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Nutrition For Special Children

By Donna Spann Summer 1995


 Good nutrition is a choice we can all live with. The "why" is's the "how" part that drives most of us to the edge of the stress envelope as we face our refrigerator daily! The medical community is sorely lacking in nutritional training and so we, as parents, have to take the responsibility for learning and living a healthy lifestyle. We'll talk about the "why" and "how" in this article and look at the special needs of special kids. We'll share some recipes and kitchen tips that will help mealtime be more of a blessing than a burden.

  First, I'm not a medical person. Just a mom who got real concerned over the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) my family was living on. Indeed, S.A.D. is a highly appropriate acronym! "Underprivileged" nations live without white sugar, white flour and highly processed foods (which have a longer shelf life than shoe polish) and yet are free from the degenerative diseases prevalent in our society. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease and colon cancer are but a few of the diseases found only in cultures that have our "new & improved" foods. My husband, Greg, and I felt convicted concerning what we feed the Lord's temples entrusted to us. We began to research scripture and nutrition literature. What we learned led us to make gradual but significant changes to our diets. Key word here is GRADUAL. If you toss everything out of the pantry and try to convert your family overnight, I GUARANTEE mass rebellion at the kitchen table. Believe me, there is hope. If I can change, anyone can! As a bride, I started my homemaking career thinking mashed potatoes came out of a box and real vegetables grew in cans. "Nutrition" sounded too much like "health food" to my ear and "health food" meant "weird food" like bean sprouts and tofu. To me, tofu was something to be found in old shoes. Vegetables were to be served drowned in cheese and gravy served as a beverage. I took my coffee intravenously and no meal was complete without a chocolate something somewhere--anywhere! My husband had grown up with a German mother and farm-bred dad--everything got deep fried. Even the toast. If Greg and I, with our back-grounds, could change our ways AND ENJOY IT, then anyone can do it.


From A Christian Perspective

    Centuries ago, the Lord warned Israel through Hosea that the people would perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). While the spiritual meaning is clear, I believe there is a physical parallel. When it comes to nutrition, what you don't know WILL hurt you! Healthy eating and living is not meant to be a bondage nor a salvation issue. However, it is our conviction that it is a matter of obedience and blessing. We know from scripture that God has numbered our days; that He has set in place natural laws to provide for us, and that He gives us free will. We choose to love or reject Him, to obey or disobey His laws, with natural consequences to our choices. For example, He has provided gravity for us so that we can literally keep our feet on the ground! Gravity is not a punishment or reward for us, but simply a part of the order of the universe. If I choose to jump off a 10 story building, the same gravity that held me to the roof as I stood on the edge will now make me a large messy spot on the pavement below. Gravity is not in effect to punish me, but if I make a poor choice, I suffer the natural consequence. My lack of knowledge or under-standing about gravity will not spare me the consequences of my actions . Greg and I believe that we can prematurely shorten our physical lives as well as lessen the quality of the time we have on earth to serve the Lord. We can still be used by Him, but could miss out on His best for us--either from ignorance or disobedience. By the same token, we can learn and act upon the knowledge about nutrition that He has provided so that our bodies, which are fearfully and wonderfully made, can function properly. There are many things we can't control: the genes we inherited, many physical characteristics or our environment. We CAN control what we feed our bodies. By being knowledgeable and obedient in this area, we can avoid numerous health problems and reap tremendous blessings!


What's a "healthy diet?"

    In a nutshell--fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. The closer it is to the way the Lord provided it, the better! An apple is better than applesauce, applesauce is better than apple juice. Raw veggies are best, lightly steaming (or microwaving) is second and all else follows at a distant third. This is a high fiber diet. Fiber goes through the digestive tract acting like a sponge. As it travels through the digestive tract, it picks up and carries disease causing impurities out of the body. This is key to good health.


Whole Grains

    If you remember nothing else, remember this--whole grains are essential--especially for kids who have difficulty with chewing. Since chewing is the first step in the digestive process, kids who lack the rotary grinding motion in the jaw and therefore chew in an up and down "chomping" motion are unable to digest food properly. As a result, they suffer from constipation and other difficulties. For everyone, but especially those with eating difficulties, the importance of whole fresh grains can't be overstated. Be aware that many of the illnesses prevalent in our country can be traced to the effects of poor elimination. Dump the white flour. There is virtually nothing in it of any value and will do more harm than good. Not only is white flour of poor nutritional value, it "gunks" up and slows the digestive works and prevents the body from assimilating much needed nutrients from the good food that is eaten.

When using whole grains, freshly ground is always best. The whole grain is God's perfect package, containing all the nutrients essential to life. Grains are generally inexpensive to purchase whole and store well. Once "opened" (ground into flour) however, the nutrients begin to oxidize immediately and are lost. With wheat, for example, the major source of Vitamin E and other vital nutrients is the wheat germ and wheat germ oil within the wheat berry. Because these go rancid so quickly they are removed from all commercial breads and flours. The best nutrition results from grinding the grain as needed and making the bread fresh. Secondary options include buying bread from a bakery that advertises "freshly ground on the premises," health food stores or someone who uses a home flour mill. If the first ingredient on a bread label is "wheat flour" then it's nothing more than white flour with caramel coloring and a premium price. Look for "100% whole wheat flour" and be prepared to pay top dollar. I've found it far easier and cheaper to make my own. You can test the quality of your bread by keeping a slice for 4-5 days. If it doesn't mold by then, it's "dead bread" and not worth any price. Don't waste money on bread that is not feeding the body. If your family eats a lot of bread, rolls, pizza, cinnamon rolls, etc., buying "good stuff" can get pretty pricey, so in our household we grind our own and make our bread fresh twice weekly. That sounds like a whole lot bigger endeavor than it really is. Using "20th century maidservants" (a home flour mill and breadkneader) I'm in and out of the kitchen in about 20 minutes and have 10 lbs of finished bread in less than an hour. Baking my own gives me the option to use any variety of whole grains in breads, cookies, casseroles...the list is endless!


Vegetables and Fruits

    Special kids often have difficulty properly chewing fresh fruits and vegetables. Carrots, for example, are hard and crunchy, but are packed with essential nutrients and need to be part of a healthy diet. Like all vegetables and fruits, to boil them enough to make them soft causes a significant loss of vitamins. Three kitchen appliances are up to the task: juicer, microwave and blender. A juicer is a necessary appliance for a home with special kids. Juicing fruits and vegetables gets a whole lot of high quality nutrients into a small glass! You can mix and match fruits and vegetables for some really tasty combinations. The main drawback to juicing is the lack of roughage (fiber) because it's removed in the juicing process. It doesn't need to go to waste! Take the pulp and use it in baking. The carrot pulp makes terrific carrot cake (made with freshly ground whole wheat flour, of course). Apple pulp is great for apple muffins. A good book on the subject is Juicing For Life, available in most bookstores. If you don't have a juicer already, choose carefully according to your family's needs. For me, the #1 requirement was

    EASY CLEANUP. No matter how good an appliance is, if it takes a lot of effort to clean up, I just won't use it. The blender is another terrific "nutritional maidservant. "Pureeing vegetables or fruits to a consistency that makes eating them easier is a simple and quick way to increase the nutritional value of your children's diets. Sweet tasting fruits and vegetables (carrots, apples, strawberries, cantaloupe, etc.) prevent the wrinkled-up nose and shaking head every parent is familiar with. You also avoid additional sweeteners. By pureeing the food, you get the vitamins and the fiber without losing the nutrients (as long as you use it as soon as you puree it). You can water down the puree for a "thicker" glass of juice, freeze it for healthy popsicles or keep it thick for a healthy "shake." The microwave can save more than just time--it can save nutrients, too. Nuke an apple (in the peeling) for about two minutes to soften it. Kids that can't bite into a whole apple can scoop the softened pulp out of the skin without losing the vitamins. Vegetables also work great in the microwave--and clean-up is a snap.


Sweeteners and Dyes

    It's very important to wean kids off added sugar. Gradually decrease the amount currently used in recipes and use a substitute such as fruit juice. White sugar is especially damaging to the body and depresses the immune system. If a sweetener is needed for cookies, etc. try using date pieces, fruit juice, molasses and other alternatives. Honey is often substituted for sugar, but really is not much better. If local, unheated, unprocessed honey is available, it is useful for building resistance to allergies, but used in recipes is not a lot different from white sugar. It is twice as sweet, so you don't need as much. Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners--ESPECIALLY children and pregnant women. Some of the literature coming out on these artificial sweeteners is very alarming and a conservative approach is in order. PLEASE don't give children drinks laden with sugar, chemicals, dyes or other unnecessary and dangerous ingredients. Many mothers report that their ADD or ADHD child is much calmer and reasonable as long as the child is kept away from food dyes and additives. Food allergies and chemical sensitivities can manifest in behaviors, attitudes and emotions. Try an "elimination diet" if you suspect a problem.


Drinking Water

    Drinking water is like taking a shower on the inside. It is vital to good health to drink enough pure water daily to properly hydrate the organs and aid in digestion. This was a toughie for me--I hated drinking plain water. Ice tea, lemonade and juices don't count--it has to be PURE WATER. To make it simple, I got a large cup that holds 32 oz., so keeping track of "how much" is easy. A few drops of lemon in my water made it not only palatable, but delicious. I was even able to give up my "ice" habit and drink the water at room temperature, thus easing the burden on my stomach. We've trained our children to prefer water. After awhile, you'll find you WANT nothing else. Consuming the proper amounts of water and fiber will initially result in lots of visits to the restroom. Don't worry! The body adjusts and the results are well worth it. If the urine is almost colorless, then the body is properly hydrated. Dark concentrated urine indicates a lack of sufficient fluids. Don't rely on your thirst--by the time you notice that you are thirsty, you are already somewhat dehydrated. A water purifier is a wise investment and is (usually) very reasonably priced. Be wary of bottled water--it's not regulated and could literally be from someone's tap! I also don't like the idea of drinking water that has sat in a plastic jug for an unknown amount of time. Water is a solvent and I've noticed a distinctly "plastic" taste coming out of some bottled waters. Yuk! The debate rages on over which method is better--R.O. or distilled. R.O. (reverse osmosis) operates on the same principles as kidney dialysis--taking the water molecule by molecule and removing the bad stuff and leaving the good. Distilled is raising the temperature of the water to the boiling point so that the steam moves into another chamber and becomes water to drink leaving the nasty stuff behind. Personally, I have an R.O. in my house because that's what was available to us when we moved in. When looking at it objectively, I have to admit that distilled would seem to be the method of choice for the Lord--after all, that's what He uses! The sun is a giant heat source which causes evaporation of the earth's water which then rains back down for our use. Our water today is as old as the earth. If He uses it, it must be a pretty good method.


Meat, Eggs and Dairy

    It's interesting to note that man was living as a vegetarian until after the flood. Noah and his family were given permission to consume animal products following that devastation. It's also interesting to note that the change of diet coincides with the shortening of man's years on earth! As Christians, we are not under the law, as Christ was the fulfillment of the law. However, the Old Testament dietary laws have scientific basis along with spiritual significance. We are told over and over again in the Old Testament NOT to eat the blood. The animal was to be hung so that the blood could drain out completely before the meat was used. This is because life and death are in the blood. Disease breeds in the bloodstream. In our country, as much blood as possible is left in the meat so that it WEIGHS more. How is meat sold? By weight. Also, the incidence of disease among animals and poultry has increased at such a phenomenal rate during the last decade that finding "safe" meat, properly raised without steroids, hormones, antibiotics and disease then killed and prepared properly is very difficult. As a result, we choose to avoid meat and animal products as much as possible. For many special kids, meat is pretty hard to chew and is difficult to digest properly. What about milk? Protein and calcium? Ignore the ad campaign that dances across the TV--milk doesn't do a body good. If it's so good, why do we have the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world while at the same time we are the highest consumers of meat and dairy products? We consume SO MUCH protein that the body, in order to excrete the excess, must draw calcium from our bones. There's a lot more to it, I'm just giving the "bare bones" here (pun intended, forgive me!). You get far more assimilated calcium from a serving of broccoli than you do a glass of milk (and the calcium in milk is not in a form well utilized by the body anyway). If this is just too radical for you, don't despair. Gradually cut back on the amount of meat and dairy you use so that eventually you are serving more plant food than animal. You can "cheat" with casseroles. It's amazing how well you can feed a family of six with a single chicken breast when you "do" a casserole! When you do use meat or dairy, try to get the good stuff--organic without antibiotics, etc. You pay more, but you use less, and it's worth it.


Recipe Suggestions

    To introduce healthier eating in the household, take a gradual approach. Have healthy snacks (such as fruit or air popped popcorn) available and don't buy the other stuff. If it's not there, you can't be tempted to eat it! Adjust the family's favorite recipes very gradually. If you've been using white flour, start substituting some whole wheat flour. Most of the time no one will notice unless you say something (don't volunteer). Eventually, you end up with all whole wheat flour and no white. Decrease the amount of salt and sweetener in the recipe. Substitute other sweeteners. Serve "new" foods alongside tried and true favorites as a "special treat" for all to taste and rate. In our household the kids get to rate new dishes on a 1-10 scale. Anything under 6 never again appears at our table. Kids will make suggestions on how to improve a dish. Involve the kids in the preparation of the dish and they are far more likely to eat it! Don't get discouraged. Healthy eating is a process and won't happen overnight. Kids will follow our example. If we reach for an apple instead of a twinkie--they notice!

   Here's a tasty blender drink that can serve as a meal replacement anytime. My friend, Ellen Pearson, whose 16 year old daughter, Audrey, has cerebral palsy, came up with this. Like me, she questions the "meal replacement in a can" that's marketed as the "answer" to nutrition. Looks to me like just more processed fat and sugar with some synthetic vitamins tossed in--no thanks! REAL food is better. Put an apple, cored and peeled and 1 cup milk (rice milk, tofu powder and water--or other substitute) into the blender on high. Add 1/4 cup of rolled oats a little at a time until all ingredients are well blended. This is the basic drink--add to it a variety of different fruits for different tastes. For example: a tablespoon of coconut, a banana, cantaloupe, pears, strawberries (fruits add sweetness), limited only by your imagination and pantry!

In Conclusion

   I hope the information here will be a blessing to you and a "jumping off" point to begin your own investigation. There are increasing numbers of books available on health from a bibliocentric worldview rather than "new age" as in the past. I recommend Sue Gregg and Emilie Barnes' book, The 15 Minute Meal Planner, A Realistic Approach to a Healthy Lifestyle, as a start. I highly recommend Sue Gregg's cookbooks as you "change over." They are full of detailed information and practical, delicious, healthy recipes. These are not just "cookbooks." Contact Eating Better Cookbooks at 1-800-99-TASTE, mention The FAMILY MATTERS and they'll send you a free Recipe Sampler. The Greggs are an incredible Christian couple who have been called to a ministry of equipping God's people with the tools and information to eat healthy. A healthy kitchen is not fully equipped without at least one Eating Better Cookbook! If you are into "megacooking" (a lifesaver for busy moms) then you need Dinner's In The Freezer by Jill Bond. I truly admire these two Godly women.

    Also I invite you to send for a sample copy of our publication, The FAMILY MATTERS. In addition to the other features, each issue covers a particular grain with detailed information on its nutritional value, history and some simple recipes. The basis of a healthy diet is fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A good vitamin/mineral supplement (all are not created equal) is especially important for special kids. Remember that BALANCE is the key--don't let nutrition or mealtime become a battleground in your home. Start gradually and involve the whole family. Make the study of health and nutrition part of your homeschool curriculum. Hold the matter up in prayer DAILY and the Lord will grant you the wisdom and direction that you need. Let me close with this scripture, which has been both convicting and encouraging to our family: 2 Corinthians 7:1 "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." (NIV).