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Honey Waffles. Football Sunday Turkey Chili. Grandma’s Healing Chicken Soup. Leo’s Italian Artichokes. Nanny’s Rhubarb Sauce.
Don’t these all sound delicious? Even better, everyone can enjoy these recipes. You can find them in Cooking with Leo, a cookbook filled with over 60 recipes that are non-GMO and free of gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts. It’s also autism diet-friendly, and created by local mom Erica Daniels. Her 11-year-old son Leo suffers from significant food allergies, gastrointestinal disease, and autism.
“Children with autism are more likely to have allergies and sensitivities to nuts, gluten, dairy and soy,” Daniels said. “They are more likely to have food allergies than typical children.”
One of Leo’s therapists would watch Daniels prepare meals that were safe for her children to eat. As a single mom, Daniels also needed to find a way to include her children in her work so that she could be home and available for them. “(The therapist) actually said to me in the kitchen one day, ‘you should write a cookbook.’ The light bulb went off!” Daniels said.
Through trial and error right in her her own kitchen, and with Leo by her side, Cooking with Leo was born. “Leo can help with almost everything in the kitchen,” Daniels said. “His favorite thing to do is probably cracking the eggs.”
Leo’s favorite recipe in the book is Aunt Jackie’s Pineapple Spoon Bread. The cookbook tells Daniels’ story as well: of a mother desperate to heal and to connect with her son, who finally does connect through one of the most common daily activities — cooking. For a mother of a child with autism, being able to reach through and connect is incredibly significant.
Daniels encourages any parents who have children with autism and/or food allergies to “take your life back! Autism is isolating. Food allergies are isolating. Your child doesn’t have to feel isolated because of their food allergies. Educate family and friends. Cook allergy-free for your whole family so your child doesn’t feel left out!”
Eating a healthy diet of organic, non-GMO whole foods is beneficial for the whole family. Cooking together and sharing healthy family meals is a tradition that Daniels says you do not have have to lose because one child has food allergies. Cooking with Leo isn’t just a cookbook, it’s a journey for both mother and son. It also features facts about autism and food allergies, providing tips on foods that can be healing and the ones we should stay away from.
“Eating clean and organic is not a trend, but rather a return to the tradition of what food is about,” Daniels said. “There is no such thing as ‘junk food.’ There is junk and then there is food!”
To purchase Cooking with Leo, visit the book’s website. Daniels is also the founder of Autism Advisors and hope4Leo, a foundation whose mission is to help children and families living with autism.
Lead photograph by Ed Cunicelli.