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.
Thank you so much for writing your blog. I have only just found it and have already found it very helpful. I was wondering if you have an opinion on grass fed v organic v ‘everyday’ meat? I’m sorry if you have covered this else where.
Hi Rebekah, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad you have found the blog helpful. Honestly, the more I read and hear about grass fed, organic and conventional beef, the more confused I get. My butcher tells me that GF may not be organic. And organic is not grass-fed. So, I don’t over think it too much. We tend to buy grass fed ground beef, but conventional on all other cuts. This seems to work well for our budget and doesn’t seem to impair our health in any way. I talk more about how eating beef has been beneficial for us in this post. https://peacelovepaleo.net/2011/11/09/healthy-fats/
My son is almost 4 and we recently had his tested for Autism. I feel like I can breathe easier (totally just a metaphor, I can barely catch my breath!) now that he has been officially diagnosed. I just found your blog while googling Paleo and autism. I was brought to tears reading through the most recent posts. I have felt helpless for so long. My husband doesn’t agree with me or the doctors that he is different. He thinks we are wrong and refuses to accept it. Reading that life can be just as fulfilling and less stressful makes my heart so happy. We are just at the beginning of our journey, but I am so grateful for you and your blog! Thank you so much for making me feel like I can handle my life now.
I want to transition our family to a Paleo diet and this was exactly what I needed to read to ease that transition. Hopefully it goes smooth! Thank you so much again for your blog!
Hi Cindy, thank you for your comment and I am so glad you found us! I hope that focusing on the Health of your son is the common ground that you and your husband need with doctors and therapists. It’s much easier to endure this journey if you truly feel that everything you do is to better your child’s health, rather than intervening to make him “normal”. Best of luck to you! Please keep me posted on your family’s progress.
What an encouraging blog!!!!! We are two years in on GAPS/Paleo diet for our son who is “recovering” from autism and sensory processing disorder. I’ve prayed for wisdom from someone who is further along in the journey. It’s an intense journey isn’t it?! On the tough days/weeks I want to give up, but of course never do.
As I sit here at 3am, the only time I have to research as a stay at home mom of four, 😊I’m encouraged. I often guilt myself into thinking what else can I be doing for him?? But at the same time, I feel like my plate is so full and what we are doing is working! It just takes time! We follow a strict, whole foods diet for our son, see a homeopath doctor that helps with gentle detox and supplements, Graham does OT, PT, speech therapy and we have recently added a myofunctional therapist that discovered a tongue tie that was contributing to his trouble feeding. We have visited a HANDLE practitioner and have taken our son to many prayer services to have him prayed over. God is faithful, every thing we have done is working. Any advice on keeping focus? I know we have a couple of years to go and at times I feel so overwhelmed that my own health is compromised. Any advice form a mother to a mother on keeping sane in process and keeping stress levels in check?
Thank you for this comment! You have taken the same approach to healing your son that we have with Charlotte. Leave no stone unturned. Seek out every opportunity and be open to tackling the next challenge. Yes, it is an intense and exhausting process. I lived in a state where I was looking forward and backward at the same time. Backward at how far we’d come and forward to meet the next challenge. That’s how I kept our momentum. Talk to every knowledgeable person you can about treatments and practices to gather more tools and try what you can. Never stop learning. And as you know…it’s so worth it! This is such an amazing opportunity for your son, your family, and your self. Try to give yourself lots of praise for the work you are doing. Nurture yourself in small ways and realize when you are at your limit. Find ways to take breaks and come back recharged. Recovering Charlotte certainly took a toll on my health but it was worth it. There’s no easy way to do this. Keep your faith in God and seek out support. You are through the worst of it. Hang in there!