about transition to a Paleo diet and how it may be made easiest for your child.
When Charlotte has experienced oral sensory dysregulation, our therapist has recommended a Jiggler which provides appropriate sensory input, making it less stressful to explore new foods.
Often, special needs kids will experience a weak core and various products may offered to give more support during mealtime. This is an important consideration at a time of dietary change when much of the child’s energy will be divided between the physical effort of eating the meal and the mental energy to adjust to the mealtime changes. Again, talk to your therapist about products that may keep your child feeling safe and supported during mealtime.
Cheats & Allowances
My advice around all cheats is to maintain a gluten free rule. Once you are established a Paleo rythmn that you are comfortable with, it may seem appropriate to bring in some new family favorites. There are many gluten free options that are not ideal for everyday, may be suitable for keeping your gut in check while enjoying some new flavors or enjoying a special celebrations. My family’s favorite treats are corn chips or corn tortillas on taco night, gluten free waffles or pancakes on the weekend, or some coconut milk ice cream.
Also, keep in mind each family member’s unique needs. In our household, Charlotte and I follow a strict Paleo diet. Our medical issues have led us to a place where cheating feels uncomfortable to our body and having non-Paleo food distrubts our systems considerably. My husband Chad and my older daughter Dana maintain their own Paleo lifestyle which has a few more allowances for dairy and a few non-Paleo foods. For us, it’s a healthy balance that allows each individual to enjoy healthy and delicious foods while listening to their body’s individual needs.