Book Review: Special Diets for Special Kids

What on earth can help my autistic child? We are at our wits end and think we have exhausted all avenues to help our child with autism. Surely with so many children diagnosed with ASD someone should have found a way to make the life of our beloved child better. Well after reading Special Diets for Special Kids, Volumes 1 and 2 Combined by Lisa Lewis, Ph.D., if I was one of these distraught parents I would really give a gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet a try. 

Do you know the WHY and HOW behind dietary intervention? In the first 57 pages of her book, Dr. Lewis does a marvellous job of explaining why individuals with autism can be helped by avoiding gluten and the dairy protein called casein. She also touches on other diets for children with other neurodevelopmental disorders. You will love the way Lisa writes and you will find that Special Diets for Special Kids is much more than an ordinary cook book.

Who is Lisa Lewis, Ph.D.?

Lisa Lewis earned her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from New York University. Lisa’s wealth of knowledge about diet and autism comes from her experiences as the mother of a child with autism who successfully followed a gluten-free, casein-free diet. Lisa’s first edition of Special Diets for Special Kids appeared in 1998 and Volume 2 followed in 2001. Her first two books have been helping children and adults with autism, ADHD, celiac disease, and other disorders.

Lisa also gained knowledge about this topic while working with many other parents who turned to the Autism Network for Dietary Intervention (ANDI) that she co-founded with Karyn Seroussi in 1999. ANDI provides information and support to parents all over the world. Their years of research resulted in the publication of The Encyclopedia of Dietary Intervention. Dr. Lewis continues to write and speak on the subject.

The knowledge she gained these past twelve years and her changed perspective on the topic motivated her to spend the time and effort to update her two Special Diets books into one indispensable resource. Also, Lisa feels the numerous people who only in recent years have gotten to know her and who are drawn to her books should have updated information that reflects recent knowledge and research.

Why Dietary Intervention for Autism?

The back cover of her book gives a short summary of why a GFCF diet works. Certain enzymes are required to break down gluten and casein. If those enzymes don’t function well, or are not present at sufficient levels, serious neurological problems can result. Studies have shown that children with autism have a marked deficiency of these enzymes, which may explain why GFCF diets have yielded positive results for many children.

In her first chapter, Why Special Diets? the author tells us unfortunately many children seem to need dietary modifications that go beyond simply avoiding gluten and casein. Many children must also avoid soy, corn, and eggs. Some are on a restricted carbohydrate diet such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) or Body Ecology Diet (BED). Some children are now on the Low Oxalate Diet (LOD). And lastly, most must limit sugar and increase fermented and other probiotic foods.  Does it sound complicated? When you have Dr. Lewis’s 2011 revised and expanded edition of Special Diets for Special Kids with the latest research, revised recipes, and color photos throughout you will feel much more competent.

Chapter 2, Testing and Nutritional Support guides parents from when they first begin biomedical intervention explaining the many tests recommended, the expense and insurance side of things, and all about vitamins and minerals.

Mounting evidence suggests that dietary intervention described in Dr. Lewis’s updated book is helpful for a wide range of diseases and disorders. Like the author points out “You are what you eat.” should now become “You are what you digest!”.

How Is the New Edition of Special Diets for Special Kids Different?

  • She combined the best of both volumes into one easy-to-use book.
  • She emphasis the use of organic and locally grown foods when possible.
  • She gives you a healthier way of feeding your whole family by touching on everything on your plate.
  • She removed recipes and added new ones containing fewer starches and more nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and proteins.
  • She learned lots of tricks for doing the GFCF diet “on the cheap” and passes them along to you.
  • She has narrowed down her choice to simple foods prepared simply.
  • She included steps on the basic preparation of healthy food choices like roasting turkey or making stews.
  • She knows how stressed and time-challenged parents are so she included many time and effort saving ideas.
  • She annotated many recipes with “head notes” to share ideas, variations, and tips.
  • She wrote ways to adapt particular recipes for those on other diets.
  • She pointed out the benefits of many of the specific ingredients.

Lisa writes: “If you are new to dietary intervention, I hope that this book will ease you into the GFCF diet with minimal stress. If you are an old hand, I hope you will find that there are still things you can learn to make life as delicious and nutritious as possible!”

What About the Recipes?

Lisa has compiled over 200 revised and NEW gluten-free, casein-free recipes. She also includes a free CD of printable recipes in a handy pouch in the back cover. In the Table of Contents the recipes are grouped together in 10 chapters with subheadings and are also very easy to find in the detailed index. Most recipes have a colored photo and a short, entertaining, and usually educational anecdote at the beginning. She has both the traditional way the dish was made and the variations that can be made to accommodate dietary needs or individual preferences. When a new or different ingredient is listed, Lisa includes where best to buy it, how to keep or store it, and information about it. With each recipe the yield to expect is clearly indicated at the end of each recipe.

Moreover, because Lisa knows that with our picky eaters we must make every bite count, she has notes with many of the recipes to remind parents how they can pack more nutrients by blending in veggies, fruits, etc. that the child will never notice. Lisa’s favourite “vehicle” for hidden nutrients is muffins. She shows you how to sneak in extra eggs and nuts for protein, carrots for bulk, fiber, and vitamins, molasses for iron, calcium powder and ground flax seeds to bump up the nutrition.

A  Book Written by a Parent Just Like You

Parents will immediately trust Lisa and want to follow her tips because throughout the book you know she is a parent just like you. Lisa knows about parental exhaustion due to school meetings, sport events, and extra-curricular activities. She knows about the expensive and time consuming therapy sessions, doctor’s appointments, and special tutors. She lived through days when nothing seemed right. Overwhelmed parents will appreciate her numerous time saving tips sprinkled here and there among her super-easy recipes:

  • Cook for more than one meal at a time to use as handy leftovers or transformed into a casserole or soup.
  • Think simple for snacks…nothing processed or refined but easy and quick to prepare like berries, nuts, apples, raw vegetables, eggs, muffins…
  • Pack school lunches using a thermal food jar and see how your kids will enjoy those leftovers like soups, chilli, stews…
  • Start your kids off in the morning with protein which kids need to start their day and succeed in school. Once more those handy leftover meals and some fruit will do the trick.
  • Shop the Ethnic aisle or go to Asian, Indian, and Hispanic grocery stores for unusual or hard-to-find ingredients to vary and enliven the diet.

The many suggestions in chapter 9, Cheap Eats, and throughout the book will show parents on a limited budget that following a special diet does not mean they have to break the bank.

  • Make at least one vegetarian dinner a week for less than a dollar per serving.
  • Cook your own beans, doubling the recipes for lots of leftovers, for 1/5 the price of canned beans.
  • Prepare nutritious soups with leftovers many throw away.
  • Buy organic for foods that are known to be routinely contaminate; for other produce, buy conventional and use a good vegetable/fruit wash.

Dr. Lewis has included a section at the end with Recommended Resources and three pages of references. She has lists of helpful books, online food retailers, links for supplements and digestive enzymes, contacts for personal nutrition counsellors, laboratories for testing, web resources, and recommended items for a GFCF kitchen.

So for simple recipes like Ants on a Log to roasting a turkey and making Cranberry Nut Dressing to Ethnic Foods like Falafel and Pad Thai… you will find it all in Special Diets for Special Kids. And remember, Lisa Lewis has created wonderful GFCF recipes for the whole family that are fuss-free, flavorsome, and fun!

Check Lisa’s websites, or, where you can sign up for her electronic newsletter.

About the Book:

Special Diets for Special Kids, Volumes 1 and 2 Combined includes free CD of printable recipes

Author: by Lisa Lewis, Ph.D

Publisher: Future Horizons, Inc.

Publication date: 2011

Binding: Paperback

Pages: 375

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Lorna d'Entremont
I am a retired teacher with 30 years experience in French elementary classroom and more years as a mother and grandmother of Tourette syndrome and sensory sensitive offsprings. Upon retirement, I embarked on an interesting project with my daughter who undertook the challenge of creating a safe, wearable or attachable, effective chewable fidget for special needs individuals.
Lorna d'Entremont

Lorna d'Entremont

I am a retired teacher with 30 years experience in French elementary classroom and more years as a mother and grandmother of Tourette syndrome and sensory sensitive offsprings. Upon retirement, I embarked on an interesting project with my daughter who undertook the challenge of creating a safe, wearable or attachable, effective chewable fidget for special needs individuals.

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