zoodles illustration

Going gluten free could mean finding alternatives to your favorite pasta dishes - like zucchini instead of noodles.

From the Summer 2020 edition of Balance magazine.

There are many reasons to adopt a change in your diet. For many people, implementing a gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan diet isn’t a matter of simply getting in on the latest health and lifestyle trend - it’s a necessary way to avoid foods that trigger allergies. These elimination diets are necessary for many people, but if not managed properly they can lead to different dietary problems.

It’s important if you are going gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan to be sure you’re making up for any lost vitamins and nutrients by eating a variety of foods or by taking a supplement.

“I’ve seen plenty of people that are very unhealthy vegetarians,” says Dr. Pia Fenimore, a pediatrician with Lancaster Pediatric Associates. “They come in and they’re living on a diet of potatoes and pasta. So I don’t think that choosing one of those elimination-type diets is the key to producing healthy kids unless there’s some sort of medical reason that they need it.”

Gluten Free

The gluten-free diet is very healthy in general, Fenimore says.

“When I first started practicing medicine, gluten free pasta was truly the grossest thing I ever had in my life,” she says. “And they have tweaked that really nicely too, so that now actually there’s a couple brands of gluten-free pasta that I prefer. Because there are so many substitutes, we don’t worry about missing out on nutrients in a gluten-free person.”

One thing that’s important to make sure you’re getting is folate, Fenimore says.

“If you’re gluten-free, you need your folate supplement. And with kids, a growing nervous system needs folate, so we make sure they’re getting that elsewhere,” says Fenimore. “But there are lots of other sources of folate, so I don’t worray too much about that.”

Asparagus, kale, leafy greens and citrus fruits are all rich in folate.

Vegan

A vegan diet is absolutely safe for children, says Fenimore, but notes that parents should consider specific things.

“The first one being protein sources,” she says. “In our diet, the bulk of protein comes from meat, eggs and dairy and since those things are off the table with the vegan diet, you have to come up with other sources including tofu, beans, nuts and things like that.”

Protein isn’t the only concern when going vegan.

“Vitamin B12 is another thing that we get from animal sources and can be tricky to find for vegans and vegetarians,” says Fenimore. “Some use nutritional yeast or fortified grains. I have heard there are certain kinds of mushrooms that have B12 in them, but in general I usually recommend that parents put their children on a B12 supplement just to be certain.”

Not getting enough protein or B-12 can led to fatigue, weakness, and lightheadedness and - in instances of prolonged deficiencies - occasionally more serious symptoms.

Dairy Free

Vitamin D and calcium are the two main nutrients that we get from dairy products.

“Most of the so-called dairy substitute-type milks like soy or almond or things like that are supplemented with Vitamin D,” says Fenimore. “And there are lots of other foods that are rich in vitamin D that are not dairy, they just mtight not be foods that we necessarily think of all the time. One of them is fish. Dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale, have vitamin D. Tofu has vitamin D in it. Some grains have vitamin D. Some orange juices are supplemented with vitamin D. So, there’s lots of way to get it in your diet if you’re dairy free.”

Fenimore says balance is the key to any diet, for adults or kids.

“I think the main thing we need to do is focus on teaching our kids about balance and about making sure that your body is getting everything it needs from food,a” says Fenimore. “I think the movement to teach kids to eat whole foods and know where their food came from and know what’s in their food, is one that has merit and is worth starting from the very beginning.”

Adopting a healthy diet that includes a wide variety of food is important, says Fenimore, who occasionally writes a column for LNP about healthcare with a focus on children. And, she adds, it’s a habit that is most successful when started at a young age.

Palak with Curry-Roasted Tofu

This variant on Indian palak paneer from LNP | LancasterOnline food writer Kim O’Donnel uses tofu instead of cheese, and therefore can fit into a variety of elimination-style diets.

Palak paneer

This variation of palak paneer made with tofu is a perfect choice for vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free diets.

Inspired by a recipe for Indian Spinach with Fried Paneer from “Sourdough on the Rise” by Cynthia Lair. Makes about 5 servings.

Ingredients: Curry-roasted tofu

• 1 14-ounce package extra firm or firm tofu packed in water, preferably organic or non-GMO

• 2 tablespoons neutral oil

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon garam masala or Madras curry powder

• ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

Note: To save time, you can roast the tofu a day in advance.

Directions:

To press and drain the tofu, remove from the package, discard the water and place on a dinner plate. Set a small plate on top, then weigh down with a heavy object (like a can of tomatoes or jar of jam) to press and release the water. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Pour off the water.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Slice the block of tofu in half horizontally. Cut each half into sixteen to twenty 1-inch cubes. Transfer the cubes to a bowl and add the oil, salt and spices. Gently mix until the tofu is evenly coated.

Arrange the cubes in a single layer on the prepared pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then with tongs, turn the cubes to brown on a second side. Roast for an additional 15 minutes. The tofu will be golden and even slightly puffy.

Transfer to a bowl and set aside for serving.

Ingredients: Indian-spiced palak

• 3 tablespoons neutral oil

• 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

• 2 bunches fresh spinach or chard, washed and stemmed (about 8 cups) or two 10-ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed

• 1 medium jalapeno chile pepper, finely chopped

• 4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped

• 1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger (from a 1x1-inch peeled piece)

• 1 teaspoon garam masala or Madras curry powder

• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

• ½ teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

• 2 plum tomatoes or 10 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped

• 2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk, heavy cream or coconut milk

Directions:

Place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl and steam until tender and wilted, about 2 minutes. Cool under running cold water. With your hands, squeeze as much water out of the greens as possible; you’ll end up with a green ball about the size of a baseball. Chop coarsely.

Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until very soft and aromatic (but not burned), 10 to 12 minutes.

Stir in the chile pepper, garlic and ginger, cooking for about 1 minute. Add the spices and the salt, stirring until the onion mixture is coated. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, allowing their juices to release, about 1 minute. Stir in the chopped spinach, turning until coated, and taste for salt, adding more as needed.

Remove from the heat and stir in the milk and the roasted tofu. Return to the heat for about 30 seconds and serve hot.

Serve with rice pilaf or your favorite naan or pita, or straight out of the skillet.