Favorite Gluten Free Foods for Kids
Three dishes, deliciously refashioned for your child’s special diet
Brace yourself. Changing your child’s diet is apt to feel daunting at first—but hang in there! Let us help you transform the challenge and ease into a new way to feed your family. These changes are more unfamiliar than difficult and help is on the way. Once you learn your way around the grocery store and understand ingredient labels, this new way of cooking will become routine—the new normal.
These dietary switches promote wellness. They empower parents to take an active role in their child’s healing process. Preparing meals with nutritional awareness and positive, loving intention is part of a healthier lifestyle overall.
The recipes here comply with the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. Most also conform to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which comes with another set of specifications. The goal of the SCD is to heal your child’s gut and reduce inflammation by eliminating foods that feed bad gut bacteria, essentially depriving bad bacteria of fuel. This means SCD meals center around quality meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and fruits. The diet removes all complex sugars, allowing only honey and fruit as sweeteners. It also eliminates all starches and grains, including potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Butternut squash and pumpkin are allowed.) Tree nuts, peanuts and eggs are found in many SCD recipes. The use of some dairy is also allowed in later stages. SCD eliminates most canned or ready-made products due to the presence of additives, thickeners, artificial flavorings and the like.
Whichever diet you choose for your child, both the GFCF diet and the SCD translate into fewer packaged foods and more conscious meal planning. These recipes—the top three dishes most requested by kids—will help get you started. For those with sensitivities or allergies to nuts, eggs or dairy, we provide substitutions.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
SERVES 4 TO 6
You can vary sauce ingredients depending on what’s available—add chopped zucchini, bell peppers and/or ground meat. Make SCD “spaghetti noodles” using spaghetti squash or zucchini ribbons.
1 tablespoon olive oil, grape seed oil or coconut oil
1 small onion chopped
1-2 cloves garlic or small shallot, minced
4 cups pureed raw tomatoes, preferably Roma-style
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground fennel
- Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil, grape seed oil or coconut oil, more for browning
1 large onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic or small shallot, minced
1½ pounds lean ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, bison or combination)
1 large egg*
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon salt
- Pepper, to taste
1 large spaghetti squash or 3 medium-large zucchini
1. To make the sauce, sauté onion and garlic until soft. Add tomatoes and spices and simmer covered for at least 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
2. While sauce is simmering, cook preferred “spaghetti.” If using spaghetti squash, cut squash in half horizontally and remove seeds. Bake cut side up, uncovered, in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until easily pierced. Shred flesh with a fork, removing spaghetti-like strands. For zucchini ribbons, peel thin slices of zucchini using a vegetable peeler. Arrange in a single layer on a parchment lined-cookie sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes to soften.
3. To make meatballs, sauté onions and garlic in oil until softened. In a large bowl, combine onion, garlic, ground meat, egg or egg substitute (see right), parsley, nutmeg, marjoram, salt and pepper until well blended. Do not over mix. Form mixture into walnut-size balls.
4. In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and brown meatballs in batches without crowding, shaking skillet to maintain round shape. Transfer meatballs to a warming oven.
5. To serve, top “spaghetti” with meatballs and a generous serving of sauce to cover. Serve with additional sauce on the side.
Each serving contains 308 calories, 17g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 108mg cholesterol, 492mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 26g protein.
*For Egg-Free Meatballs, omit the egg. In its place, mix 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin with 1 tablespoon cold water or broth; add 2 tablespoons hot water or broth and whisk vigorously until blended.
Moist and Tender
Grain-Free Chicken Bites
SERVES 4 TO 6
Kid-friendly “breaded” chicken bites without any grain, nuts or eggs may sound too good to be true but this recipe makes a believer out of the toughest critics. Coated with coconut (high in beneficial lauric acid), these tasty morsels are delicious plain. Children may enjoy them dipped in a little honey (SCD compliant) or in Apricot Sauce (GFCF). The addition of beneficial herbs and spices, especially turmeric which is anti-inflammatory, antifungal and a digestive aid, adds to the nutritional profile. Texture is an issue for many children on the autistic spectrum. If your child prefers softer chicken bites, use raw ground chicken or turkey formed into bite-size pieces, rather than poultry pieces.
1 tablespoon GFCF/SCD Dijon-style mustard,* optional
3 tablespoons olive oil
2½ cups shredded coconut, unsweetened
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or turkey tenderloins
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk mustard and oil in a small bowl until blended. Set aside.
3. Grind shredded coconut in a blender or food processor until small crumb consistency. Add seasonings and mix well. Place coconut mixture on a plate or waxed paper.
4. Slice chicken breasts in ¼-inch slices. Dip chicken pieces into mustard/oil combination and roll in coconut mixture. Press coconut crumbs to adhere to chicken.
5. Place “breaded” chicken pieces on prepared cookie sheet or on an unlined, ungreased clay baking pan. Place in preheated oven and bake 16 to 18 minutes, turning once. Serve warm with dipping sauce, if desired.
Each serving contains 461 calories, 37g total fat, 19g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 31mg cholesterol, 502mg sodium, 18g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 13g protein.
*TIP Read labels carefully. Condiments like mustard are allowed on the SCD if the ingredients are SCD-compliant. This means no added sweeteners, additives or thickeners. Most mustards contain ground mustard seeds, distilled vinegar and salt. Avoid malt vinegar. Note: Dijon mustards vary in salt content; adjust salt in recipe to taste.
Apricot Dipping Sauce
MAKES 1 CUP
A dab of horseradish gives sweet apricots a nice flavor that’s not too spicy for young palates. This dipping sauce is ideal for chicken, turkey or fish. For variety, try peach jam. Refrigerate unused portion.
1 (10-ounce) jar apricot or peach jam (preferably fruit juice sweetened)
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon horseradish
1. Heat apricot jam in microwave or on the stove to soften.
2. Mix jam, lime juice and horseradish in a bowl and set aside until ready to serve.
Each teaspoon contains 12 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 3g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 0g protein.
MAKES 36 TO 40
Rich in protein and healthy carbs, this bite-size snack satisfies a sweet tooth while it nourishes and provides energy. It also makes a healthy dessert. Vary ingredients to your child’s taste and specific needs. If dates aren’t soft, soak them in very hot water for 30 minutes; drain before using in recipe.
2 cups soft pitted dates
6 dried figs, stems removed
½ cup ground shelled pumpkin seeds*
- Pinch salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 tablespoons hot water + 1 tablespoon, as needed
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, for rolling
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or carob, for rolling, optional
1. Place dates, figs, ground pumpkin seeds, salt, coconut oil and hot water into a food processor bowl fitted with knife blade.
2. Pulse until ingredients are well combined and mixture comes together as a ball. If mixture doesn’t hold together, add up to 1 additional tablespoon water, one teaspoon at a time.
3. Spread coconut flakes on a plate or piece of waxed paper. Stir in optional cocoa or carob, if using.
4. With two teaspoons, form walnut-size balls and drop date/fig mixture into coconut. Roll between hands into balls.
5. Refrigerate for firmer texture, if desired. Store in a cool place in an airtight container until eaten.
Each serving contains 50 calories, 2g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 8mg sodium, 9g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 1g protein.
Sueson Vess (specialeats.com), author of Special Eats is a Chicago-based food coach who specializes in helping families of children on the autistic spectrum.