Almost 3-year-old Evelina Rous was unhappy when she couldn't eat the same foods as her fellow students at The Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Achievement School on Hilton Head Island.
Evelina's mom, Eileen, put her and twin sister, Emily, and brother, Cole, 5, on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The diet -- as described in biochemist Elaine Gottschall's book, "Breaking The Vicious Cycle" -- is sugar free, gluten free and 90 percent organic and natural. It was designed for its health benefits and claims to help people with various illnesses, including autism.
Emily and Cole are autistic, and Eileen Rous saw an immediate improvement in their behaviors when she instituted the diet.
"Their rocking and beating their heads against the wall ended," Rous said of Emily and Cole. "They were head-bangers."
Rous asked the school's program director Sandy Bass if they could incorporate the diet into the preschool menu for all the children. Bass said she was immediately on board and the menu now includes natural foods that the children enjoy such as pizza, fruit smoothies, fresh fruit and sugar-free fruit juices.
"Now I'm sold," said Bass of the diet. "I told her I'd try the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and initially it was a struggle. But now the children enjoy it, they desire it."
Still, Bass said she's worried about the eating habits of American children.
"I'm concerned about the long-term effect that food is having on our youth. If we could keep it as natural as possible, that's what I would like to happen," Bass said. "There so many of these diseases such as diabetes, that are hitting our children when they get older, I truly believe our food has something to do with it."
Today instead of serving milk and cereal for breakfast, the children are served homemade muffins with orange juice and fresh fruit or pancakes made with no processed flours topped with raw, unfiltered honey and lactose-free yogurt, instead of milk.
"The presentations are always nice, and the quality of food is good. It is tasty and nourishing," said Bass of the foods prepared by cook Margaret Stewart.
The staff has even taken a liking to the new menu, especially the smoothies. And Bass said she's noticed the behavior of the children has improved along with the diet.
"The kids feel better on the diet, and digestively they are feeling better," Bass said.
Rous recently provided all the foods for a birthday party for her children, which included a gluten-, casien/sugar-free diet. She provided recipes that include caramels, poached fresh pears in pineapple juice drizzled with pure honey and lasagna made with zucchini noodles instead of pasta.
"All of the kids are benefiting," Rous said. "They are much more well behaved. I haven't gotten to the point where we can teach the parents so they can carry it on at home in the evenings and on weekends."
Rous said the next step beyond the parents at the Achievement School is to take the diet to other schools.
"My mission is to try to get more schools to do the right thing," Rous said. "Everybody I know knows someone with these problems.
"People are starting to come around, saying 'Wow, this is really good stuff and it makes you feel better when you eat right.' We are converting people one by one."