Getting started

Getting started on a new diet can be overwhelming at first. Parents of children with autism or PDD often face this when they're doctors ask them to start a diet free of gluten and casein. How do you do it? What foods can you eat? What foods can't you eat? Where do you buy the food? It's an endless string of thoughts that frustrate and many times deter starting the diet.

There is help available to ease this process. And, the first -- and best -- piece of advice is this: DON'T PANIC! This does not happen overnight, nor should it.

The first place I recommend people go is the TACA website, specifically to the diet page at There is a great piece up top on how to phase in the diet over 10 weeks. Another good site is

I also recommend buying one, or both, of Lisa Lewis' cookbooks. They're very good. You can find them at Amazon.

And, there are a number of good autism message groups on Yahoo where thousands of parents talk back and forth every day, offering advice, asking questions and giving support. The best one for diet is the GFCFrecipes message group.

Also, search the web and phone book for a local autism group -- someplace that may offer help and guidance.

Search for stores in your area that sell a variety of flours or specialty foods, like a food co-op, Whole Foods, etc. Again, if you don't know where to go, ask for help.

If you're on a tight budget, don't worry. This still can be done. Buying in bulk cuts food prices down. Shopping at ethnic groceries often is far less expensive than Whole Foods. Look for local farms that sell meat, vegetables and fruit -- you'll likely buy better quality stuff for less than the local supermarket.

For example, I buy meat from a farmers market that's free of hormones and preservatives. I pay about $1 less per pound than I would at the local supermarket.

If money's not an issue, you can find prepared foods that fit the gfcf diet at the specialty stores and online.

And last but not least, use this blog.

Keep your head up -- reading this is a good start.


mommyofmikey said…
Hello my name is Elizabeth and I'm new to the diet, I just started almost a week ago on my 4yr old boy name is Mikey. He is on the low spectrum of autism. I appreciate the info you have provided lots of info I wasn't aware of...We are a little worried about the diet since he is a picky eater, not sure if he can eat corn and beans? is it safe? I took off dairy, and wheat except that he loves quesadillas and beans... can you help! I read many web pages about corn, bean etc...some of them say it is safe while other say no ... I am LOST!!!!!!!!
jim said…
Good question, and I can help you out or point you in good directions. It's OK to feel lost. My wife and I were too. Just keep asking for help. There's lots of places online. I can show you others too. First, corn and beans should be safe. You want to be sure there are no forms of hidden gluten in them -- check the "hidden ingredients" section on this page, it's helpful: Don't worry, you'll learn in time to recognize the dangers. Frozen corn would be great. With beans, you just have to check the ingredients. If you're not sure of an ingredient, ask here. The site says the Westbrae and Eden brands are OK. I'm sure others are too.
I think what you're finding when you read about these foods is that a lot of kids on this diet also turn out to be allergic or intollerant of other foods. Corn, beans, soy and rice are common issues for some children. Your child may be fine with these. Everyone's different. Now, I would recommend you read the following piece at the TACA website about phasing this diet in: We used this as a guide. So, start with dairy and then the wheat. He might go through some withdrawal and act out. My kids did. It passes, and it's worth it. Nothing to be afraid of. And, my kids are very picky eaters. Their menu options are not great. But, we have a system that works. They also see a doctor who orders a regimine of various supplements to help balance their system. Finding someone like that is beneficial. So, here's my thoughts for you ...
First, read the TACA piece and literally write down a system to phase your child into this. If he drinks milk now, try soy or rice milk. Some kids like Vance's DariFree, which you can order. The real problems will be cheese and pizza. There's not any great cheese subsititute. Next, I'd find a specialized pediatrician who believes in trying the GFCF approach. And lastly, for now, write down all the foods your child really likes to eat, and then let's find ways to convert them to GFCF. That's what I do. I can help with the foods. Please, keep in touch and let us know how you're doing.
shyanelle's said…
Hi i'm Darlene i'm from Trinidad & Tobago West Indies, i' new to this autism thing, my son is 7 years old, he's eats everything you give to him except meats [only when he wants it] i need to know much more about the diet for him, i'm new to this autism thing and i'm a single parent trying to deal with him and his strenght, can you help me i'm confuse!
jim said…
Darlene -- I can help you with any questions you have. The GFCF diet basically means eliminating all gluten (found in wheat, rye, oats, spelt) and casein (dairy), because many children with autism cannot handle those ingredients. When they eat it, it behaves similar to a drug, clouding the mind and preventing progress. So, starting by using the diet is often a first move by parents with autistic children. There is a guide online at the TACA website -- you'll find the link in this blog post -- on how to start phasing the diet in. Do it gradually over time. One problem with all autistic kids is that they tend to be picky about food. So, stick with foods you know your child will eat. You can make much of this food yourself -- my blog has many recipes for simple and inexpensive breads, cookies, cake, meats and poultry, etc. If you have access to these ingredients in your country, you can do this too. So, my recommendation is to start by eliminating dairy. If he drinks milk, eats cheese, etc., remove these from his diet. Some people buy soy or rice milk instead. There are soy cheeses or even rice cheeses that you might try. Other people simply come up with foods without cheese. Then, after a few weeks, remove the gluten -- bread, cookies, cake, etc. Find alternatives, like potato or corn chips that don't have gluten. Maybe he likes fruit? Try a simple cookie recipe that he might like. That would give you a few things to start with. I hope this helps and gives you some ideas. Feel free to email me with more questions.
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