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FAS and Nutrition

By Stephanie Nielsen

 I cannot claim any scientific studies and I'm certain that many traditionally trained medical doctors will poo-poo my experience and tell you that following my suggestions will produce a severely obese child with heart disease and early onset diabetes. I assert that the diet could not possibly be worse than that of the average American youth and that whole foods are always better. However, what works best for one child may not be best for another. As parents, you are given the right and responsibility before God to make health choices for the children with which He has blessed you.

   Three of my eight children carry a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. They came to us from a 'group home' which participated in the USDA feeding program and therefore served what the government considers 'healthy' foods. Of course the children themselves were left the choice of which of the foods served they would eat and in what quantity. They had unlimited access to 'fruit punch' and chocolate milk low-fat, of course. The breads and pastas were made of white flour, sugar found frequently, and potatoes came from a box. Vegetables were optional and canned. Dessert a constitutional right!

   In the past five years, we have gotten a correct diagnosis, weaned them off of a number of drugs - Risperdal, Ritalin, Imipramine, etc.- and made some connections between diet and behavior. The first clue was the way Rachel's behavior changed when she ate something red. She got mean and hyper didn't even begin to cover it. Her eyes went wild and it really seemed that she was out of control. She would cry because she was trying to be good but couldn't quite manage it. Shortly after making the connection, someone suggested the Feingold diet. I read the book and some other little things began to click. We noticed a similar but less dramatic change in Michael when we removed the food dyes from his diet.

   I have been obese most of my adult life and periodically get depressed enough about it to try the diet of the week. One winter, it was Atkins. The difference was that it actually worked for me and seemed to help my kids pay attention and function more peacefully. I had a copy of a book called "Nourishing Traditions" which sounded like great theory but totally impractical with a large family. After noticing the improvement of a lower carb diet, I got back into that book and determined to make it work. The reward of that effort is children who are functioning well beyond where I was told they could. They are, for the most part, pleasant, helpful, and likable kids. My major behavior problems are the same as most any other mom of young teens: they talk back every now and then, they leave towels on the bathroom floor, their bedrooms get messy, and they will employ any method they can think of to avoid math. These are not the FAS children of which special ed teachers lament.

   All of this I can attribute to the grace of God since I am hardly a world class mom, but we recently saw quite clearly how big of an impact the diet makes. We fell off of it for three months. It began with a family vacation. We came home and it was still dark depressing winter. Then we took a new placement of a child from a disruption. Then I found out I was pregnant & I was sick. So sick that I stocked up on generic hamburger helper and left all cooking to the kids. By this time, Michael was surly, Mary Katherine was beyond flighty, and Rachel was intolerable. I was mentally composing posts to the disruption lists. There was constant fighting and bickering among the children and Rachel could always be found at the center of it. I'm sure that my being unavailable didn't help. One night I couldn't sleep. I had been praying for the grace to deal with her contentious and disruptive behavior & to be loving to her. I got up for a snack and made a cup of tea and a piece of toast (store bought white bread) which I then slathered with butter and jam. The jam was the sort I had been buying for a few years because I knew it to be free of dyes, especially Red 40. As I stood at the counter alone in my kitchen at 1 AM scarfing my snack and tea, I picked up the jam tub and was looking at the label. Then I noticed that my formerly safe jam was no more. The formula had been changed and it now contained not only Red 40 but also high fructose corn syrup.

   The realization that Rachel's downward spiral was at least related to her diet was sharp and painful: all of the discord in the family was related to the fact that I was slacking! We had a junk food purge the next morning, I apologized to Rachel, and within 24 hours she was a different child. We liked her again. As an added benefit, my morning sickness disappeared almost immediately. I can't say for certain that was diet since I did miscarry a few weeks later but it's worth considering.

Now that I've given you the why, it's time for the how:

   First, you need to invest in a copy of Sally Fallon's book "Nourishing Traditions" . Everything that follows is from a series of posts on this topic to the Adoptive MOMYS list and will not make much sense until you've read the book. Prices given are current as of July 1, 2005 for Alaska. Yours should be cheaper!
(Adoptive MOMYS is an offshoot of regular MOMYS and Amanda has tried to keep it a really safe place because we tend to be a little more ‘real” about the challenges of parenting the children we are raising. Her address is )

I have never seen anything that specifically deals with feeding FAS kids. My ground rules:

1. No chemicals - no dyes, no hydrolyzed vegetable protein, nothing I can't immediately recognize as "Food"; no hydrogenated fats.

2. No refined sugar, most especially high fructose corn syrup.

3. As low on the complex carbs as I can afford and manage and as high in good animal fat.

4. Whole, raw, dairy products whenever possible.

   The key to managing a Nourishing Traditions (NT) dietary program is pre-planning. You have to have things planned, prepped, and ready plus some back-ups in the freezer or one stressful day can throw all the best intentions right out the window.

   My biggest weakness is breakfast. I am not a morning person. My mother used to say "Nothing good happens after midnight", but I'm more like, "Nothing should happen before noon". My solution is a plan and a teenager assigned to breakfast so I don't have to think.

We rotate:

Eggs w/ cheese & toast - The toast is made from homemade bread (pre-sliced and frozen in the proper portions);

   Smoothies - I mix these up part of the way in advance. Then we thaw in the fridge overnight and just add ice and some milk in the morning in the blender. The base mix is yogurt (plain), bananas, other fruit, some coconut oil, a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla. For the apple ones I add some apple pie spice. In the winter we do hot cereal instead.

   Muffins & milk-I do muffins in huge quantities- mix up the batter except eggs and fruit and let it sit 12 to 24 hours to soak. Then portion it out to add fruit and flavoring and eggs. then I pour it into muffin liners in my muffin pans and freeze. The liners pop out so you can stack them in plastic bags in the freezer. When you want to use them just pop them, frozen, into a muffin pan and bake about 25 to 30 minutes at the normal temp.

   Yogurt and granola- I make up big batches of granola and put those into single meal servings in the food saver so it stacks well on my pantry shelves.

   Hash brown quiche- this is a great use for leftovers. I make my own hash browns with the shredder blade on my food processor. To do these, precook potatoes just about 10 minutes, then shred. To make the quiche, just grease your pan and then line it with a nice layer of hash browns. Make up a filling with whatever is left over or some ham & cheese, beaten eggs, a little cream and some salt & pepper. If you form your crust the night before and have the filling all together except for the eggs, this is also very quick. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your pan.

   Brunch casserole & fruit- this is browned sausage, sliced mushrooms (sautéed), toasted bread cubes, shredded cheddar cheese, and beaten eggs. Mix, top with more cheese and bake until the eggs are cooked and the cheese on top is bubbly.

   We fast before taking communion on Sundays & I feed the little guys yogurt those mornings. For yogurt, we do the Brown Cow cream top - maple, usually, since it's sweetened with maple syrup. They used to make an Organic version but Brown Cow was bought out by Stoneyfield and that option disappeared.

   Lunches are an area I'm just not happy with. I really want to keep the carb. count down but neither my brain nor my budget have been able to do it. Again, we rotate. Sandwiches are always made with homemade bread.

Grilled Cheese / Soup


Burritos (this is a new Wednesday thing. I've got a Lentil burrito recipe that is out of this world)

Meat sandwiches (whatever is leftover or on sale)

Chicken soup

Tortilla Pizza

For tortillas, you can get sprouted grain whole wheat or buy the real Mexican corn ones- they've been soaked.

   Suppers: This is where I rely on the freezer again. I've tried the once a month cooking thing but it wasn't working. There are too many of us! But I do try to keep at least 4 meals in there that require almost no further prep. One of my favorites is Chicken Enchiladas which I actually do more like lasagna. Instead of filling each enchilada separately I layer the filling and the tortillas and cheese like a lasagna. Tastes the same with lots less work. When I buy meat now I try to prep it out before it goes in the freezer - the big pork loins give me three meals. 1/3 into pork chops and into a marinade. 1/3 into a big chunk for Cuban pork and therefore with a spicy rub. The other 1/3 cubed for stew, dredged in flour and browned then frozen. I also brown my pot roasts before I freeze them. I tried freezing the carrots and onions in a bag with the roast for a dump & go kind of thing but the veggies had a nasty texture. Meatloaf can be pre-mixed, etc. The only fermented food my kids will eat are the gingered carrots so I do those twice a week. Lesson learned the hard way: Do not over salt! They won't taste salty enough at first but it will happen.

   I've gotten out of the habit of making Kombucha and need to get back on that. My husband will stay off Coke when I've got it around.

  Equipment I couldn't live without: my freezer! I really need a few more of them

Bosch with blender and food processor

Grain mill - although our health food store has one of those "grind it right there" thingy's for grain, you can't grind anything else.

Potato ricer - you can boil whole un-scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes and just squish them through the ricer. It separates the peel off and you have nice mashed potatoes

Food saver- vacuum packer

   Keeping costs down:I buy our meat from a restaurant supplier. Organic is just more than I can afford. We try to do non-meat meals twice a week. Beans are cheap and, up here, fish is free. Lamb is generally clean even though it doesn't carry an organic label since most of it is grass fed exclusively from AUS/ NZ. I do buy pork - it's a great bargain and, as Sally Fallon points out, there are cultures for whom that's the bulk of their diet and they live to be OLD! Turkeys when they are on sale. We have done cows before but I just don't have the freezer space. When we move out of Alaska and I have room, maybe we'll try that again.

   I also order from Azure Standard. I do 60lbs of butter at a time, grains by the 50lb bag, raw milk cheeses, etc. It's a little more expensive than Costco but I think that skipping the drive works it all out in the end.

   A couple other things I buy in big bulk and not organic because of price: heavy cream and apple sauce. 1/2 gallon of cream is 9.58 but organic 8oz is 4.69

   We do not do organ meats, except for Margaritsa at Pascha (Easter). Generally I think that if the organ's job is to filter the nasties from your blood stream, it should not be eaten - sort of like eating a pool filter or a vacuum cleaner bag. I'm sure brains and tongue are fine - I'm just a spoiled American who gets a big "Ick" from the idea. The odd thing is that I absolutely LOVE headcheese.

   You will not be able to eat 100% NT all the time. Decide what you can do, what's most important, and go with that. If you have any about 10 or so, teach them to do it too! Victoria (13) and Rachel (14) do all the bread and lots of the other meals (Rachel is the breakfast lady, Mary Katherine(12) is the lunch lady, and Victoria is the Dinner lady + responsible for keeping abreast of the bread supply.)

   They don't do it all by themselves but it means that I have another brain helping keep up with it all, remembering to thaw, replace, etc.

  Plan for dessert at least a few times a week

  Start slowly. Kids will revolt if you go cold turkey. Take out the preservative and dyes first. Then move to whole grains, etc. Watch labels, even on things you've bought for a while. Danish Orchards recently snuck red 40 into their previously OK strawberry jam. If you have a choice of a product without high fructose corn syrup, take that route.

  Snacks: apples with peanut butter. Tortillas fried into chips with salsa, fresh bread with butter and jam, carrots and ranch dip. Potato chips- you can find good ones fried in olive oil. We love the Rosemary and Sea Salt flavored ones. Try cheese cubes, or whatever fruit is in season.

  I really do love to cook. I like the direction and ideas in NT but some of the recipes are a little lackluster. I have gotten my best stuff lately from a magazine called "Cuisine at Home" and I did get a few good ideas from the Sue Greggs cookbooks but not enough that I would spend that kind of money for the whole set if I had to do it over again.