It's been almost two years since we've had Josiah off gluten, dairy and soy, and in that time, I have gone gluten-free for Malachi and even Josh (daddy) has tried eliminating gluten. While it's much easier now, the transitions are always tough. Having done it a few times, I've learned a few things, so here are my tips for making a transition to a restricted diet:
(1) Add new foods BEFORE you start eliminating! In every case, the transition has been easier when we delay making the full transition for a few weeks while we introduce new foods that fit the restricted diet so there are foods they are used to and enjoy before you eliminate things they've been used to. For example, we introduced gluten-free Koala Crisp before we started taking away Cheerios, and we offered him gluten-free Pretzels before we took away his toast and sandwiches. That way, when the gluten foods are eliminated, there are still lots of things he's already enjoying that don't have to go away!
(2) Shift to eating more whole foods. While processed foods are convenient, they aren't nearly as healthy as prepared whole foods anyway, and most processed foods won't be allowed on a restricted diet. Almost EVERY processed food in the American diet has gluten, dairy or soy in it (if not all three). It takes a bit more time and planning, but the food almost always tastes better anyway, is far more nutritious, and saves money -- and you'll be able to make "old favorites" in versions that fit your restricted diet.
(3) Focus on what you CAN eat, rather than on what you can't. On a gluten/dairy/soy free diet, there is still a LOT you can eat, especially if you do some whole foods cooking. Any meat, nuts, fruits and vegetables are safe and encouraged, and there are also still a lot of grains you can eat and cook with (rice, quinoa, lentils, potatoes, etc.) Instead of making lists of off-limits foods, make menus of foods that fit your diet. A snack list might include: apple slices, raisins, peanut butter with gluten-free pretzels or crackers, frozen blueberries, red peppers and hummus, pickles, carrot sticks with dipping sauce (Josiah loves the dip I make by adding curry powder, salt, pepper and lemon juice to some mayonnaise).
(4) Read labels meticulously AND be informed about all the names/ingredients that might include your restricted foods. For example, sodium caesinate is found in lots of "dairy free" items (like whipped topping and coffee creamer) but is derived from milk and can be problematic for many people on a dairy-restricted diet. "Spices" and "Natural Flavorings" often include dairy and/or gluten proteins. When in doubt, keep it out :) And you can always call the company to ask whether a specific product contains gluten or dairy (or whatever restricted ingredient you're dealing with).
(5) For some meals/dishes, you can find good substitutes that fit your dietary restrictions; for others, it's best to just alter the recipe or dish to something different. For example, spaghetti is easy to do GFCFSF (gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free) by making sure your pasta sauce doesn't have cheese or cream in it (we like Newman's Own sauces as they are all natural ingredients and only a couple have dairy in them) and serving it over a bed of gluten-free pasta (if you can eat corn, the corn-quinoa blend by Ancient Harvest is my favorite). Sandwiches, on the other hand, just aren't the same with gluten-free breads, so we just do deli rolls instead -- on a slice of deli meat, spread mayo or hummus, add a couple leaves of spinach and a thin slice of tomato and roll it up :)
(6) Consider throwing out some of your "food rules" while you're making the transition. For example, we normally wouldn't allow candy on a daily basis, but while we were transitioning Josiah off gluten, we let it slide and would let him have a small piece of candy after lunch if he had eaten well. We already had fairly relaxed rules regarding table manners (our SPD kid still has trouble sitting still for a full meal and using his utensils consistently, but we do insist on politeness like excusing yourself if you burp, etc.) but we also added other "gimicky" things like carpet picnics, where we'd all eat together on a tablecloth on the floor of the living room, to make eating more fun while he was getting used to the new diet. (Actually, we enjoyed carpet picnicking so much that we still do it fairly frequently!)
(7) Along the lines of number 6, find a treat you (or your child) enjoys that fits your restricted diet and reward yourself with it on difficult days. When I eliminated gluten, I found some Udi's Double Chocolate Muffins that, while relatively unhealthy and expensive, taste SOOO yummy. I keep a pack in my freezer for those days when I'm really bummed about having to avoid the cake at a baby shower or am craving a bagel and cream cheese :) It's the pat on the back (or belly, as the case may be) that I need sometimes to keep pressing on!
Thanks for joining me along the journey! I'd love to hear what you want to know ... do you have questions about sensory processing disorder, gluten-free/dairy-free diets, homeschooling, faith, life in general? Send me a note or post a comment and I'll try to write something that addresses your interests and questions!