Tuesday, February 6, 2018

5 Tips for Preparing Special Diet Food

 It has been seven months since Ed started a therapeutic ketogenic diet for his brain cancer. By now it seems normal for Ed to be on a special diet. Even the two-year-old asks, when she sees me pull out a batch of muffins, "Are those for Dad?" knowing she won't get even a nibble.

I never imagined I'd be preparing meals for a special diet, especially a diet that allows for no cheating ever. Ed's diet requires consideration for every meal and every snack. No longer can we leave for the day without making a plan for what Ed will eat.

And yes, some days I hate it. But I've been doing it long enough that it has become much easier. While it takes time to prepare special food for Ed, it isn't difficult. It has become a natural part of life. Ed is quick to show gratefulness and I'm glad to do it for him.

I know there are many people who are on a special diet for medical reasons. Here are some tips that have worked for me.

1. Make a list of favorite meals: snacks, breakfasts, side dishes, lunches, dinners, desserts, travel food, etc. When you find something that works well, or when you adapt a recipe, write it down immediately. I often think I'll remember it later, but I never do. Flipping through these notes in future weeks is a tremendous help. I love that Ed is willing to try new things, yet he doesn't mind repeating the same foods again and again if they are favorites.

2. Use your freezer. This should be number one. If I have food in the freezer I'm never helpless; I will always have something to feed Ed.

Most of the recipes I make for Ed are individual servings to make sure the ratios are exactly correct, but I can still make multiples. For example, if I'm making chicken soup, I line up a few dishes and make three, one for now and two for the freezer. If I do that several times a week, I always have a variety of main dishes in the freezer for him to pack in his lunch or for an evening that I didn't have time to make a meal for Ed. Also about one afternoon a week I try to stock up on baked things such as crackers, muffins, or cookies. These recipes usually make numerous servings and are easy to freeze.

3. Keep your pantry stocked with food that is compatible with the diet. Nothing derails a diet like being hungry for a snack and not have anything that you can eat. Ed has showed extreme discipline for his diet, but I do what I can to make it easy for him by having nuts and keto chocolate on hand.

4. Find a cookbook or website that supplies recipes that exactly fit your diet. I think there is a cookbook (or a hundred cookbooks) for every diet known to man. You can adapt favorite recipes for your diet, but you'll save time and frustration if you find a cookbook that exactly fits your needs. Many cookbook authors have websites so you can try out their recipes and find a good fit before you invest in a cookbook that you may not use. Or maybe the website will be all you need.

For Ed's keto diet, I found that there are countless websites with keto recipes, but most are for weight loss or body building and rarely are they suitable for Ed's version of the diet. I found The Keto Cookbook was perfect. It was written for children with epilepsy who are controlling seizures with the ketogenic diet so it is super strict the right ratios for Ed. I use this cookbook daily.

5. Invest in some helpful tools and products that make you diet more doable. Of course this will vary with your diet needs.

For Ed's diet I found that small glass containers with plastic lids made by Pyrex or Anchor were so useful I've purchased several packs. I can use them in the oven, microwave, or freezer. I use the two-cup size for meals and the one-cup for desserts. I also like mini silicone spatulas for scraping out oil and silicone cupcake molds for making single servings of cookies, brownies, and, of course, muffins. But more than any other tool I use the My Weight kitchen scale. I have had this scale for years, but in the last months I use it several times a day to measure grams easily without losing food in a measuring cup.

Sometimes it is the little things. Ed was thrilled to find spiced mayonnaise. Since he eats so much mayo it is nice to have some Chipotle mayo for a change. I have found chia seeds make an easy keto pudding. Xanthum gum was a recent find that makes it possible for me to make gravies and chowders without flour or cornstarch. Your list of products will vary depending on your goals, but when you find something that works, celebrate. And stock up.

Do you have any hints for cooking a special diet? Some of you have been doing this for many years.

This post contains affiliate links. Your Amazon purchase through my links, though it adds no extra cost to you, has allowed me to buy many of Ed's special diet products at no cost. Thank you.


  1. I know medical keto diets are much stricter than doing it for weight loss, but my husband has been on a keto diet on and off for a few years and I've come to appreciate the following:

    1. Cauliflower rice. I know you can make it from a fresh head, but I buy the frozen stuff in bags. Costco carries it, so does Whole Foods and I think normal grocers do now too. I take one bag, put it in a 9x13 pan and toss with olive oil, garlic powder, pepper and salt. Roast at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, stirring once halfway. It's a very nice neutral-savory base for a lot of dishes. The bags usually tell you to microwave or pan fry it and I've never gotten good results that way.

    2. They're pricey and might not fit medical macros, but Quest Nutrition sells protein bars that my husband likes. The best price is usually buying a box on Amazon or buying clearanced bars from GNC. I find the texture of them off putting, but I'm a picky eater.

    1. Thanks for the hints! Ed eats a huge amount of cauliflower- as well as the other cole crops like cabbage and broccoli.

  2. I have found that Big Lots carries quite a few of the Bob's Red Mill products at a good price. They are not out of date. You might find the xanthum gum there at a savings.

  3. I had my son on a keto diet last year again. He couldn't tolerate almost anything ( that diet helped us to discover he had a GI motility issue and keto foods are the worst for this.), so I was trying anything and everything I could find. One delicious pudding was made with flesh of 2 avacados, 1/2 cup of cocoa, 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk ( I used almond), 1 tsp vanilla, 1/8 tsp salt, sweetner to taste - throw it all in blender. It tastes just like regular chocolate pudding. In stir fries I added various nuts for crunch and fat. Garlic Boursin cheese which is like a soft cake of cheese, which is a real cheese and not a dip, melted over broccoli or any veggie. I made something called almond flour naan bread to use for panacakes, pizza base, or a base to put a bit of salsa and Mexican cheese on for like a tostada. I cant find my original recipe at the moment, but it can be played with to a great extent to get the amount of fat, carbs, etc... . There is an Indian woman online who created this and demonstrates it on a youtube. I think it can be found under almond flour naan bread. What I have is a batter made with 1/2 c tapioca flour, 1/2 cup almond flour, and 1 cup full fat coconut milk. I used heavy cream and it worked. Anyhow, you make griddle cakes the size you want out of it and then bake them ( I think I did around 400 degrees) until they firm up a bit. Where you can scoop them onto a spatula and they don't break. They firm up as they cool even more and really do fine. When I wanted to make pancakes I made a batter and put sweetener, vanilla, and a hint of cinnamon. You can also try making a cereal porridge out of chia, flax, or hemp, coconut flakes, pecans or other nut, cinnamon or other flavorings. I liked that one, but it takes more chia than one tbs to thicken, and he could not tolerate it. Mushrooms are a great thickener - just throw them in the blender with cream, milk and it will make a soup a stew.

    You may not be able to use any of these ideas, but I thought I would at least tell you some of the things I tried.

  4. I would be interested if any of your readers do a Gluten free diet and tips they could pass along. I need to do a GF/Dairy Free diet for my 4 yr. old son with Autism to see if we can reverse his diagnosis. Thanks in advance!!

    1. I have been cooking gluten-free for my daughter for four years. Recently I started dairy free for another child. Gina's tips are great. Keep your freezer and pantry well stocked with alternative items for those times when you are invited away for a meal or the teacher notifies you about a birthday treat that will be served and it is not ok for your child. It takes time to find the alternative foods that your child likes. For example, I keep Daiya brand cheese on hand for my dairy free child; all my children like Snyders gluten-free pretzels. Like Gina, I would encourage you to find a good cookbook. My favorite is Amazingly Simple by Ruth Shirk. I can bake gluten-free dairy free from that cook book and all my children will eat it (even the ones who aren't on a special diet). I was overwhelmed when I first started, but it does get easier with experience. And for us the results in our children's behavior make the diet worth the effort.

    2. Please look into A2 milk for your son. Some people that react to milk aren't reacting to thr lactose, but to the A1 factor. Google it. The book "The Devil in the Milk" is very informative. Best wishes.

    3. this is the best tortilla recipe we have found and now we can have burritos again! you can use any kind of sandwich filling or fill with scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast..
      Paleo Flour Tortillas

      • ¼ C Ground Flax + 6 Tbsp. Hot Water
      • 1 C Tapioca Flour
      • ¼ tsp. Grain Free Baking Powder
      • ½ tsp. Sea Salt
      • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Flour
      • ¼ C Hot Water, or as needed
      • Oil, as needed for frying
      1. Mix the ground flax and hot water in a small bowl and set aside to thicken.
      2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk the tapioca flour, baking powder, salt, and coconut flour.
      3. Pour in the flax mixture and additional ¼ C of hot water and mix with a spoon then knead with your hands as the thick dough starts coming together. Eventually the dough should not be sticky and should be slightly elastic and hold together nicely. Add additional hot water, 1 tsp. at a time, as needed (I don’t usually need extra water)
      4. Divide the dough into 6 balls (or 5 for slightly thicker wraps). Roll one of the balls of dough out as thin as you can get it on a well-floured (I use rice flour) Walmart type grocery sack.
      5. Add a small amount of oil, about 1 tsp. to a skillet and heat over medium heat.
      6. After the skillet is heated, peel the tortilla off the sack and place in the skillet to cook. Cook 30 to 40 seconds.
      7. Then, flip the tortilla over and cook an additional 30 to 40 seconds or until cooked through. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough, being sure to re-oil the skillet every time. (I get by with adding a little oil to my cast iron skillet every other tortilla)
      8. Serve warm. Best when eaten fresh but they do reheat well.

  5. You are doing a great job! Those tips are ones I used daily when I did a very strict 10 grams of protein a day for 23 years for our son. I can sympathize with a love/hate relationship with a strict diet. Continued prayers for you and your family!

  6. God bless you, Gina. You are a wonderful cook and wife. I like these ideas - We are not on a special diet, but these are sound tips for cooking for a family in general! Keeping the good stuff on hand, preparing ahead, freezing extras, and managing portions for easy access. Thank you.

  7. You are doing a great job, Gina. Keep on in God's strength!

  8. I forgot to add to that porridge with chia ( chia for thickening plus either or hulled hemp hearts or flax - I used all 3.) that I used a bit of cocoa and it surprisingly tasted good with the cinnamon.

    To ANONYMOUS looking for gluten free. We did gluten free for 8.5 yrs altogether and there is an abundance of refined gluten free products out there I would largely avoid for health reasons. Gradually moving toward just fruits, vegetables, legumes, and meat if you feel it is healthy is safest. We discovered last Summer our son had very elevated arsenic levels and I am sure my husband and I must as well, since we ate the same diet. This arsenic problem in rice is real. Organic makes no difference, origins can make some difference ( Lundberg tests and publishes results), but all rice has some. We do not believe rinsing will fix this. Eating a brand you have researched and find the safest occasionally would be the best for those who have not gone overboard, as many on gluten free diets have innocently done. It leaves the body supposedly quickly, but his tests show improvement but still elevated and his rash is faded but still there. I hope you don't mind, Gina, my commenting off topic here, I guess I am worried for people and I don't have facebook to share the concern.

  9. I learned a lot about healthy cooking from "Know the cause" website.


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