Autism Friendly Holiday Recipes
Holidays Used to Suck: Autism, Food Allergies, Special Diets, Medical Cannabis 

By Erica Daniels, Author of Cooking with Leo: An Autism Family Cookbook  and Founder of Hope Grows for Autism 

Holidays Used to Suck…

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I grew up with a Jewish mother and an Italian father. Cooking and sharing special holiday meals is in my blood. Holidays were ingrained in traditional big family meals. Autism and food allergies changed all of that. 

When Leo and I began the journey of natural health and healing his gut, food choices were very limited. Family holidays were overrun with foods Leo couldn’t eat. Platters of pastas, cheeses, and casseroles loaded with butter and milk. Tables filled with candy, nuts, and decadent desserts. 

At first, I tried packing along Leo’s own food, but he would run around like a Tasmanian devil, grabbing things from all sides of the dinner table and ending up with rashes and stomach complications. He was impossible to keep up with. Eventually, we gave up and stopped attending holiday events. The joy of family traditions seemed dead. 

So, it began—I started to experiment on traditional holiday recipes and prepared them without gluten, casein, soy, or nuts. I replaced canned and processed foods with organic and whole foods. I began fighting my way back to some normalcy and tradition as I started cooking differently. 

I do not cook for my family with cannabis; I treat cannabis as a medicine in the medicine cabinet. What I find so interesting is that the cannabis medicine appears to treat and maintain underlying gastrointestinal issues providing enough healing for Leo to tolerate foods he could not before. 

Medical cannabis has had many positive, life-changing effects for Leo and our entire family. Because of medical cannabis, we can actually attend family holidays that we could not before. Leo now feels comfortable at a large holiday gathering where before he was anxiety-ridden and overwhelmed. I also began to notice Leo could tolerate gluten while using cannabis, which is HUGE!  

Natural treatments such as diet and medical cannabis have made all the difference in our family’s quality of life and I now can look forward to the holidays again!

Here are a few of Leo’s favorite allergen-free recipes!

Aunt Jackie’s Pineapple Spoon Bread 

(Now available gluten-free and casein-free)

This is by far Leo’s favorite dish. He asks me to make pineapple spoon bread a few times a week. Leo knows this recipe by heart. Once, he wanted to make it but we didn’t have any pineapple, so we used apples instead. That’s the great thing about cooking—you can always scrape something together from whatever you have in your fridge or cabinet.

 The Goods

  • 8 slices gluten-free bread
  • 4 organic free-range eggs (or substitute with 1 cup organic apple sauce)
  • 1 stick dairy-free, soy-free butter substitute, melted
  • ½ cup organic sugar
  • ½ tsp gluten-free organic vanilla extract
  • 1 large can crushed organic pineapple
  • 1 tbsp organic cinnamon

 The Fun Part 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Beat the eggs, melted butter, sugar, and vanilla together with a beater. Leo loves using the beater, but he still needs close supervision.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread pieces, pineapple, and egg-butter-sugar mixture well. Children can use their hands to mix the ingredients.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish and sprinkle cinnamon on top.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Be Thankful for Gluten-Free Stuffing

The Goods

  • 3 tbsp of organic high heat safflower oil
  • 2 organic medium onions, chopped
  • 3 organic celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 loaf of your favorite gluten free white bread
  • 1 tsp of organic sea salt
  • 4 cracks/ twists of organic cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh organic sage
  • 1 tsp dried organic thyme, chopped
  • 2 organic free-range eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups organic chicken stock (homemade or store-bought gluten-free stock is fine) 
  • Vegan soy-free butter, for the baking dish

Add any other ingredients you like to make this stuffing your own, such as carrots, sausage, or mushrooms—whatever makes it feel traditional for you.

The Fun Part

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Over medium heat, heat safflower oil in a frying pan. Sauté the chopped onion and celery until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
  3. Cut the bread with a scissors into ¾-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion, celery, and spices into the bread mix.
  4. Add the eggs to the mixture, along with the chicken stock. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Everyone should get their hands in there to “bless” the stuffing.
  5. Grease a glass baking dish on all sides with butter. If you have butter in sticks, let your child rub it directly onto the baking dish. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish.
  6. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the top is slightly brown and crispy.
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