Cooking can be a very intimidating task whenever you move overseas. Whether it’s using a gas stove/oven, substituting something for every recipe, shopping in 3 different places for the ingredients of one meal, or cooking in a kitchen without AC, we all have our stressful cooking moments. For Robin, things got pretty intimidating when a special diet became a necessity for the health of her son. This is the first installment in a series where she will share her experience and expertise on handling special diets anywhere in the world.
So, you moved to another country and you already find feeding your family healthy and enjoyable food is a monumental task. Then add the news that one of your family member’s health or quality of life would improve by making some significant changes to their diet. That news is enough to make you pack up, jump on a plane, and move to the nearest Whole Foods. When we started our son on his restricted diet, I prayed that the change in diet would not make any difference to our son’s quality of life so we wouldn’t have to keep him on it. Admittedly, it was a selfish prayer which came from a heart full of fear. Seven years later, our family is proof a special diet can be done well almost anywhere.
Never fear. It is possible to maintain a special diet while living miles from the nearest health food store. Once you’ve identified the foods that must be avoided, the next step is to find other foods that can be enjoyed. Here, Pinterest is your best friend and your worst enemy. There are millions of recipes and ideas that are used in many different types of special diets on this social network, and if you can keep from throwing your computer out the window every time you see one that includes either the forbidden food or inaccessible foods you will find that it is a great source of ideas.
Substitute, substitute. We have 12 foods that we have to avoid in our son’s diet. Finding a recipe that is made especially for him is difficult. If the recipe calls for milk, I use coconut milk or almond milk. Rice and soy milk are also great substitutes for cow’s milk. If you have to switch out too many items, you may want to look for a new recipe, but switching out one or two ingredients usually will not change the outcome of the recipe and provides a new treat to try. Many of these ingredients may not be available locally, but many of them can be made from local foods. For example, nut flours can be made by grinding the nuts with a coffee grinder or ice crusher attachment of a blender.
Begin slowly. Unless the food causes a life threatening reaction, you have some time to make the switch. Before you take out the offending food, find some delicious alternatives that you wouldn’t mind eating yourself. Introduce those new foods before you begin to take away the old foods. Any change in diet is difficult. Beginning slowly also helps you feel less stress to create food “on-demand.” Be gentle with yourself as you climb the learning curve of making new food and as your family member changes his diet. Remember you are not just making new food, you may have to make the food to make the food, like the almond flour or almond milk from ground nuts. Go slow, be kind, persevere.
Share information. Whether the change in diet is due to an underlying health concern like diabetes, heart disease, or eczema or behavior concerns like attending, concentrating and regulating sensory input, it is smart to eat food that makes you feel good. It is also comforting to know that lots of people have to make modifications in their diet so that they can feel good. We are not alone in this journey.
Invest gradually. The right tools make the job easier, but they can be expensive and difficult to find locally. Plan on investing in the kitchen tools that will make the job of cooking special foods easier, but take the time to find out what works and avoid overspending on gadgets and shipping. For example, if you are now making gluten free bread use a mixer that uses dough hooks and use bread baking pans. Although a new bread machine would be lovely, it isn’t necessary to start.
The Father brought us to this unique place at this unique time and cares for each of us uniquely. He will provide. Fear not.