One of the memories associated with the excitement of Christmas in my childhood was the food. Special food that we wouldn't get all year round.
Savoury snacks like frankfurts dipped in tomato sauce. A whole bunch of meats and salads, or a baked dinner. Lollies. Soft drink. Cakes. Chocolates. All varieties of deserts.
So when I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition that meant refined sugar, yeast, dairy, and more recently gluten needed to be eliminated from my diet. Christmas was somehow not quite the same. Being excluded from sharing the communal meal, or enjoying the annual indulgence of certain treats, can be a very isolating experience. And if special dietary needs are not considered, it can also make you feel a little ignored...
But, thankfully, over the years my family have adjusted. My mother and I have also discovered different recipes... like the sugar-free fruit cake, sugar-free carob and most recently I have been able to adapt a recipe for pumpkin pie, using the juice from boiled dates to sweeten it.
Children with special needs and Christmas treats...
Children with special needs may have special dietary needs, physical issues or sensory sensitivities that may interfere with there ability to join in the Christmas feasting. If we want our Christmas Day to be truly inclusive, we need to make sure we find out if this is the case and what we can do about it.
Special dietary needs
Some children with Autism or Aspergers benefit from or require a gluten-free diet due to their digestive tract issues. The wrong foods can influence mood as well as cause stomach aches, constipation or diarrhoea.
The behaviour of some children with ADHD can be influenced by the amount of sugar and/or preservatives that they consume.
These are only some of the more common issues children with diverse needs and their families might face at the Christmas meal. Some things we can do is ensure that we have a number of gluten, dairy and sugar-free options that look and taste appetising available on Christmas day.
This, importantly, should include sugar-free and additive-free drinks. Carefully reading labels on fruit juice bottles is important as many brands add sugar and preservatives. Another treat is to freeze fruit juice as ice blocks. I found Nudie Crushies best for this as they are thicker and more like the smooth consistency of ice cream when frozen.
If you need recipes, the Gluten-free Goddess has some great suggestions.
My most favourite, well-stained cook book is called "Cooking Without" by Babara Cousins.
Alternately, I have found some good snacks in the Naytura food isle in Woolworths... Orgran being a great brand for gluten-free products.
For some children with disabilities there are other physical factors that you will need to consider.
First, some children may not be able to successfully manipulate a knife and fork due to fine motor difficulties. One of the ways to deal with this is to have a range of easily manipulated, finger-foods available.
Other children may have difficulties with chewing or swallowing, and so having soft foods available will also be helpful.
Gluten, sugar, dairy, preservative free, fun finger-food
You can fill the rice cups with anything you (or your child) like
Sensory sensitivities and preferences
We also need to take into consideration the sensory sensitivities and set preferences of children with diverse needs.
For some children, certain textures, aromas or colours will trigger a gag reflex or a meltdown.
Other children will have very specific food preferences... and will struggle to eat anything outside these preferences.
It is important not to see this as a behavioural issue. That is, we need to be careful not to think of a child with Autism who is having a melt-down because something green was put on their plate as being "naughty". Understand their specific needs and "go with the flow"...
This is just scratching the surface, I know.... so if anyone else has advice, or recipe suggestions, please share...