Monday, March 23, 2009

Going, going, . . . gone Gluten-free!

For the last nearly-year I've been contemplating taking Josiah off gluten to see if it helps any with his sensory regulation. He's already dairy and soy free (had been since about 6 weeks old) and while that seemed pretty easy at the time, the idea of cutting gluten ALSO was rather intimidating. I made lots of excuses for a long time -- (1) he's too skinny; if he refuses to eat gluten-free stuff and loses weight, that wouldn't be good (2) there's just too little available in dairy AND gluten free (3) I should do it with him but I'm not ready for that yet, (4) I just don't have the time or patience; I've got bigger things to worry about. When he started to include "Jesus, please help me to stop doing bad things and help me do what is right" in his dinner-time prayers, I knew I had to at least try. I can't guarantee it will help, but if I thought there was a chance and just didn't do it, I'd always wonder and regret not having tried harder to help him.

So about three weeks ago, we took him completely off gluten. For the last few months I'd been at least trying to introduce new snacks and foods that were gluten-free so he had some new "favorites" he would get to keep. We found GREAT alternatives for pasta and started eating more rice and more whole foods. And I broke out the Deceptively Delicious cookbook to see if I could find more ideas for hiding nutrition in stuff he already liked. It's been going pretty well, and I have to admit that it has been a lot less difficult to adjust to than I was making it out to be. Here are some things I've learned so far:
  • A gluten-free diet really demands either an excellent local bakery to supply you with quality gluten-free bread, or a breadmaker. I baked the first two few loaves of bread myself, which is funny considering that after a seventh-grade "bread making" science experiment taught me only that I never wanted to make bread by hand again in my life, I swore never would. Ah,, what you won't do for your own children! My recent experience only served to confirm the disdain I held for breadmaking! At the suggestion of our OT, I bought a Bob's Red Mill gluten-free bread mix -- but without a breadmaker or kitchenaid mixer (which the package specifically recommends, by brand, that you use) I was woefully underequipped for such a project. My poor old hand-mixer complained profusely about having to try to muster enough strength to mix (knead?) bread dough, so in the interest of not spending lots of extra money before we know that the diet will be permanent, I simply upgraded from my 125-watt hand mixer to a 250-watt mixer. The new mixer didn't complain about the workload, but the dough climbed the beaters and would not be held down. It became a two-person project -- my husband stood nearby with a spatula in each hand pressing the dough down to prevent it from climbing out of the bowl via the mixer while I held the mixer for the required 3 minutes. The loaf hadn't even made it to the oven and I was already reinstating my "never again" proclamation. When the first loaf rose so high it started to burn due to contact with the oven's TOP elements (yep, we're talking a good 9 inches of loaf rising above the edges of the breadpan), I pulled it out, sliced the top off, lowered the rack and stuck the sucker back in to finish baking. Both that loaf and the better-mixed loaf that followed a week later came out of the over in rather strange shapes. A venting session at my mom's group prompted a mommy friend to lend me her breadmaker, and what a godsend it has been. We have made only one loaf in it so far, but it was the first loaf I could actually enjoy the taste of because it hadn't been embittered by the frustrating process of making it by hand.
  • Even when you've succeeded at baking the bread without driving yourself to need a room with padded walls, gluten free bread just doesn't taste the same. It is mostly an issue of texture, though there is also a strange sweetness and aftertaste to it that makes it hard to adjust to as well. I have discovered, however, that these differences are far less noticeable when you use the bread in alternative ways -- toasted, french toasted, and bread crumbed for example. Using a recipe adapted from the Deceptively Delicious cookbook, I cooked up some gluten-free Pumpkin Spice French Toast that was so tasty my husband enjoyed it (see paragraph below for more on my husband as the barometer of success in gluten-free cooking). I toasted it for peanut banana sandwiches that were excellent, and I chopped up several chunks to make bread crumbs for adding to meatloaf and using as breading on rice balls. Next up: homemade chicken nuggets with gluten-free breading and some grilled turkey sandwiches! JoNo hasn't really adjusted to the new bread, but he doesn't ask too frequently for the old bread anymore so it's working out fine.
  • Lasagne noodles are great look-alikes for egg noodles in chicken noodle soup. Josiah's all time favorite food (besides, perhaps, scrambled eggs) is Wolfgang Puck's Chicken Noodle Soup. While our buddy Wolfgang does make an organic line of soups, he does not make a gluten-free line -- in fact, I haven't found a gluten-free canned chicken noodle soup in any of our area health food stores. So I was left to recreate the soup myself. After a few tries, I finally got the taste down, but none of the spiral shaped gluten-free noodles were cutting it for JoNo. In desperation, I finally bought a box of lasagne noodles, cooked them in the soup, pulled them out and cut them lengthwise, and then into shorter lengths in hopes they would look enough like the noodles he was used to to pass muster with him. Eureka! Even my husband, who is a ridiculously picky eater and does not have to eat gluten or dairy free, enjoyed the soup! Between his uncharacteristically-nonmasculine unwillingness to eat any variety of food placed in front of him (how I sometimes wish I was married to one of my friends' "eat anything on the plate" husbands!) and his quiet-yet-unyielding ability to make such particular tastes known, my husband has really become the bar by which I measure the success of my "passing-off-an-allergen-free-dish-as-normal-food" efforts. If he eats anything beyond the test bite, I've got a success; if he asks for it again, I've got a phenomenal success; if he even takes the test bite in the first place, I know I've got something that will probably succeed anywhere but at home :) Now we're on the hunt for gluten-free alphabet pasta to add to vegetable soup for a good version of ABC soup. Any ideas?

As with anything, adjusting to this new diet has been a process. It's unclear as yet just how much this diet change may be helping, if at all. I have noticed he's eating more food at each meal most of the time, but that could just as easily mean he had a growth spurt that happened to coincide with the diet switch. We're going to give it another three weeks at minimum, and if we're still unsure whether it's really helping, we'll "challenge" it with a bagel or something and the answers should be obvious. Stay tuned for more on that!


EllaJac said...

So glad you're finding some success with this. Have you noticed any changes for your boy?

I don't know where you get some of your GF stuff, but I know Azure sells rice pastas and other things for (I think) cheaper than I've seen them at Fred Meyer's, etc. Finding another person who orders from them, or a buy group to join is easier (you don't have to meet a minimum order on your own).

I'm glad your loaner-bread-machine is working out! I baked several loaves on Monday (of course, I use wheat and ADD gluten :} ), but I have a giant mixer (makes KitchenAid look like a wimp) with a 600 watt motor. :D Tools of the trade, you know?

JoNo and family said...

It's hard to tell whether it's making a difference or not because the change can be gradual and potentially attributable to other things (growth spurts, sunny weather, etc.) If we're still unsure another month from now, we'll challenge it -- and then it should be obvious because if the gluten is affecting him it will affect him more strongly when it is reintroduced after being eliminated. For example, grandma gave him a gluten-free dairy-free pizza with soy cheese on it on Sunday, and Monday was a terrible day for him and I'm confident it was due to the soy (he also had dark circles under his eyes and some rough patches on his skin).