Erica Daniels packs a lot of hope into Cooking with Leo, especially for parents of autistic children who will relate to the author’s desperate struggle to not only heal Leo, her severely autistic son, physically, but also to connect with him emotionally.
Like many on the autism spectrum, Leo suffers from severe and chronic digestive issues and life-threatening food allergies. Realizing the root of all healing comes with food, this dedicated mom spent years researching and experimenting to come up with ingredients and recipes that would improve her son’s health.
Despite the hardships autism can put on a family, Cooking with Leo manages to be a joyous celebration of life. Daniels’ down-to-earth, reassuring tone is like getting advice from a trusted and sympathetic friend.
If you bought Cooking with Leo for the 60 allergen-free, autism-diet-friendly recipes alone, you’d get your money’s worth. The book is beautifully produced with clear, kid-friendly instructions and lots of colorful photos. But it’s far more than just a cookbook. It’s a guide to how to use food and cooking to create bonding experiences and meaningful connections with your children, which is particularly important and challenging for parents of autistic kids.
By following the advice in these pages, preparing meals becomes less of a chore and more of a party. Erica, Leo and his younger sister, Scarlett, actually have fun in the kitchen. The kids participate in every part of the process—shopping, recipe prep and cleanup.
The recipes are all free of gluten, dairy, soy, nuts, peanuts, sesame, fish, refined sugars, GMOs, additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors or colors. With so many restrictions, you might expect boring or bland fare filled with unfamiliar “health food” ingredients that kids would balk at eating. To the contrary, even fussy kids will chow down Daniels family favorites like roast chicken, meatloaf, mac ’n’ cheese and chili, with gusto.
Cooking with Leo should find a wider audience of people who just want to improve the quality of their family’s diets. Certainly, anyone with autism or family members on the autism spectrum—or people with common food allergens—will benefit from it.
Parents grappling with similar challenges will find them less daunting after reading about Leo’s trials, tribulations, failures and successes. Daniels’ trailblazing efforts will no doubt empower others to take a more active approach to their children’s health.