The Autism Diet on a REAL Budget - How to do it...
o you have an Autism diagnosis, now... what diet? Does it really have to be like that? It took me years to listen to all the reasons why you should try the gluten free/casein free diet. Just to listen. I thought it was a lot of hype; it sounded crazy! Wheat is the "staff of life", every time you turn on the TV you hear "eat whole grains!" I bought that story too. We ate all whole-grain all the time for several years.
Did you know that modern wheat is not the same wheat that Jesus ate in the Bible?
Finally I stopped watching TV and my brain started working again. Yeah, now I'm one of THOSE people. Wow, how I have changed over the years! From growing up the only daughter of an Air Force enlisted single-mom with dreams of joining up and fighting for my country (okay it was actually the steady pay-check I really wanted); a flag saluting, decorated girl-scout, and bonafide ROTC trained, keg party girl riding in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s Green 1969 Mustang Fastback - then fast forward to today.
Today I am a homeschooling, Bible teacher, mother of five. We make our own deodorant and cleaning supplies, threw away the microwave, and the TV, we don't eat at restaurants; fast food or otherwise, we don't eat gluten, casein, soy, canola, or corn, GMOs and very little rice or grains , only occasional quinoa! Did you know that 2013 is the official International year of Quinoa? It should go without saying but we don't eat artificial food dyes, preservatives or basically ANYTHING until I have researched it . I know what you are thinking.
"Well SHE obviously can afford it"
ut no. Along the way I became a disabled single-mom. For several years we struggled, with food stamps, housing issues; we have been homeless twice - I lost my driver’s license because I was trying to drive across three counties to work for far less then I needed to survive- and got so many tickets for no insurance, no tags, it just went on and on. And ON. There was a very long time when the only income I had to take care of my family was food stamps. That's one reason why now today I make my own cleaning supplies. I found out baking soda and vinegar cleans everything nicely and you can get them on Food Stamps. Sorry it's called SNAP now.
So how do I do it? Well, it's not cheap; I have to re-organize my priorities for sure, but it CAN be done. I am living proof. My three oldest girls have long since moved out so today I cook for myself and two teenagers. My girl, Maxine, is 14 and she was the one I have had to fight the most on this diet; but we got past that. My boy, Sidney- I call him Bear, is 15, diagnosed on the spectrum finally at age 10- but that's a whole 'notherstory!
I have been tracking my expenses for the last couple months, getting ready to write a post like this, and I found that I spend just over 48% (42% is food only) of my total income on food and supplements. Don't panic! You won't likely have to do that, you probably aren't on a "fixed income" like me. Hey if I can afford it - you can too, right?
ecause I live in a very small town in rural Arkansas, my only real shopping resource is the local Super Wal-Mart, there are NOT a lot of shopping options for my family there. It's funny when we walk into a grocery store I am sometimes overwhelmed by the fact that there is virtually nothing there that I consider to be EDIBLE- isn't that scary? Since I don't have a car or a family support system I can't drive to Little Rock to the Whole Foods which is about 45 miles away. I can't even get to Hot Springs to the Kroger which is only about 25 miles away! So I buy most of my groceries and supplements online. I will break it down for you.
On such a tight budget I do have to be selective and careful. It does take me a week to plan my monthly shopping. I start typically five days before my check is deposited getting my online shopping carts in order, spending a few hours a day on it; so high-speed internet is important. There is a local farm where I buy my free range chicken and eggs; that's easy I just call them up a few days before payday and tell them exactly what I need and what day I need it and they are nice enough to deliver it right to my house since they know I have no car. If you are in my area they are CJ Farms, Chris and Josh are awesome! This month they even threw in some freebies cause they know I need it! So it pays to get to know your local farmer for sure. There is a small local health food store; D.Davis & Co. where I pick up some odd items that I don't use that often or that I want to pick up from local sources like raw honey. I get my Apple Cider Vinegar from there too, I don't have to, but the difference in price from Swanson's or VitaCost is negligible and I do believe in supporting local business whenever possible. Plus the owners, Diane and Terry Davis are members of my local congregation and they usually give me the "friend" discount. Sometimes I buy new items I want to try from them, like Nutritional Yeast, or Hemp Protein powder. See? Once in a while I can splurge on something like that. The local Farmer's Coop is difficult for me to get to since it is out of the way and I don't want to pay for a special para-transit trip just to get there, however once in a while when I am riding with an elderly friend of mine who likes me to help her pay her bills we will stop in there and I buy locally made Sorghum Molasses. This is a real treat and about 1/3 the cost of honey. I still want the honey for the health benefits but having the sorghum does help me to stretch my dollar. The rest of my shopping is mostly produce and a few odds and ends that I buy as needed throughout the month, usually at Wal-Mart. They have a few organic produce items so I try to buy things like organic carrots, lettuce and celery when they have it.
make my own coconut milk from dried unsweetened coconut flakes. After I make the milk I dry the leftover coconut in the oven and then grind it into flour. You can also make almond milk at home just as easily. I have chosen not to do it right now because I get the coconut flakes much cheaper then almonds. I grind my own almond meal and tapioca starch too. I have not tried making ghee yet, though I mean to do it this month. Mostly we just don't need it anymore. I do buy a small container of casein free margarine. But I have had the same small tub for a month and a half. I don't use it.
Here's some equipment you will need to get by eating GFCF on a budget.
Here's some equipment you will need to get by eating GFCF on a budget.
Special tip #1 and A Bonus Recipe!
When I am washing and chopping vegetables, I save all the carrot tops, onion and garlic skins, celery and broccoli stumps, you name it in a gallon bag in the freezer. Once the bag is full I bring it out and pour it into my 8 qt stock pot and fill it about 3/4 full of fresh water and about 2 tablespoons of salt. I bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and let it simmer about 2-3 hours. You will get used to how long you like it, I find if it cooks too long the flavor starts to fade and I prefer brighter flavors. Then I strain it though a fine mesh strainer, and throw away all the boiled veggies till the broth is fairly clear. Then cut up fresh carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, onions (don't forget to save those stumps) whatever veggies I have in the fridge that look good, the kids love to add chopped kale in season or sliced cabbage. This is a good way to use up any tomatoes that look a little old. If I have any leftover chicken or portions of fish in the freezer I throw that in too; but a meatless soup can be just as nice. Sometimes I will add a cup of rice, but rice doesn't agree with me often so I only do it when requested. Add in salt and pepper, Italian seasoning, a couple of Bay leaves, always a bit of cayenne, whatever you like. When in doubt smell the spices till you find what you like. Cover it and bring it back to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for 30 to 50 minutes or until the rice is done. The rice will explode when you cook it this way so if you don't like that leave it out or cook it separately and add it in at the end. About 10 minutes before you serve it chop a handful of fresh garlic, and parsley and throw that in along with 3-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. If the flavor is not quite where you want it, add more salt. That is usually the problem. This is easy and it's almost like getting a free meal!
Special Tip #2
If you check out my grocery lists you will find that I only buy about 20 - 22 pounds of grass fed meat each month. (Not including free-range chicken and eggs) We don't eat meat at every meal, or even every day; and when we do I am very strict about rationing it carefully. When you are spending an average of $8 a pound for grass fed meat you have to! There are three of us; me and two teens may as well be three adults. I figure that if a 1/4 lb hamburger patty is a standard portion then our family doesn't need to eat a whole pound of hamburger, right? So when I thaw out a pound of hamburger, before it is completely thawed but soft enough to cut I cut it into four equal pieces and add one piece to a plastic container I keep in the freezer. When I have three pieces in there I have a meal worth and that is the next hamburger I thaw. I use this rule whether I am making hamburgers, taco salad, or even hamburger stew. As for breakfast meats, I figure since we are eating eggs we need even less meat. I cut a 1 pound package of sausage in two and save half for another meal, same with bacon. I don't buy the premium priced bacon slices at $12 a pound, instead I buy the bacon ends and pieces which is much cheaper - then after thawing it I chop it into small pieces before frying. It cooks more evenly and then I can use it to make a frittata or my awesome Bacon Fried Kale. Yeah we do miss having slices of bacon sometimes, but bacon is bacon, it still tastes awesome!
Special Tip #3
I learned a tip that I will pass on to you about pop-corn. Pop-corn that is grown and sold in the US is not GMO! Do you know how the movie theaters get that delicious taste and smell? It's not from butter. It's coconut oil! We don't even bother with butter on our pop-corn anymore and its awesome, even more it tastes good cold too, unlike butter or margarine which gets pasty when it gets cold. So cook your popcorn on the stove in coconut oil the old fashioned way, then melt a little more to pour on top, salt to taste and don't tell anybody till they start raving about how yummy it is. We don't eat it all the time and there is new evidence that corn gluten is just as bad as wheat gluten so do your homework before you try it and decide for yourself.
hrow out old ideas about what it takes to eat healthy. When I was a kid it was expected that you would clean your plate, drink milk with every meal and follow the food pyramid and the four food groups. Did you know that the food pyramid was designed to fatten up live-stock? No wonder the US is the fattest nation!
There are numerous recipe clubs where you can get free recipes, tips, watch videos, and how-to's - we live in the information age! There isn't really anything you can't learn on the internet. My favorite sites for recipes are Just A Pinch and Epicurious. They are free to join and you can post your own recipes, make lists of your favorite recipes and if you want to upgrade there are even more advanced features. I pay around $11 a year on Just A Pinch and get to access cool features like menu planning, an integrated recipe box, one-click grocery lists and even a FREE embroidered Just A Pinch Recipe Club cook’s apron ($35 retail value)! Great value there.
Another great resource is BLOGS. My favorite for recipes is Against All Grain. This site is great for those that follow The Paleo or Primal Diet, SCD, GAPS and Gluten-Free lifestyles. This brings me to another point. Don't ignore those other diets. Many people start with GFCF and then add Soy, or decide the need a SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) or GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). The Paleo or Primal Diet is an interesting one, really based more on a philosophy then a necessitous restriction due to food allergies or sensitivities; I find that for baking, even if you don't need to, the Paleo recipes are much cheaper and easier to follow! Here's a quote from The Paleo Diet.com website,
"based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Pal eolithic era"
Another great resource blog is Gluten Free Society - Dr. Peter Osborne has some awesome articles, and products that for me are always a great jumping off point. I signed up for the newsletter about two years ago, and it’s the one I always read, and use for gathering information. Here is one of their awesome articles, a list of foods that contain gluten.
On a side note, the benefits of dropping gluten and casein, GMOs and even all grains are not just for Autism. Three years ago, I had diverticulitis, GERD, a spastic colon, chronic heartburn, high blood pressure, chronic arthritis, type 2 diabetes, major depressive disorder with psychotic features, panic attacks, I had two knee surgeries and a spinal fusion in my neck- I was on 8 different prescriptions most of them psychiatric- then I had a really bad allergic reaction to my blood pressure medicine that set off a chain of allergic reactions, panic attacks, and sky rocketing blood pressure; my blood pressure went up so high that my eyeballs swelled out of my face! It took three days for them to go down. The ER doc nearly killed me - That's when I started taking control of my own health. I was already on a diet journey, but not serious about my own diet yet, mostly just for the kids. Today I take no prescription medicines at all. I have not lost a ton of weight, only 40 pounds, but in the last four months since we went grain and GMO free I have lost my "wheat belly" and gone from a size 24 to a size 16 in jeans. It's been a pretty dramatic change.
So, in conclusion; it will take a while for you to change the way you think about food. The more people in the house you have to fight on the issue the longer it will take. But I will tell you a secret; it is easier to say you’re sorry then to ask for permission. If you are in charge of planning meals, and shopping and you think there will be a lot of hassle, don't bring it up and don’t talk about it. Just change what's in the fridge and get used to doing more cooking, more preparing, and more serving. The stuff in the fridge is not familiar so they will not know how to prepare it or else it will just seem like it's a hassle. Just do it for them. It's much easier, trust me on that. It took us about three months to get the whole kitchen free of gluten and casein once we actually started doing it. You have to learn to spot those hidden gluten sources. My best advice is, cook it yourself. Don't buy anything in a box or a can or a bag with more than three ingredients. If you don't know what an ingredient is, leave it on the shelf until you can research it. Join some Facebook groups or yahoo groups. Sign up for some blogs. Learn to Google. It is new, and it is different. There is a learning curve, but in the end it's not as hard as it seems and the benefits are out of this world!
Bonus Recipe Links!
|From Left top around to the Right and back again... DeSere` (14), Grandma, Jocelynn (9), Victoria (Mom), Alexandra (7), Maxine (4) & Bear (5). Taken in October 2002. (c) All Rights Reserved.|