As parents who’ve implemented the diet, we understand the challenges of beginning what feels like an overwhelming task. To that end, we’re here to help you get on your way. Beginning the diet requires a few things. Your determination is the first, and most important. You will also need a few tools to get you started:
GFCFSF Food list
GFCFSF Meal Plans
Sources of Gluten
Sources of Casein
Sources of Soy
Ingredients and Substitutions list
What Can I Feed My Child?
A Guide to Reading Food labels
Toxins in Food and the Environment
The Steps to GFCFSF
Be Prepared! Read through the TACA website and pick a date to start the diet. Spring/Winter school breaks or summer are the best times, because your kids are with you 24/7 for 10 or more days straight. If there is no break coming soon, just pick a weekend and start. There is no time like the present!
Weeks 1-2: Remove all casein (milk, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, etc). Do not replace them with soy. Begin calcium supplementation.
Weeks 3-4: Remove gluten - wheat, oats, barley and rye.
Weeks 5-6: Remove all soy. Now your child is considered to be “on the diet!"
Weeks 7-8: Recheck everything and refine diet, if needed. Replace any personal care items such as shampoo, toothpaste, laundry soap and classroom supplies.
Weeks 9-10: Recheck everything and refine diet, if needed. Do an inventory of sugars and carbohydrates, adjust diet to good levels.
Hints for Diet Success
The first few weeks can be hard on both the child and the parents. The children typically have meltdowns and regress when the foods they are used to are removed and replaced with new things they are not used to. How long this lasts depends on a few factors – how bad their addiction to the foods is, if you replace gluten, casein or soy with foods the child is also allergic to, diet sabotage, and how committed you are.
To make it easier on the parents:
- Be committed. Know that research shows that 91% of ASD kids improve on the GFCFSF diet. The diet will only make your child healthier, and healthy is the goal after all. Yes, the diet can be confusing at first, but everything you will need is on the TACA website. And remember this, YOU CAN DO IT!!!
- Make sure your spouse is on board. If your spouse keeps giving your child things that are not on the diet, there is no point to doing it. The diet is 100% or nothing. The second time that my spouse gave our son something with wheat in it, I removed all non-diet foods from the house and it didn’t happen again. For more ideas for getting your spouse on board, read some helpful information.
- Do your research before you start. Know what your child can and can’t have. Learn how to read labels.
- Get a blood test for food sensitivities, an IgG and IGE Foods Panel, before you begin if possible to avoid substituting other foods your child is allergic to.
- Think of five of your child's favorite foods and find substitutes for them.
- Go through TACA's recipe database and pick a few things your child will like and buy the ingredients.
- Use TACA's menu plans to help you plan out your days.
To make it easier on your child:
- Remove old favorites from the house. If your child can see them, he won’t understand why he can’t have the usual and the tantrums will be worse and last longer.
- Don’t take your child with you to the grocery store for a few months if you can help it, or be prepared for a fight in the store.
- Some kids do better with substitutes if you put them in the old container. Get some empty (make sure they are new or very clean) containers from old favorites and put the new things in them.
- Don’t eat the old favorites (like pizza) in front of your child for a few months.
- Consider locking your pantry or refrigerator.
- School: Make sure you get the diet written into his IEP and that the school staff understands the diet. It’s federal law that they must follow it. Include in your IEP that they give you a week’s notice for all food-related events so that you can supply a substitute. Supply the school with GFCFSF school supplies and a list of what your child can and cannot have. See School Supplies and Essential Handout for Aides and Teachers.
Things that can cause failure:
- Well-meaning relatives: Some relatives don’t understand the need for the diet and don’t see what harm a little cookies and milk can do. Once your child is on the diet, you will see the harm it can do. Days of diarrhea and crying, stomach pains, headaches, and tantrums will convince you, but extended family may not see the consequences if they don’t live with you. Framing it as a medical issue usually helps. Cookies and milk are all good, unless you are allergic to them and they make you sick. Then they are like poison, and your family wouldn’t knowingly want to give your child poison. Some relatives will think you are crazy, and may even tell you to your face! But once your child starts making improvements, you can show them that it DOES work.
- Schools: School staff can sink your diet if they don’t understand it. It is not optional for them to follow it; they must, according to federal law. Most parents supply ALL of the foods that the child will consume at school, taking the guesswork out for the staff. School supplies like glue, stickers, paint and Play Doh all need to be checked too.
- Creating a carb-junkie: When most people begin the GFCFSF diet, they merely substitute GFCFSF versions of the foods their child was addicted to – fries, chips, bread, yogurt, milk, etc. The problem then becomes that there are no nutrients in those foods and they are all carbohydrates. That won’t make your child healthy in the long run. Carbs also feed yeast, a recurrent problem in ASD children. The goal is to make your child healthy so while those foods are OK during the transition period, you should focus on reducing them as much as possible and introducing foods like meat and vegetables – things with nutrients.
- Unknown allergies: When you start the diet and substitute new foods, you might inadvertently start giving your child foods he’s allergic to. If your child appears not to benefit from the GFCFSF diet, rule out additional allergies through blood tests or further eliminations.
- Supplanting Calories: Giving large quantities of juice or milk substitutes or other empty calories like potatoes can cause feeding problems. The body will pull the easiest calories it finds first and then tell the brain that it doesn’t need the rest. When a child consumes lots of juice, milk substitutes (which are VERY high in sugar), or candy that child’s body will get most of its calories from those first, and then tell the brain that it’s not hungry anymore. Then the child eats little to no food and starts losing weight. This can create a vicious cycle and cause a feeding disorder. A child should not have more than six ounces of juice, soda, or milk substitute per day. Then the body will pull the calories out of the more complex foods, along with their nutrients, which is your goal!
The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for calcium for children is 800-1200 milligrams per day. Without dairy products, this is virtually impossible to meet without giving a supplement. Fortunately, calcium supplements are cheap and available in pills, liquid, chewable and powder forms.
- Almond Flour
- Arrowroot Flour
- Brown Rice Flour
- Buckwheat Flour
- Casava Flour
- Coconut Flour
- Cornmeal and flour
- Garfava Flour
- Lentil flour
- Navy Bean Flour
- Pecan Flour
- Potato Flour
- Potato Starch Flour
- Quinoa Flour
- Rice Flour
- Sorghum Flour
- Sweet Rice Flour
- Tapioca Starch
- Almond Milk (plain, vanilla and chocolate)
- Cashew Milk
- Coconut milk
- Coconut cream
- Flaxseed milk
- Hazelnut Milk
- Hemp Milk (plain, vanilla and chocolate)
- Vance's DariFree (vanilla and chocolate) Potato Milk
- Quinoa Milk
- Rice Milk (Many brands are available in local grocery stores, but make sure they are GFCF as some contain barley. Flavors available are plain, vanilla, and chocolate; some are also organic and some are in the refrigerated section, not just the dry section) May contain arsenic.
- Coffee Creamers - SoDelicious makes a handful of Coffee Creamers that can also be used in recipes but as they are all sweet, you wouldn't use them in savory dishes.
Oil and Butter Substitutes
- Coconut Oil/Butter (substitute 3/4 cup coconut oil/butter for 1 cup shortening)
- Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread - Soy-Free
- Use fruit butters in place of oils in recipes
Not all substitutes are created equal and cannot merely be substituted 1:1. If you want to substitute oil for butter, margarine, or shortening you should keep in mind that it can add greasiness to the finished product. It is not a direct substitute and the other liquid ingredients may need to be slightly reduced. Example: 1/3 to 1/4 cup oil = 1/2 cup butter, margarine, shortening or butter/margarine.
You will also find substitutes for sugars, eggs, corn, beef, soy, vanilla and vinegar on our site. Read more about GFCFSF ingredients and substitutions.
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Parent Mentor Program
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