If your kid is like Tosh, he eats the same 10 things over and over again. And chances are, one of those things is chicken nuggets.
The problem is, very few processed chicken nuggets are safe for any kid to eat, much less kids with autism. And they're gross. Not surprisingly, McDonalds chicken McNuggets are among the worst. They contain MSG, which will keep your child up at night, and TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone) which is a petroleum-based food preservative that is a cause of ADHD and neurological damage. Plus, the dipping sauces also contain MSG and food dyes, which also cause neurological damage.
I don't know about you, but Tosh doesn't need any more neurological damage. We've had our quota for a lifetime, thank you.
McDonalds is easy to pick on, but chicken nuggets from Jack in the Box, Burger King, Wendy's, Popeyes and the popular Chick-fil-A aren't good options, either. Chick-fil-A removed TBHQ but still uses a lot of MSG (which is probably why their sauce is so amazing and addictive).
And then you have to wonder how much of that "chicken" is actually chicken. McDonalds and other brands carefully state their nuggets are made "with" white meat chicken. Notice they don't say the nuggets are made "from" white meat chicken. That with is a red flag that there is a significant portion of other chicken parts and god knows what else in there. And current food regulations don't require disclosure of how much.
Even the Tyson's and other chicken nuggets you get at the supermarket - sorry, even the cute ones shaped like dinosaurs - aren't actual whole pieces of chicken.
Plus, they contain MSG. Removing MSG from Tosh's diet was the single most effective thing we did to improve his sleep, so if you want your kid to sleep through the night, don't feed them food that contains MSG or one of the hundred sneaky names food companies use instead of MSG, like yeast extract, soy protein concentrate, sodium caseinate, modified food starch, natural flavors and the innocent sounding spices. HINT: if they don't list out the spices, they ain't spices.
And we haven't even touched upon the gluten. Honestly, when it comes to processed chicken nuggets, the gluten is the least of your worries.
So where does that leave parents of a child who only eats chicken nuggets. In a tough spot. It's scary when your child only eats a few foods, but even scarier when you learn those foods are making their autism symptoms much worse and even possibly giving them brain damage.
Thankfully, making your own chicken nuggets is pretty easy and MAN OH MAN they taste so much better than the processed crap.
Healthy chicken nuggets
Adapted from Chicken Tenders recipe from Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast meat, cut into nugget sized chunks
1 TBS dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
any other seasoning you may like, such as crushed red pepper
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
(Okay, this isn't a dairy free recipe, but the parmesan cheese makes it so delicious! To make it dairy free, just use 1 cup of almond flour and eliminate the parmesan.)
3 TBS avocado, coconut or olive oil
1. Heat the oil on medium heat in a deep skillet.
2. Beat the egg and mustard together in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and mix until coated, like this:
3. In a large, deep plate, use a fork to mix together the almond flour and spices.
4. Dredge each nugget in the flour mixture.
5. Put the nuggets into the pan and cook for 5 minutes on each side. To cook the chicken all the way through, you'll need to cook it until it's pretty brown, like this:
For food safety, I suggest cutting the larger nuggets in half before serving, just to make sure you've cooked them all the way through. After you've made them a couple of times, you'll get the hang of it!
Enjoy your guilt-free chicken nuggets! I like to eat mine with hot sauce or Jamaican Pickapeppa sauce.
This weekend, we needed a break from the heavy, cheesy, pumpkin-y flavors of Thanksgiving. Strawberry jam thumbprint cookies hit the spot!
These cookies are grain-free and dairy-free, but do contain some refined sugars in the jam. However, they're not super sweet and strike a nice balance between healthy and decadent. If you'd like to make them free from refined sugars, you can make your own jam. I just used some strawberry jam I already had in the fridge because I wanted them to be quick and easy, which they are.
If you've signed up to bring a Thanksgiving dish to the office or a family get together, have I got a recipe for you!
These pumpkin spiced pecans are so amazingly delicious, everyone will be addicted to them after just one nibble. You will be crowned the Martha Stewart of your office or family for your genius dish.
Little do they know, these only take five minutes to make.
And guess what? They are autism diet legal! Most candied pecan recipes use butter and refined sugar. This recipe doesn't use butter. It's sweetened with honey, and because of the smooth texture of honey, butter isn't necessary.
Spirulina, otherwise known as blue-green algae or the less appetizing name pond scum, is a popular natural health remedy. It was a staple in the Aztec diet and is considered a sustainable food source. The United Nations identified it as a primary tool to fight global malnutrition and NASA is researching how it could be incorporated into astronaut diets on missions to Mars. It's been used to treat victims of arsenic poisoning and was used to treat children exposed to radiation after the Chernobyl disaster.
Spirulina a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and is especially effective in treating the brain and liver. It's also very rich in protein: 50 to 70 percent protein by weight, compared to about 27 percent for red meat. Spirulina is also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium, iodine and zinc. These are all excellent benefits for people with autism.
One thing spirulina does not do is chelate heavy metals and toxins from the body. That's the work of chlorella, which is another form of algae. The two are often confused. I suppose you could also make chlorella popsicles if chelation is what you're after.
There are so many health benefits to spirulina, I was intrigued to see if I could put it into a popsicle. Tosh began eating popsicles earlier this year and they are his favorite treat. His ABA team uses them as a reward at the end of his sessions. I had been providing them with relatively healthy popsicles made from fruit and natural sugars, but I've never been crazy about giving him a sugary treat when ABA ends at 7 p.m. because it sometimes spoils his dinner and makes him hyper at bedtime.
So I decided to hit the kitchen and make him popsicles that are good enough to be considered a meal. These popsicles contain enough healthy ingredients on their own to qualify; spirulina was my attempt to swing for the fences. I'm proud to say we've scored a home run! Tosh absolutely loves them.
If you are looking for your new pumpkin obsession, you've come to the right place.
These mini pumpkin pies are AH-mazing! I mean, I feel like I should apologize to you now for how many you're going to eat in one day. But hey, pumpkin pie is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food in my opinion, and these are officially healthy.
They're grain-free, dairy-free, legal for keto, Whole30 and Specific Carbohydrate Diets. And if you substitute maple syrup for honey, they're even vegan.
Keto AND vegan? What kind of sorcery is this?
The good kind, baby. It's all good!
Some of you may live in places where it's already cold, but here in SoCal, it's going to be 90 this weekend. And that makes these mini pumpkin pies even better - you don't even have to bake them! They're no bake. No kidding!
Okay, that's enough of a sales pitch. Let's get to the recipe, shall we? I'm sure somebody at your house is waiting to lick those coconut whipped cream beaters!
I've been a baking fool since I learned how to work with almond and coconut flours. It's quick and easy to whip up a batch of muffins in the morning while I drink my coffee, and the bonus is the muffins double as lunchbox and ABA therapy snacks.
This morning I made these delicious banana bread muffins. The recipe is actually a banana bread recipe, but I adjusted baking time for muffins. I'll include both directions below.
From Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Erica Kerwien
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
2 tablespoons of oil (I use almond oil)
2 very ripe, mashed bananas
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Grease a 5X8 or smaller loaf pan or line muffin tins.
Using a whisk or fork, blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix oil, eggs, mashed bananas and honey. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan or muffin tins. Bake the loaf for 40 minutes or until the sides and top are browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. If making muffins, baking should take 18-20 minutes.
Cool and enjoy! Store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.
These cinnamon muffins have been a huge help in getting Tosh to adhere to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. He's always been a cinnamon lover, and these muffins are delicious and moist but don't have an overly eggy texture. They include a separate cinnamon sugar topping that you can swirl through the batter so they come out like real cinnamon buns. You can play around with this, leaving some extra to spread on the top or filling the cups only part of the way and layering cinnamon sugar in between two batter layers.
Sure, they don't taste exactly like Cinnabon, but they also don't bloat the tummy, cause aggressive behavior or spike your blood sugar. Autism is a long game, and the momentary joy that comes from gluteny, artificially flavored foods is an easy sacrifice to make when your severely autistic, nonverbal child can function in public and in school, and starts to speak. (And yes, he is starting to speak!!!!!)
Here's the recipe, taken from my new best friend, Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
Cinnamon Bun Muffins
For the muffins
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup yogurt or dairy-free milk
1/2 cup honey (I use about 1/3 cup or less and it's still plenty sweet)
For the cinnamon topping
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, ghee or coconut oil
Preheat oven to 350F or 175C. Place muffin liners in your muffin tins.
Combine the coconut flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and blend well. Add the eggs, yogurt/milk and honey, and mix with a whisk or electric mixer to remove any lumps. (A whisk works fine for me.)
Fill the muffin liners about 3/4 full with batter.
In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon topping ingredients. Drip a spoonful of topping over each muffin. Use a toothpick to swirl the topping into the batter if you wish.
Bake for about 20 minutes (my oven takes 25 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Serve warm or cover and store at room temperature for a couple of days or for up to a week in the refrigerator. Lunch box friendly!
You might also like: Yummy Keto Pancakes recipe
After a really bad week at school and diminishing skills, a Google search revealed Tosh is probably experiencing yeast overgrowth. His pediatrician has suspected this for awhile.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which regulates gut flora and relieves IBS, has also been shown to improve speech, behavior and cognitive function in 80%-85% of autistic children. I used the TACA website to check it out.
So we're giving it a try.
The SCD is kind of keto and kind of paleo; it's entirely free of grains, starches, processed sugar and most dairy products. However, it does allow fruit which is important for us, because orange juice and smoothies are where I hide Tosh's supplements. I think fresh fruit is important for a healthy diet and since we live out in the desert, we need the hydration that raw produce provides. Not to mention the important enzymes!
Day 1 of the SCD (I'm doing it too) began with grain-free pancakes. I got the recipe from Primally Inspired, a fantastic resource for paleo recipes and general lifestyle/wellness tips.
From Primally Inspired
Makes 14 pancakes (next time I will halve the recipe - it was two much for both of us)
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 15 mins
These pancakes of course don't taste like pancakes made with gluten. They have a bit of an eggy texture and you can definitely taste the coconut. Since Tosh doesn't eat eggs or coconut, I had ZERO expectations. I also left the blueberries out of his because he's a plain pancake guy.
I figured he would sniff them or maybe put one bite up to his mouth and walk away.
But he didn't. HE ATE 10 BITES! That's like an entire pancake!
You might also like: Grain-free cinnamon bun muffins
Trying new foods tips for autistic kids
Tosh eats a pretty sophisticated diet compared to his peers. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way that work for him.
1. Keep your expectations low and be patient. Expect they won't eat it the first time. Offer the food AT LEAST 10 times before you give up. I offered Tosh fresh green juices for an entire year before he finally started drinking them along with me. This is a long game, not a quick fix.
2. Include them in the prep. It really helps give Tosh a sense of ownership when I let him help in the kitchen. Even when he doesn't like something, he's anxious to try it because it's "his".
3. Act like it's no big deal. I don't stand expectantly over Tosh, waiting for him to try something. I set the plate in front of him and walk off or focus on my own meal. Your odds of getting a kid to do anything are much higher if they think it's their idea. I tell him he doesn't have to eat it, which works as reverse psychology on him. And if he doesn't eat it, I don't make a big deal about it.
4. Allow time for taste buds to adjust. You can't take a kid from McDonald's to vegan overnight. The palette needs time to change. When we took Tosh off gluten and dairy two years ago, it took him a couple of weeks before he started eating the substitutes.
5. Eat it yourself. Don't expect your kid to go gluten free or paleo while you're eating Ritz crackers. That's just mean.
It’s hard enough to feed children with autism a healthy diet because they’re picky eaters, but many of their favorite foods are among the most toxic and unhealthy for anyone to eat. This double whammy can make the effort to clean up your family’s diet very difficult, but the silver lining is that your child’s potential for improvement is very promising!
I swear, so many autistic kids love pepperoni, it should be included on the list of behaviors used to diagnose it. However, brands like Hormel are extremely harmful for children with autism. Here’s why.
Heather Anderson is a natural health educator, writer, blissfully happy autism mom, fintech marketer and lover of life in Southern California.
Please join me on this autism journey. Let’s create a positive, supportive community in which we can learn, grow and prosper. Where the focus isn’t just on your autistic child, but on your own personal growth as well.