Feeding our kids, ourselves

One of the most common questions that we hear from people who learn about Nora’s diet, or who have known that we have been doing this for 20 months, is this: Do you eat like Nora too? How has your diet changed?

Simple beautiful keto meal. In the cup is a little poached egg (one of the first from our own chickens!) swimming in heavy cream. Nora also had fish oil and her cytra jello on the side.

Simple beautiful keto meal. In the cup is a little poached egg (one of the first from our own chickens!) swimming in heavy cream. Nora also had fish oil and her cytra jello on the side.

This simple answer is this: Yes, we eat like Nora because we eat the same foods. Cheese, avocado, nuts, red pepper, berries, meats, eggs, cream, butter. But we don’t measure our food or eat in the same proportions as Nora does. We can have a fresh and simple family meal from mostly the same foods, but Nora has less fruit and a side of heavy cream. I’ve included several keto meals from this summer that were so pretty I took a picture.

I’ve noticed that as we have been so intensely focused on feeding Nora for her health, we have migrated to healthier eating patterns ourselves. Most people recoil at the fat-laden ketogenic diet and have an automatic association that fat is unhealthy. But there is more to the ketogenic diet than adding fat, and fat is not inherently unhealthy. It is an essential macronutrient that we all need. Our bodies’ interaction with food is much more complicated than fat = bad or carbs = bad…or any other such simplistic notion.

Lovely keto meal at the coast: 1/2 hard boiled egg (white only), baby shrimp in the egg, cucumber, pepper, kalamata olives and bleu cheese dip (recipe to follow).

Lovely keto meal at the coast: 1/2 hard boiled egg (white only), baby shrimp in the egg, cucumber, pepper, kalamata olives and bleu cheese dip (recipe to follow).

I was deeply impressed by the latest pamphlet released by the Charlie Foundation called “Does what I eat affect my epilepsy?” about how diet affects epilepsy even for people not on the ketogenic diet. I was struck by their simple 2-step prescription:

1. Eliminate simple sugars
2. Eat a natural, whole foods diet

These two simple rules are good for every body, not just for controlling seizures. This is what the ketogenic diet has shown us, almost by trial and error. It is impossible to eat simple sugars on the diet. There aren’t enough carbs to give. And that’s been one major shift in our diet too. We rarely eat sweets or sweet drinks. I rarely eat bread anymore.

But it’s not about deprivation. It’s about shifting to step 2, natural whole foods. Now we eat a ton of fruit. It’s a good thing that Anders was already our little fruit bat, with a personal record of eating 7 apples in a day! He loves sweets, but does not expect them daily. A special dessert will be cobbler made with berries, no added sugar, and an oatmal-flax-butter topping with a touch of brown sugar. Of course, Nora has her own separate serving to her specs.

Improvised zucchini torta. I had the same meal! Pan-fried zucchini, cut up leftover pork chop, cheddar, avocado, red pepper, iced tea and cream.

Improvised zucchini torta. I had the same meal! Pan-fried zucchini, cut up leftover pork chop, cheddar, avocado, red pepper, iced tea and cream.

When I started learning the carb content of various foods and giving Nora the best bang for her 10 to 11 carbs per day, I focused on how to load her up on berries and red peppers rather than wasting carbs on empty foods. Sure, she gets 3 or 4 grams of 85% dark chocolate in several of her snack recipes, but I consider those carbs well-spent on pure pleasure, not an empty food. This is not a deprivation diet. And squares of that chocolate bar are my go-to snack when I want something sweet. One or two squares is enough when it is high-quality. For me it’s not about no carb or low carb, but lower carb.

Now get ready, here comes the self-help-infomercial part. I have been reluctant to write this because I don’t want to sound all “rah rah! here’s the secret! you can too!” But it’s the truth, so here it is: In these last 20 months, I have lost 15+ pounds, and so has Ted. We never had a weight loss goal, but found it as a surprising natural consequence of shifting our diets subtly toward Nora’s. We exercise the same, eat the same number of calories (we aren’t counting, but don’t feel hungry), we just eat slightly differently. I put heavy cream in my coffee in the morning because it’s available, and I finally stopped putting in a teaspoon of sugar. It’s been a slow change all around. And I think that’s partially why people ask. They notice that we have slimmed down, we have energy, we feel young and healthy, my last lab work is great despite a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Now that I’ve transitioned to eating this way, I notice the difference when I stray. If I’m at a party and I have a piece of cake, I feel cruddy for several hours. I had a donut at the farmers’ market one day and just wanted to sleep all afternoon. Beer makes me feel bloated and crappy, so I’m sticking to wine and cocktails (that’s right). It takes time to put together those associations and you can only really feel them once you have been away from simple sugars for awhile.

I have to consciously remind myself that I will feel like crap if I eat some cake and it’s not worth it. If Nora is with me it is easy to say “no” to sweets for myself because it is not fair to eat them in front of her and I want to be a good model for her. If she is not with me, it is much harder and I’m learning to just take a few bites or make another choice. But Nora doesn’t get “just a bite.” She has been and must continue to be the strong one. I am teaching her, and she is teaching me.

I met many amazing parents when I was at the Charlie Foundation conference a year ago. We were all wading through the same problems of managing our child’s epilepsy using diet, which is wonderful because it works but introduces so many social and behavioral issues as well. And it is so much daily work for the parents. While at the conference I heard tired parents talking about how they make a meal for their kid, then eat a bowl of cereal or a TV dinner to feed themselves. That made me so sad. They were sad for themselves; they felt deprived.

Parents, it is just as important to feed yourselves healthfully as it is for your kids. You can persevere through this if you keep yourself healthy and strong, and good food is as important to your health as your child’s. Even your kid on the ketogenic diet. And even if your kid is not on the ketogenic diet. Parenting is hard work. You are equally important. When you weigh out a meal, you can make yourself a plate of the same foods, just hold the heavy cream and give yourself an extra serving of veggies and a few crackers or a tortilla. You deserve it. No one should be deprived of good food, least of all such dedicated parents. And it’s really as easy as those 2 simple steps. Start slow but be consistent. Most of all, be kind to yourself.

Chez Nora

We enjoyed a great Christmas-New Year vacation at home with lots of keto-goodies and many tried-and-true recipes. Nora is still doing great, seizure-free, and growing up before our eyes. I’ve been intending to write this post for the past month and finally have a moment to get to it.

It is probably natural that a child who’s diet requires so much specialized cooking will take an interest in cooking. Especially an independent 4 year old like Nora. Last quarter, I spent at least 1 day per week home with Nora, when I did a lot of cooking for her. In early December Nora took up the creative task of cooking also.

Recipe 1: Chez Nora Olive Pie

One day Nora came out of the kitchen holding a jar of jam, proclaiming that she was ready to bake a pie. I had to talk her out of the jam, but told her that we could make another kind of pie that would work with her diet. Next, she brought out a jar of kalamata olives and lemon juice. Hmmm, we could work with that.

It took some time and negotiation to convince Nora that she needed my technical expertise to make anything that would be edible and fit into her diet. I suggested that she could make something like a quiche, an egg and olive pie. She agreed that would be good, and suggested it would be good with chicken in it too. Then she decided to add some fish oil to the recipe so that she didn’t have to drink it separately that night. I could go with that too.

I let Nora weigh everything on the scale and do the mixing. I told her when she had weighed enough of an ingredient so that she would like the final result. She mostly went along with my suggestions and I recorded the weight of everything that she included in her recipe.

After we weighed everything and assembled her olive pie, she made one for Papa and one for Anders for dinner too. I let Nora weigh and mix theirs but didn’t require precision. I also let her omit the fish oil from their portions. Unfortunately, egg dishes are not on my special diet (my stomach can’t tolerate much egg.) She could relate to that explanation. I had an alternative meal that evening.

Although Anders was skeptical at first, everyone was very pleased with their olive pie! Nora was especially proud to present it to Ted and Anders. It was adorable. She made me hide them for as long as possible until Ted was at the table to receive his meal. He was very gracious and complementary, much to Nora’s delight.

Chez Nora Olive Pie. Nutritional information from www.caloriecount.com.

Chez Nora Olive Pie
2 g Fish Oil
8 g Kalamata Olives, chopped
6 g Napoleon Chopped Green Olives
12 g egg
0.5 g lemon juice
3.5 g Heavy Whipping Cream
10 g chicken thigh, chopped

Measure egg and cream into a small ramekin and whisk well. Fold in remaining ingredients and mix. Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes or until set. Cool and enjoy.

Recipe 2: Blueberry Monster Mash

One Saturday morning, Nora and I were home together and I was making up a batch of Macadamia Monster Mash. Nora likes to run the food processor when we make recipes like this one. She was inspired to make another recipe with the ingredients that we had on hand and another one of her favorite foods: blueberries.

Again, I tried to guide her on amounts as she measured the ingredients on the gram scale. I would say, “that’s enough!” then record the weight on the scale. Thankfully, she wanted to include coconut oil in this recipe, which worked great!

Blueberry Monster Mash
50 g blueberries
100 g macadamia nuts
10 g coconut oil
0.5 g salt
1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 T water

Measure and process in food processor until smooth. Enjoy!

Nora likes to call this “ice cream” and has offered to share it with friends. Of course, it’s not ice cream by most kids’ standards, but it’s pretty yummy anyway.

Halloween Treats

Halloween is scary, but not because of the zombies at the door. The sugar-soaked holiday is a field of ketosis-killing landmines for a keto kid. And even if you can avoid the sugar, you might be in for some emotional bombshells.

We used some of the suggestions posted by Dawn and Tiffany at www.ketocook.com for Halloween alternatives. But I’m also thankful to Nora for being so mature about sticking to her diet and enjoying her alternatives.

As part of her dinner, I made her the gelatine skeleton posted by Dawn. She loved it! It was a ton of fat and a good amount of protein, so it also made dinner a little easier that night. I gave it to her with the pieces all piled into a container, so she had to construct the skeleton herself. Notice the LONG LEGS! She lives with a tall papa, so this must have seemed pretty normal to her! She had already eaten the skull at this point and was pretty pleased with herself.

We went to the library’s Halloween party, where they have games and prizes. Every game has the option of taking a toy prize or a treat prize (which was a baggie of Cheerios and such), and Nora always picked the toy.

But later she turned into a trick-or-treating maniac. At first, she told people, “I can’t eat candy.” The poor homeowners would look at me as if saying, “why are you taking your child trick-or-treating? What should I do?” I just said that she has allergies and we would sort it out at home. But after a few doors she would grab into the bowls as much as possible (a little embarrassing). She filled her bucket with candy like everyone else, but I was impressed that several people on our block were giving out stickers, pencils, and other trinkets in addition to candy.

The “real” Viking Thor, and the Moon Princess (from Zen Ghosts, by John Muth).

Earlier in the week I bought the candy-equivalent of a toy for Nora and for Anders. I had a chat with Anders about happily trading in his candy for his toy, so that Nora would do the same thing (although he was still out trick-or-treating more when Nora did her trade). When we got home, I put the toy under a blanket on the rug. Then we made a pile of her candy next to it. I did a magic spell asking the Halloween Fairy to take away the candy and bring a toy–then quick switched the blankets! A present appeared! The candy disappeared! She was happy with her Hello Kitty pool party set. No problem! Anders also traded in his candy for a toy and he was very happy with his surprise, but he will get to keep a bit of candy to eat on the sly. Most of the candy went to a dentist in town who was trading 1 pound of candy for $2. The kids made $4 on their haul and got a new toothbrush to boot.

For the trick-or-treaters at our door, we put together grab bags full of trinkets. I also bought 1 bag of candy for big kids (our of fear of being egged later if they got a pencil)! After Nora and I got home, her candy went into a basket that she used to give candy to the trick-or-treaters. No fuss about that either. What a champ.

And now that fall is here, I highly recommend the Pumpkin Bars from ketocook. They are fabulous. I added a bit more fat to get a 3.5:1 ratio for Nora and they turned out great. She has been eating them for breakfast!



Things are going well.  It has been 3 months since the last myoclonic seizure and about 6 weeks since the last tonic-clonic.  Nora is shiny, happy, articulate, and energetic.  She recently learned to ride bicycle without training wheels.  Her 4th birthday is just around the corner (June 22).  She’s still got some of that Nora aggressiveness, but I guess that’s just her.

We got the OK from the doctor earlier this week to decrease her Depakote further.  She is now on 125 mg twice a day, which is half of her “normal” dosage.

She is also now on a 3.5 diet ratio, and has been there for about a month.  She seems to be tolerating that really well.  It doesn’t feel any different in preparation and administration than 3.0.  I’ve been checking her ketosis right away in the morning quite regularly and that has consistently been at 160 (level 5 out of 5).  I take that as a good sign, as the most recent tonic-clonics seem to be have been presaged by anomalous low-ketosis readings a few days before.

So, as with all who live with epilepsy, we are always waiting for the next seizure: the next unwelcome bolt from the blue.  But for now, Nora is doing great and everything is headed in the right direction.

Nora eats and eats. All by herself.

Last night at dinner I had a little revelation when Nora pushed away her plate and asked to leave the table–and her plate was empty!

One behavioral frustration with this diet has been hand-feeding Nora at almost every meal. She doesn’t fight it, but she has not eaten much on her own unless it is particularly appealing finger food. There have been many nights of sitting at the table talking with her while shoveling in the last bites (and it takes awhile, if you have ever experienced Nora in deep conversation. It’s hard to chew while so many words are coming out.) Or following her around the house with the last bites, or feeding her while she is in the bathtub.

Mostly I attributed it to the appetite-suppressing effects of the ketogenic diet. She is willing to eat, but doesn’t really feel like eating. We now also know that she was probably getting too many calories for weeks, so she was just full up. Now that her calories are reduced, she actually says “I’m hungry!” And thankfully, feeds herself.

A new food that is coming in vogue: celery! So juicy, crunchy and fiberous, it fills a girl up with almost no carbs (or protein, or fat). And Nora has now discovered pickles, a “sour power” treat with minimal carbs and lots of flavor.

And as we have not yet mentioned here, Nora ate a window gel cling thing (gummy bear-like consistency) this week. Chewed it right up. She had it in the car returning from a playdate with a friend. She kept trying to serve me “fish,” but I was driving and couldn’t see her. They are non-toxic and should pass right through, and Nora has not had any problems yet. But sheesh, like we needed that little moment of panic.