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A Challenge for All Chefs

This is actually a cry for help from a worried mother, but I am hoping you all will see this as an interesting challenge. Heck, maybe we'll even create a new cuisine together!

This si not your typical picky toddler quandry. My 22 month old son is autistic and has started to dislike everythig he used to eat. I prided myself on the fact that I made all his baby food myself witha wide variety of fruits and vegetables and spices from as far as India. Now he won't eat anything! He hates anything spongy, wet, etc. like diced fruits, veggies, pasta, cheese sauce, spaghetti sauce, etc... It is a sensory problem of his and he will actually vomit if he sees a green bean on his plate. I have tried everything but my culinary skills are lacking. This is why I come to you withthis plea for help.

Can you all please lend your culinary expertise and skills to help?

He will only eat dry, crispy, crunchy things like crackers, waffles, the occasional grilled-cheese sandwich. And to make this more challenging, we started the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet hat is lauded by many in the autism field as a healing diet for autistic children. if you can't think of gluten/casein free recipes that's fine i can try substituting some flours, grains, etc., myself.

I mainly need help with things like, do you have any experience trying to bake applesauce or mashed squash to make crispy cakes and does it work? Or do you end up with hot mush?

Thanks to all of you in advance for your time and assistance!
Worried Mom in FL

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  1. what a challenge! I am sorry you have so much on your plate right now!

    just thinking out loud here, from my experiences on a gluten-free diet... here are some crunchy-ish things i like...

    black bean cakes or lentil cakes and other kinds of veggie cakes/burgers can easily be a little overcooked to have a firm texture. they are YUM and healthy with lots of protein. etc.
    i haven't tried applesauce but i think that squash would probably work.

    corn chips, rice cakes, veggie crisps etc as snacks. there are lots of gluten-free snacks like that, especially at stores like trader joes. you could also try banana chips, they are delicious and crunchy and have more vitamins than traditional chips.

    what about raw veggies? broccoli has a nice crunch and is pretty dry... you could cut them up into little pieces maybe?

    thats all i got for right now but i'm gonna keep thinking about this. good luck!!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: CoryKatherine

      Thank you for your ideas! I think the bean and legume cakes are a great idea. And I will try the banana chips.
      So far raw veggies haven't worked. He won't even eat diced apples...
      Thanks again! I appreciate your help.

    2. Oh wow. My SIL went through this with my nephew. For a couple years about the only thing she could get my autistic nephew to eat was bacon and apples(he liked the crunch of green apples and would eat them in quarters. Quarters only though - no slicing, dicing or anything whole). Similarly it was a textural thing for him and they were also doing trying to keep the gluten/casein free diet. Tantrums and vomit often accompanied her attempts at getting him to try different things.

      Will he eat dry cereal? Some of them have a fair amount of nutrients. I seem to remember Rowan being willing to eat some cereals. He was also willing to eat baby carrots. Again, baby only and not in any other form or cut up in any way.

      If I talk to her this week, I'll see if she has other suggestions. We don't live near them so unfortunately I don't know much of the details as to how she tried to deal with this. The good news is he's 7 1/2 now and this hasn't been an issue for the last year and a half or so. So hopefully, likewise for your toddler this will not be a long term struggle.

      Wishing you and your son well! Good luck!

      1. I really don't know if this web site will help you but it is gluten free and the author does try very hard to create tasty recipes.

        I just had to offer something to you after reading your OP. Good luck to your sister.

        1. My heart goes out to you as I work with young children with Autism. Have you started any type of services for your son yet. Oftentimes I work on increasing food variety through behavior based programming. I agree with the sensory component as well, and also believe that proper nutrition must not be overlooked at this age. Do you have a good pediatrician? Have you considered specialized nutritionists? I *strongly* suggest accessing a battery os services to maximize your son'r recovery potential. Your profile does not specify, but where are you located? Feel free to e-mail me, my address is in my profile.

          3 Replies
          1. re: enbell

            Oops, I forgot ideas
            Cook up hash browns nice ans crispy and try ading different thinks mixed in like shredded carrotts or zuchinni
            Homemade potato, sweet potato, or beet chips baked in the oven
            Does edamame have enough "crunch"?

            1. re: enbell

              The mixed veggie pancakes are a fantastic idea. I also add potato flour or finely ground oatmeal to mine to help them crisp up. You can include greens like spinach in the patties, as well. (If you don't have time to make, Dr. Praeger's makes a pretty decent frozen patty.)

              1. re: cimui

                The CF means no casein which is in dairy.

          2. How about potato pancakes (like latkes or boxty) - they are crispy. I'm also thinking maybe the same technique would work with shredded apple instead of potato, to yield crispy apple pancakes instead of potato ones -? Might be worth investigating. Maybe banana chips? I have also see beet chips (sliced beet baked in the oven until crisp).

            Disclaimer: I have no experience with autism or gluten-free or casein-free. Just offering ideas from a food perspective.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cookie44

              Also in the potato pancake mode, I've made mixed pancakes from shredded zuchinni, parsnips, and/or carrots; and potato/parsnip pancakes with success.

            2. Take a deep breath and step away from the stove. Due to a congenital problem, my son could not eat any solid foods for a year. By the time it was safe to offer them, he mostly wasn't interested. My blandly poached organic chicken breast, lovingly pureed, was immediately returned to sender. And thus it went, for many years. He simply would not eat most things. He survived on Cheerios, bacon, grapes, pretzels, and raw carrots. (He added McDonald's french fries at some point.) He now (at 25) eats just about everything. Bottom line: keep offering foods, but don't fool yourself into thinking that you can control what your kid eats. You can't.

              6 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca

                Excellent point: "keep offering foods"
                This is important, and a great reminder!

                1. re: pikawicca

                  I also work with kids with autism as a behavior analyst and teacher. It's important to remember that people with autism develop differently and the OP's son may not just eventually try different foods. It's one of the hallmarks of autism to constantly seek sameness. Much has actually been written on food over-selectivity in children with autism. There are some good folks out there who have been successful in teaching children to gradually tolerate foods that are not preferred for a variety of sensory reasons. As I'm not an expert, I'll just encourage you to do your research. You'll find it. There is a chapter about it in the book edited by Fox, Maurice and Green called Making a difference: Behavioral intervention for autism.

                  In the short-term, I've known GF/CF kids with autism to like the veggie or fruit chips, rice crackers, as well as some of the foods listed above. Please follow the advice of your dr with regard to the GF/CF diet. The diet can help those that are truly allergic, but it's very difficult and not worth it if it's not effective.

                  I hear from my families that I work with how difficult this aspect of autism can be. I wish you luck and send you good thoughts.

                  1. re: amyvc

                    It took my son more than 20 years to "eventually try different foods." Is it really tougher with autistic kids? I don't think so. I think that there are some kids, autistic or not, who have taste/texture sensors different from the mainstream. We don't understand them, so we shouldn't try to change them.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      Again, I'm no expert on this. However, from what I've read, there appears to be a pretty large body of research which suggests that it is, in fact, more difficult to get children with autism to try different foods. Whether it's different than your specific case, I don't know.

                      As to whether we should try to help children learn to eat foods which are unpleasant to them, it really is a decision that each family makes, based on how much the food over-selectivlty is affecting their lives and their child's health. I know that the parent of the child who ate 10 foods in total (cheerios, coffee, tea, coffee cakes, chicken nuggets, and a few others - no vegetables or fruits) and only from specific fast food restaurants or specific brands was definitely looking for help in teaching her son to eat a larger variety of food.

                    2. re: amyvc

                      Thank you for the advice. Surprisingly my son's pediatrician had nothing to suggest about the diet and said if I felt better feeding him that way then that is fine. He said there's no evidence suggesting it works besides anecdotal evidence. So it looks like I am just doing this on my own....

                      1. re: kmolina73

                        There are doctors who do certain testing to see if CF/GF would be good for your son. Check out some of the autism websites. I think they are DAN doctors (Defeat Autism Now)? Also search "biomedical" + "autism" and you'll probably come across a lot of info. Good luck and best wishes.

                  2. I definitely agree with kmolina and enbell about an underlying sensory problem. In addition to what you provide your son from the kitchen, I'd also suggest an overall 'sensory diet'. You may already be aware of this if your son is receiving therapy services. This would be providing sensory input to all of the senses, which is believed to help resolve some sensory processing difficulties. Speak to an occupational therapist for a sensory diet geared specifically for your son.

                    Banana chips are a great idea. There are also a line of crackers that have a serving of veggies in them, although they may not be gf/cf. How about making your own sweet potato chips?

                    1. I don't have a recipe handy but it's pretty easy to make tasty almond crackers from almond flour. You might have some luck dehydrating veggies or fruits. Whole Foods (and plenty of health food stores) sell a variety of pre-dehydrated crispy things.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Cinnamon

                        dehydrated veggies and fruits were exactly what i was going to suggest.

                        good luck to you.

                      2. Although I don't have any specific suggestions, this website may give you some ideas. It is mostly for dairy-free diets (my almost 3 year old son can really tolerate milk products), but many of the recipes are gluten-free as well.

                        Hope it helps...


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: valerie

                          Thanks so much for the website. And THANK ALL OF YOU FOR THE WONDERFUL SUGGESTIONS AND SUPPORT!!!!!!!

                        2. Does he have the same problem with all fruits and veggies or is it the softer ones, only? Does he eat peanut or other nut butter? And are soups and shakes out because they are wet? If not, you can sneak a LOT of nutrients into soups and shakes!!

                          A few crispy, gluten- and casein-free foods to consider:

                          - Vada (high protein, but also high fat, since it's fried: http://www.indiaexpress.com/cooking/m... ... I know there are baked recipes out there
                          )- Papadam (same note as above... this is more of a cracker / crisp and a snack, whereas vadas can be part of a full meal; http://www.recipezaar.com/Papadams-16928 ; you could also buy dry, raw, premade papadams at an Indian grocery store to fry up at home
                          )- Ligurian farinata topped with whatever meats or vegetables he will eat... possibly a light brush of pesto would pass muster? (http://www.recipezaar.com/Ligurian-Fa...
                          )- crispy, oven-roasted chickpeas (http://christie-corner.blogspot.com/2...
                          )- granola (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heal... ; leave out the wheat bran and wheat germ
                          )- granola bars (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al... ; leave out the wheat germ
                          )- oven baked GF chicken nuggets (http://www.cookingcache.com/poultry/e...
                          )- and back on the pancake track... Korean savory mung bean pancakes (http://glutenfree.wordpress.com/2009/...


                          Also consider commercial snacks, including soy crisps (I like Glenny's, but there are many brands out there) and Calbee Snack Salad Snapea Crisps, roasted nuts / seeds and brown rice cakes with whatever he will eat with it (Lundberg makes a good version).

                          Finally... there are ways to sneak in more nutrition to the foods that he will eat. Use whole-grain oat flour in place of bleached flour for pancakes and waffles, prune butter or apple butter in place of oil.

                          I wish you the best of luck. You sound like a really fantastic mother.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: cimui

                            Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions!! I love the addition of Indian foods like pappadam. I didn't even think of those! And I LOVE Indian food! He eats NO nut butters, NO veggies at all except dehydrated veggie chips that I just discovered thanks everyone on here! He will sip shakes occasionally but no soups yet. But the shake and smoothie idea sounds very good! I appreciate your help and your kind words. :)

                            1. re: kmolina73

                              if he'll eat shakes, possibly pureed soups would grow on him...


                              good luck, kmolina. you have a lot of chowhounds rooting for you.

                            2. I don't have much to suggest that hasn't been covered but what about roasted chickpeas or soybeans for snacks? They're GF and high protein. (doh as I re-read cimui's post above I realize I just suggested the same thing sorry)


                              1 Reply
                              1. When he gets hungry enough he'll eat, self preservation always kicks in.

                                1. Parmesan crackers. Grate some Reggiano and put Tablespoon size servings in a teflon fry pan or silicone baking sheet and heat until melted then crispy.

                                  1. There's a book called Going Crackers that's all about making your own crackers. I don't know if she has any that include vegetables or fruits, but I'll bet you could work shredded veggies into some of them.

                                    How about getting a food dehydrator and making fruit & veggie chips with that?

                                    1. I'm gluten-free and vegan myself and I work with children on the spectrum. I also have a nephew w/autism. At the parent support group his parents attended shortly after diagnosis, upon meeting, the parents asked each other "what 6 foods does your kid eat?" Texture, temperature, and smell (and sometimes color) often play a huge role. Some kids refuse a product they used to eat/drink/like if the company changes the label design.

                                      Do you know about Mary's Gone Crackers? www.marysgonecrackers.com
                                      We get the GF waffles from TJs or, if on sale, the ones made by Nature's Path. I used to take them to work and eat them plain. Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise cereal and corn flakes (be careful, they now have two varieties of corn flakes, one of which is GF, the other not) could be eaten plain. TJ's (little round) Rice Crackers say soy sauce but actually contain tamari and are gluten-free. Corn thins might be another possibility. www.cornthins.com
                                      I realize that most of the above suggestions are for carbs and you're looking more for other food groups, but expanding his options in general might be helpful.

                                      How about some (crisp) dehydrated veggies? My sister makes zucchini chips. Will he eat crisp pea pods or raw carrots or celery sticks, probably not, since they're not dry?

                                      We make sweet potato cookies, carrot cookies, and lentil cookies... maybe the recipes could be tweaked to make them drier and crisper?

                                      What does he drink? Lots of things can go into smoothies or homemade juice. With all that dry stuff he needs to drink plenty.

                                      Do you know about the GFCFKids yahoo group?

                                      For what it's worth, my nephew is still a very picky eater and just graduated high school.

                                      How about TJ's plantain chips and hemp tortilla chips (generally in the same aisle).

                                      We grind our own GF flours (buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, garbanzo, brown rice, etc) but use them primarily for muffins and bread, which are unlikely to interest him. I'll look through the GF cookbooks we have for additional ideas.

                                      We like Sunshine (veg) burgers but they probably wouldn't be crisp enough for his taste. sunshineburger.com

                                      1. Some consider oats gluten-free, some don't, I avoid them. Looks like only Gluten Free California Veggie Burger from Dr. Praeger's are both GF and and CF.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: lgss

                                          This thread is posting replies everywhere except where they belong...

                                        2. Some consider oats gluten-free, some don't, I avoid them. I would skip the granola items due to the oats. There are other better truly GF flours for the pancakes and waffles.

                                          1. sweet potato and other veggie chips. rice crackers (commercial). homemade rice flour crackers, perhaps with peanut butter baked in for nutrition. chickpea flour is available in indian grocery stores, it makes great crispy-fried fritters & you can get veggies into it. you can put leftover whole grains and shredded veggies into his favorite waffle batter and try that (squeeze out very juicy veggies like zucchini first).

                                            is this a veg diet? i don't know whether to rec items like the infamous meat nugget (commercial or homemade), or not.

                                            1. I have a 3 1/2 yr old autistic child. He too would eat anything, and we go in cycles now.
                                              You will find that perhaps this week he will only eat the crunchy things, and next week he'll change.

                                              I have found that Alex loves tuna fish or chicken salad sandwiches. He goes to preschool and needs a lunch with snacks/drinks so I know what you're going through.
                                              For the tuna I make his with the sweet pickle relish, and onions (there's the crunch) I press the buttermilk bread with a rolling pin, and the smear tuna, roll and slice on the diagonal, just to make it easier for him to handle. You could grill it with a little butter at this point. Or not press the bread like I do.
                                              He loves apples that are sauteed with juice, cinnamon and little brown sugar and butter. I make that with granny smith apples, he loves that stuff. Same for peaches.

                                              As far a gluten free, he has been under the care of specialist since he was around 16 months old, and has had in house therapy and out. I'm curious the gluten free has never been brought up even at the school which is one of the best in CA. The give the kids all kinds of snacks. But perhaps there are a few that are on diets...now I'm curious and will ask about this diet thing.

                                              But then he is at the low end, and his main problems other than noice and sensory, are delayed speech and mimicking. Which, I am happy to report has VASTLY improved since he has been in his school (only since April!) that is dedicated to kids with needs like his. I wish you all the luck, it's a great deal of work.

                                              1. Didn't read it all, but kale chips can be made from spraying kale leaves with oil and baking them. Could be a good way to get in some greens. http://www.recipezaar.com/Kale-Chips-... is just one of many recipes.

                                                1. I'm wondering if since your child likes crunchy things, would he eat fresh corn cut off the cob flavored nicely? If he's anything like mine, he will change as far as the textures go, we' are having problems with things he loved for the longest time. Now all of a sudden, nope. He won't touch any of it. I know he can't eat pasta, how about the spaghettie squash al dente?or zucchini. I cook with a lot of flavor, he loves garlic and he loves raw onions. Baffling.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    There's great GF pasta. He probably wouldn't go for the texture. We like the rice pasta from TJs and corn pasta available at WFM. There's also quinoa pasta but it's more expensive.

                                                    1. re: lgss

                                                      I have oodles of rice noodles, no pun intended. Oh yes I did! He loves them too!
                                                      We don't have as many textural problems with him some do. I have to make sure his apple is whole, he doesn't want slices. I know, I tried the little cup of yogurt thing to dip. So I found the tiniest little fuji apples at the 99 cent store, they're just his size.

                                                      He loves spaghetti and garlic toast. He also likes soups that he can dunk his bread in. He will gobble that down. So from what I read there are quite a few pastas that she could work with.

                                                      1. re: lgss

                                                        lgss, looks like some responses were deleted. But I did check with one of senior staff members. The short answer is that "there's a lot of dietary information out there and there has not been a significant link to autism, all though some kids do have digestive allergies,etc. However, there just isn't enough data to say autism is caused by glutens etc. And I'll give you some material on the subject, and you're welcome to try it. The diet is completely up to you, and what works best for you and the child."

                                                        They often transpose letters and this is our case, he has had his own little language and as you know makes communication frustrating. Until this weekend our/his cat "Buddy" was called "Dubby" he got it right and everytime he called him for the first time this weekend!

                                                      2. re: chef chicklet

                                                        Envirokidz does make GF animal crackers that appear to be dairy-free as well. The cheese curls mentioned are not diary-free. I know there's a huge demand for GFCF goldfish but I don't think they exist yet.

                                                      3. Utilizing nuts and legumes would help with protein and fiber. Crackers could be made including nut flours/meals (= finely-ground nuts). These need refrigeration/freezing if not promptly used, and can be pricey, but Trader Joe's has very reasonable almond meal. Chickpea flour, aka besan, is readily available in Indian markets and is delicious.

                                                        1. would your child eat this?
                                                          or instead of applesauce, this
                                                          He also love this pasta. There is no sauce other than a brothy type, he loves this.

                                                          but here is something I found that I think even my Alex will love, cheese curls!

                                                          1. kmolina, I've been researching gluten free recipes that use potato starch, since I bought a box on sale the other day. This waffles recipe looks pretty interesting and healthy, and made me think of your son:


                                                            I think the recipe may take well to a savory substitution, too. Leave out the sugar, add a bit more salt if need be, and instead of the 1 cup of berries, maybe use about 1/4 cup of pureed vegetables like peas, carrots or broccoli. You could also add dried herbs, garlic and onion powders, and the like, to taste.

                                                            1. I know a lot of kids with ASD who were extremely picky. Most seemed to increase the variety of foods as they got older, so hang in there

                                                              To get crispy foods, you can dehydrate various fruits and vegetables, either in a special dehydrator or in your oven. You can also make various crackers this way.

                                                              Have you heard of this book, "The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook, Updated and Revised: The Ultimate Guide to the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet "? It might have some useful info for you.


                                                              Also, I know some people have found the approach in "Just Take a Bite" by Lori Ernsperger and Tania Stegen-Hanson helpful in increasing their kids' food choices. http://www.amazon.com/Just-Take-Bite-...

                                                              Would it be possible to work with a knowledgeable nutritionist? You have a lot to deal with and the more support you can get, the better.
                                                              Good luck.