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Healthy & Helpful Tools in the Kitchen
So you are interested in trying a special autism diet, but you’re concerned about how much time it will take. You can successfully follow a special diet in the same time that you are already spending in the kitchen, and the tools described here can help make things easier.
If you watch someone build a house you’ll see the specialized tools they use to make their job of measuring, cutting, and constructing so much simpler. The same thing goes for cooking-cookware, specialized equipment, and storage materials-make cooking easier and healthier (by less exposure to harmful materials). This doesn’t mean you need fancy, expensive equipment to cook, but it’s certainly helpful to have a few good tools to make things more efficient and help specialized cooking fit into your lifestyle needs.
Here are some common cooking and storage tools that are helpful-and how to avoid the toxic ones.
Cookware is the first thing people ask about regarding food safety. Do not use aluminum (where the cooking surface is aluminum), Teflon-coated, or copper. Especially, do not use Teflon. I know they are easy and non-stick, but there have been many studies showing how toxic this material is. Even if they are new and unscratched, I would not use them. Teflon is also toxic to produce. There are also newer varieties of cookware, all claiming to be non-stick and non-toxic. Because some of these are so new, I have not yet seen enough research to make personal recommendations.
As with most areas of nutrition and cooking, I prefer to stick with the traditional and classic options. Cast iron and enameled cast iron are good options for cookware. Stainless steel pots and pans are also good; however, stainless steel can contain high levels of nickel. Purchase stainless steel that attracts a magnet-these are much lower in nickel. If you can find the old VisionWare by CorningWare, they are also great to cook with.
For bakeware, you can use glass such as Pyrex, ceramic stoneware such as CorningWare, and natural stoneware such as Pampered Chef. Pyrex and CorningWare are old stand-bys. The stoneware by Pampered Chef is great for gluten-free pizza crust and butternut squash fries.
In addition to cookware, there are other tools that are very helpful in the kitchen:
Slow Cooker/Crock-Pot: Slow cookers, also commonly referred to as crock-pots (based on the brand name Crock-Pot), most frequently contain an enameled ceramic crock. Typically, these crocks are made with non-toxic materials, although you’ll want to check the specific brand. Slow cookers are great because they allow you to cook without requiring attention, so you can leave them all day while you are working or out running errands without concern for burning the food or a fire hazard. You will want to use recipes that are tailored to a slow cooker because the amount of water varies (less water is typically required for stews and soups).
Vita-MixTM: Vita-Mix is a high-powered blender that blends with ease – no more need to struggle with ice cubes in the blender. This blender can blend anything. I suggest the grain attachment too. Grinding your own grain allows the flour to be very fresh and makes easy nut flours. You can blend vegetables with liquid in the Vita-Mix-this differs from juicing where the pulp is extracted. Both ways of consuming vegetables is acceptable. The Vita-Mix makes a more fibrous thick juice.
Juicer: There are several different types of juicers: centrifugal and masticating being two of the most popular. I prefer a centrifugal because masticating heats up the juice a little too much – but there is much debate on this, and many options available. No matter the juicer you choose, juicing is a great way to get nutrient density in your diet.
ExcaliburTM Dehydrator: Great for making crispy nuts, dried fruit, Specific Carbohydrate Diet acceptable crackers, even yogurt. A dehydrator makes the best yogurt maker because you can adjust the temperature very specifically. The “dehydrator” doesn’t actually “dry the food out” but it gentle heats it to remove the moisture from the food. This allows you to use it as a warming oven for yogurt and other foods that you want to heat at a low, consistent temperature.
Harsch Crock: Unsurpassed for making lactic acid fermentations (cultured vegetables!). This fermentation crock makes delicious raw sauerkraut every time. The Harsch crock is well worth the investment, but not necessary to make cultured vegetables. You an also make cultured vegetables in a straight-sided, plain crock. Cultured vegetables are loaded with natural probiotics, a common tenet of autism diets.
ThermosTM: Great tool to storing hot lunch, so no heating or microwaving is required while out or at school. In addition to using a Thermos for soup, get creative with snacks and lunch. Look for a Thermos that is short and jar-shaped (rather than a tall cylinder). Foods that taste better hot such as chicken nuggets, gluten-free pasta, and chicken pancakes, often fit nicely in this shape and are easier to eat.
Here are some storage and cooking tools to avoid, and safer alternatives.
TOXINS AROUND THE KITCHEN TO AVOID:
1. Canned food. Aluminum cans either put your food in contact with aluminum or plastic lining.
2. Avoid storing in plastic. Do not put hot food or fats (oils, butter, cheese) in plastic.
3. Avoid Teflon, copper and aluminum pans.
4. Avoid the microwave and never reheat with plastic in the microwave.
5. Avoid freezing in plastic when possible.
SAFER COOKING ALTERNATIVES
1. Buy in glass. Beans, tomato sauce, and other foods can be purchased in glass jars.
2. Store in glass with plastic/rubber lid, or in stainless steel.
3. Use stainless steel (attracts a magnet), cast iron, enameled cast iron, glass or ceramic.
4. Heat in oven, on stove, or in toaster oven.
5. Use wax paper, or glass with lid. If you use aluminum foil, wrap food in wax paper first to avoid contact with aluminum.
6. Store frozen food in glass mason jars or Pyrex storage containers. Mason jars can be frozen-you may get an occasional broken jar at the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it’s uncommon to have the glass break. Just be sure not to fill the jar too full-allow plenty of room in the jar. If possible, don’t screw lid on all the way until completed frozen.
You can do it!
Learning to follow a special diet and cooking to heal takes patience and persistence. Try one new tool, recipe, or technique each week or month. It is much more attainable and less overwhelming to start with one thing at a time, and then build. Here’s an example. I consider myself a fairly beginner/intermediate knitter, but people are often surprised by the things I’ve created. My strategy (mostly because I get bored doing the same thing all the time) is to try one new stitch or technique with each new project. Learning one new skill is easy to add, and then before I realize it, I have quite the list of knitting tools and skilled attained (and can make things!).
I hope my experience with these kitchen tools over the years has provided helpful tips make your cooking and food prep easier. Having a child on the autism spectrum makes time very precious. However, since eating healthfully is such an integral part of healing and recovery, learning how to balance healthy food and time is important. Having some tools and tips can make food preparation easier and healthier.
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