Brenda’s Gluten Free Survival Guide
Welcome to the exciting adventure of living without gluten. My goal is to pass along what I’ve learned so far on my brief journey, and to encourage you that while it’s the end of life as you knew it, it’s not the end of life! There is a lot of grieving involved as you begin to process what a huge change this is, but my prayer is that you’ll discover how much good food is still available to you, you’ll begin to see improvements in your health (or the health of your loved ones who are giving up gluten), and rest assured that you’re not alone.
Where do I start?
Before you even look in your cupboard or go shopping, the first thing that has to change is your mindset. While there are plenty of great gluten-free (or GF) products out there, you should be prepared for the following:
- There are very few “convenience foods” that are naturally gluten-free. Manufacturers seem to think that wheat and/or barley malt flavoring need to be in everything. So be prepared to dust off those cookbooks and start making your own convenience foods by doubling your favorite recipes when you cook and freezing the leftovers for those nights when you just don’t have the desire or time to cook.
- There are some great gluten-free products out there, but they are VERY expensive. Some of these products are worth having on hand because they will greatly simplify your life. Don’t feel guilty about it, but do accept that these products are more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts – and that’s okay. For example, I keep Annie’s Gluten-free Macaroni and Cheese on hand for a quick meal or back-up plan if a recipe experiment fails (and there will be lots of experimenting, thus lots of opportunities for failure). I can get it at Winco for $2.70. Yes, it is $2 more than Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, but it still feeds my family fairly inexpensively when I throw in a little chopped ham or hot dogs. I’ve had to accept that this convenience food is more expensive, but since I’m not buying Costco lasagnas or chicken nuggets anymore, it all evens out.
- Grocery shopping and eating out can be very depressing if you allow yourself to focus on what you can’t have. I have to prepare myself mentally each time I go to the grocery store for the fact that many of the foods we used to regularly eat are now off-limits for us. Here are some strategies that have been helpful for me.
- I recite Isaiah 43:18, “Forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing.” I try to remember that this diagnosis is an answer to prayer, and that God will help me if I will focus on the future he’s giving us.
- I remind myself that I’ve been avoiding certain foods for years because of their high fat or sugar content, and this is simply another ingredient to eliminate for my family’s health.
- I try to think about our drastically limited choices as though I’ve moved to a small town with a small market that carries just a few items in each category. When we want to eat out, we go to THE pizza parlor or THE steakhouse. We have too many choices in America anyway…
What foods do I need to get rid of?
Before you head to the grocery store, start by checking your cupboards to see what items you already have that you can keep. Canned and dried fruits, veggies, canned meats (i.e. tuna, chicken), plain rice, plain instant potatoes, peanut butter, most jams/jellies, syrup, oils and vinegars, canned or dried beans, chocolate chips (WHEW!) and most tomato products are okay. Designate a GF shelf for those items. If you’re planning for just one person in the house to be gluten-free, you’ll want to keep their GF foods separate so they’re easy to find. (You’ll also want to have separate condiment containers like butter and peanut butter where double dipping of the knife occurs, because the condiments can become contaminated by breadcrumbs clinging to the knife.) Personally, I’ve found that it’s just easier if we’re all eating the same thing, so I’ve chosen to stock my pantry with GF foods, but I kept a small box with baking mixes for church gatherings. Products containing gluten that you’ll need to donate or pawn off on relatives include:
- Bread products, including crackers, stuffing, bread crumbs, croutons, cookies,cakes
- Pasta made from wheat/semolina (derived from wheat)
- Products containing barley, orzo, couscous, bulgur, rye, farina, spelt, durum, kamut
- Cereal– unfortunately, most cereals contain either wheat, bran, or barley malt flavoring
- Malt-o-meal and any other products containing barley malt/malt flavoring or extract
- Oats and any granola or other products containing oats unless it’s certified gluten-free
- Wheat flour, graham flour, wheat germ, corn muffin and other baking mixes with flour (except those you might want to keep on hand for making Sunday School treats, etc.)
- Flavored rice mixes (i.e. Rice-A-Roni) – most have wheat or barley malt
- Flavored instant potatoes (i.e. Betty Crocker) with wheat or barley malt
- Creamed soups (sorry, no more easy casseroles with cream of chicken or mushroom)
- Canned soups – check labels of even those without noodles – containing wheat or barley (most Campbell’s soups have wheat in the stock, but Progresso has many that are GF)
- Canned pasta or chili with wheat (Nalley chili has wheat; Hormel & Stag Chili are GF)
- Soy sauce (only La Choy brand is GF), teriyaki sauce, and any products containing those
- Canned gravy, broth or broth powders with wheat or any hydrolyzed wheat form
- Products with textured vegetable protein – TVP may contain wheat
- Gravy packets, seasoning blends with wheat (check taco seasoning – McCormick’s OK)
- Chips with wheat, like Sun Chips (most Frito-Lay’s chips are OK, except Nacho Doritos)
- Beef jerky made with wheat or teriyaki sauce, and imitation bacon bits (real bacon is OK)
- Salad dressings, mustards and marinades with gluten-containing ingredients listed above
- In the fridge/freezer, check for Bleu Cheese made with bread, processed meats with hidden gluten (check for ingredients mentioned above), breaded meats or those packaged with gravy, meatballs made with bread crumbs, imitation crab (has gluten)
- Check labels on pretty much every frozen convenience food you have, including vegetables that come with sauces (many are GF, but many are not). Ice cream is okay, unless it has cookies or cookie dough or something like that.
- Most candy is okay, unless it has some kind of cookie in it or malt flavoring(candies with crisped rice usually have barley malt), so check labels.
- Check labels on honey roasted nuts, as well. Some have gluten, some don’t.
- Beer has malt, and is off-limits. Wine and most other liquors are GF.
- Most pop is GF, but check root beer labels for malt flavoring. (Barq’s is OK.)
- Check online or call the manufacturer on unknown ingredients like “fillers,caramel color, artificial flavoring, smoke flavoring” which may contain gluten or may not.
My cupboards are bare. Now what do I do?
I know it’s really painful to pull out all that food. It’s okay to shed a few tears, but hang in there, dear one. (And take advantage of the opportunity to clean those empty shelves!) There’s still one more step I recommend before you head to the grocery store to try to fill up those shelves. To avoid depression at the grocery store, have a menu in mind before you go so you will focus on what you CAN have, rather than what you can’t have anymore. Since you’re going to be doing a whole lot more cooking from scratch, pull out your favorite recipe cards and cookbooks. Go through them and either mark or pull out ones that are naturally gluten-free. If a recipe calls for just a little flour or bread crumbs, don’t throw it out. When you’re ready to start experimenting with substitutes, you can give those a try. But when you’re first making the transition, it will be easier emotionally to start with tried and true favorites that require no substitutions.
- Many meat recipes use naturally GF ingredients. Experiment with herb rubs.
- There are great tasting GF pastas in just about every shape (including lasagna!), so pull out your favorite pasta recipes. Unfortunately, many casseroles require cream-of-something soup, so you’ll probably focus on individual dishes for awhile. (You can make cream soup substitutes,and I’ve found a recipe that works in most recipes.)
- Look at your rice recipes that don’t need a cream soup. Give instant brown rice a try for some extra fiber. It works well in most recipes. Experiment with varieties of rice.
- Pullout recipes with potatoes or yams. Yams/sweet potatoes (can be used interchangeably) have more fiber and nutrients than regular potatoes. If you’re new to them, try microwaving a few pricked potatoes for8-10 minutes or until the sides feel squishy, then dressing them with butter, salt and pepper as you would a regular potato. Don’t eat the skin. Or cut them up to bake as fries,drizzled with a little oil and salt. Dip in ketchup. (Wal-Mart carries yummy Alexia frozen sweet potato fries.)
- You can substitute corn tortillas for flour tortillas in most Mexican dishes and wraps. Plus, corn tortillas are cheaper and lower in fat that flour tortillas! Try sprinkling some cheese as close to the edge as possible, microwaving for 15-20 sec. (or bake several for 5 min. at 350 degrees), then filling and rolling as usual. The cheese keeps it from breaking.
- Think of your favorite homemade soups and main-dish salads. The gluten-free diet can be very effective for weight loss if you replace your bread with another vegetable serving. We love topping taco soups and salads with crushed Fritos. Nuts can replace croutons (try the Italian Parmesan flavored Almond Accents by Sunkist with Caesar salads). A corn tortilla topped with cheese and heated under the broiler fora few minutes makes an easy side dish for most soups and salads.
- Take a look at those egg casseroles that use hash browns or potatoes instead of bread. These make yummy dinners with a fresh fruit salad.
- Don’t forget to pick out some dessert recipes, too. Those chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls don’t have to be saved just for Christmas! No bake cookies (the ones with oats, peanut butter, and cocoa powder) don’t require flour and can be made with Bob’s Red Mill GF oats. If desserts seem too overwhelming to think about, then pick up a quart of ice cream(without cookie/brownie pieces, of course), and maybe some salted nuts and M&Ms. Trust me, it’s a good idea to have a few treats on hand for those times when you’re feeling deprived.
I don’t want to cook from scratch for every meal. How do I plan a menu that doesn’t require a ton of kitchen prep every night?
The key to keeping cooking from taking over your life is to come up with a list of easy meals for which you keep the basic ingredients on hand. These are the meals you plan for nights when you don’t have much time to cook, and will likely be in your regular rotation. If you can find two or three nights a week for “real cooking,” and double the recipe to freeze or heat up for lunches, that will keep you from becoming bored with the same foods every week. Here’s a simple formula I’ve come up with for ensuring variety:
- Day 1: Chicken or pork with some kind of rice side dish or quinoa (another GF grain).
- Day 2: Ham or beef and a potato side dish.
- Day 3: Mexican night, which can mean chicken or beef enchiladas, tacos, taco salad, bean tostadas, quesadillas, nachos, fajitas, etc. using corn tortillas/chips
- Day 4: GF Pasta dish with shrimp, sausage, or whatever meat you haven’t had yet.
- Day 5: Experiment with a GF muffin mix or bread recipe to accompany soup or salad.
- Day 6: Order a GF pizza (or try to make your own), or pull out a convenience food like
- Annie’s GF Macaroni and Cheese served with ham or GF hot dogs
- Hormel Chili with a little shredded cheese and crushed Fritos on top
- Reeser’s Baja Café tacquitos with corn tortillas and chicken or beef (Delimax is also GF, but some tacquitos are not, so make sure you read labels.)
- Progresso clam chowder, lentil soup, or chicken enchilada soup (many say GF on the label) with rice crackers (Fred Meyer carries several varieties of Nut Thins, and Costco sometimes carries Crunchmaster GF multigrain crackers.)
- Thai Kitchen Pad Thai noodles or Spring Onion instant rice noodle soup (similar to Ramen) with egg or whatever leftover meat and vegetables you have on hand.
- Day 7: Choose your favorite crock pot recipe – roast with carrots and potatoes are GF (as long as you make your own gravy using pan drippings or canned GF broth and cornstarch), or accompany grilled meat with corn on the cob and a potato.
If you need crock pot ideas, check out crockpot365.blogspot.com for a year’s worth of gluten-free crock pot recipes, and a really funny blog. She shows pictures of her ingredients, so you’ll see the gluten-free substitutes she uses, as well as pictures of the finished product – all for free! So far we’ve loved the recipes we’ve tried, which are very easy to prepare and kid-friendly.
*A note about making gluten-free bread and bread substitutes:
Initially, I would keep experiments in gluten-free bread substitutes to once or twice a week for several reasons: to keep you from becoming discouraged about eating gluten-free, since wheat alternatives are expensive; are sometimes confusing to make since the dough doesn’t handle like regular dough; they have a very different taste and texture that may not be enjoyable for you at first; and to give your taste buds time to get used to the new tastes/textures. We started out with breakfast breads, like Bob’s Red Mill pancakes (which taste great with some fresh blueberries thrown in), and Pamela’s Biscuit and Baking Mix scones and waffles (recipes are on the big bag or pamelasproducts.com). Sweet breads will be easier to get used to initially, because the texture will be closer to wheat products, and your taste buds will have something to latch onto when they’re searching for wheat and don’t find it. We love the banana bread recipe on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill GF flour blend package. Savory breads take more time to adjust to, unless they have some other strong flavor like sharp cheddar or herbs.
That covers dinner and lunch, if we eat leftovers, but what about breakfast?
Breakfast is one meal for which you’ll probably need to experiment with some GF alternatives. Naturally gluten-free breakfast foods include:
- Yogurt with fresh fruit
- Fruit smoothies with yogurt or milk
- Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Honey Nut Chex, and Trix Cereal are now GF
- Hashbrowns with eggs or bacon/GF sausage (check labels – sometimes sausages have wheat fillers or smoke flavoring which may or may not be GF)
There are quite a few gluten-free breakfast cereals and granola bars on the market, but before you buy these products you should be aware of two things. First, gluten-free products are often made by “health food” companies, who try to use little or no artificial ingredients or preservatives. That long list of ingredients on your regular cereal box includes cereal varnishes and sugar syrups that give it the taste and crunch we’ve come to expect in a cereal. That taste and crunch will not be there in your gluten-free cereal. Yes, it’s a little better for you, but it WILL turn to mush, and you’ll probably need to take a multi-vitamin since you’re no longer eating vitamin-fortified cereals and breads. Second, be aware that many people with gluten intolerance also have other food intolerances, so many gluten-free products cater to them, too. Sometimes foods that boast, “Gluten free, egg free, dairy free, soy free…” can end up being taste-free as well. Especially be cautious of recipes online from people with multiple allergies for the same reason.
Breakfast foods we keep stocked in our pantry include:
- Gorilla Munch (resembles Kix), found at Fred Meyer’s GF section & sometimes Winco
- Trix Cereal – we mix it with Gorilla Munch, which is lower in sugar, for a sweet snack
- Peanut Butter Panda Puffs (resemble peanut butter Captain Crunch), Fred Meyer/Winco
- Nutty Flax (like Grape Nuts), at Fred Meyer – we prefer to use it like granola on yogurt
- Enjoy Life brand “Very Berry Crunch” granola, found at Fred Meyer Note – we typically avoid Enjoy Life brand because they are “allergy friendly” and prone to be “taste-free,” as noted above. However, this is yummy granola without nuts.
- Dr. McDougall’s Apple Cinnamon instant oatmeal, ordered through Amazon.com (it tastes like Quaker instant oatmeal packets) and Bob’s Red Mill GF oats, found at Fred Meyer and Amazon – can be used for oatmeal and oat recipes
- Nature’s Path Corn Flakes & Crispy Rice, found at Fred Meyer – we mostly use these in recipes that call for corn flakes or rice crispies (Kellogs cereals contain barley malt)
- Rice Chex/Corn Chex – we don’t eat it as cereal either, but use it in recipes calling for Chex-type cereals, and as a substitute in crushed cookie/cracker pie crust recipes (check their website for recipe ideas, especially the Corn Chex coating for chicken nuggets)
- Van’s GF Frozen Waffles, found in the health food section freezer at Fred Meyer
- Bob’s Red Mill Pancake Mix, found at Fred Meyer and Amazon
- Pamela’s Biscuit and Baking Mix, found at Fred Meyer and Amazon.com, for delicious waffles, scones, biscuits, coffee cakes, pancakes, and a substitute for self-rising flour in some recipes (be aware that this doesn’t have any shortening in it, like Bisquick does, if you’re planning on using it as a Bisquick substitute in your favorite recipes)
- Hodgson Mill Apple Cinnamon Muffin Mix, at Winco – we prefer to use the recipe for apple cinnamon pancakes on the back of the box for a high fiber, filling breakfast
- Note – We tried Perky O’s Frosted Cheerio’s-type cereal, but it tasted like frosted cardboard.
What other gluten-free foods and wheat substitutes would you recommend?
I’ll wholeheartedly admit that I am in love with just about anything from Pamela’s. We use the biscuit/baking mix as a self-rising flour substitute for baked goods, and it works really well. I’ve also used it to make cream of mushroom soup for a couple recipes. We also like Pamela’s Bread Mix, for easy bread and hamburger buns. I signed up for a subscription deal through Amazon.com for a pack of 6 to be mailed monthly for about $22.50. It makes one loaf of bread, 8 hamburger buns, or 18 rolls. Both mixes are high in fiber and hold together well. We’ve made the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the biscuit/baking mix bag and found that if we undercooked it slightly and increased the sugars to 1/3 c. each it tasted pretty good. Other products we like include:
- Multigrain Tortilla Chips by “Food Should Taste Good” in the black/white bag at Costco. We eat these a lot because they’re high in fiber, easy to pack in lunches, and full of high-protein ingredients like quinoa, soy, and flax. Plus they’re addictively munchy.
- Glutino Pretzels at Fred Meyer. There is a cheaper brand of pretzels, but they taste like cardboard. Glutino has the best pretzels, and they’re worth the higher price.
- Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta at Fred Meyer. It’s a little more expensive than the rice-based pastas, but seems to have a firmer texture in my opinion. Quinoa also has protein, so it’s very healthy pasta. Tinkyada also makes good brown rice pasta and lasagna.
- Lundberg Risotto at Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart. They’re really tasty and easy.
- Udi’s (at World of Nutrition) and Kinnickinnick’s (at FredMeyer) frozen pizza crusts. Udi’s works great for sausage/pepperoni pizzas, and the Kinnickinnick crusts make wonderful barbecue chicken or buffalo chicken pizzas.
- Kinnickinnick frozen hamburger buns or English muffins (at Fred Meyer) both make good hamburger buns – but handle them as little as possible and grill the cut sides with a little butter or oil to help keep them from falling apart while you eat your burger.
- Envirokids Crispy Rice Bars at Fred Meyer. They’re more like a rice-crispy treat than a granola bar, but they’re great to send with your child to school for last-minute treat emergencies. It’s a good idea to send a variety of treats to your child’s teacher to have on hand for various treat days
- Kirkland Brand Nut Clusters at Costco. These healthy, yummy nut clusters are low in sugar and high in protein (also high in fat from the nuts, but it’s the good kind of fat).
- Microwave Popcorn/Kettle Corn in whatever brand you like. Check caramel corn varieties for hidden gluten, but the regular stuff is fine. We often do beef stick / turkey stick and cheese, crackers, popcorn for an easy Sunday night supper. Popcorn is also a handy treat for when you’re providing snacks for a group of children, since it’s cheap, “normal,” and most kids like it. I have an easy homemade caramel corn recipe that I’ve used for treat days at school, and no one missed the cupcakes!
- Betty Crocker Chocolate Cake Mix or Brownie Mix at Wal-Mart. Both mixes have a great texture, and are delicious with Pillsbury Chocolate Fudge Frosting. (Check labels because some frostings contain wheat.) For school age kids, make a batch of cupcakes and freeze them, so all you have to do is just pull one out for your child to take whenever there’s a birthday party at school. WARNING: Sometimes GF chocolate desserts don’t taste as good right out of the oven, but actually improve with age and refrigeration (don’t ask me why). So if you’re experimenting with a new recipe, don’t throw it out if it doesn’t taste good right away. Give it a day or two in the fridge.
What about baking?
Since there is no one flour that can serve as a substitute for wheat flour, you have to mix at least 2 flours (typically rice flour or sorghum flour and tapioca flour), a starch (like potato starch or corn starch), and Xanthan gum, to replace the gluten which is what binds food together. I won’t go into detail about gluten-free baking, because there are lots of GF cookbooks at the library and in stores. Carol Fenster has a good flour blend for her cookbook, but her recipes often require a food processor and bread maker. Bette Hagman is another big name in GF baking, but she also has her own flour blends that are different from others you may find in cookbooks and online.
- A note on cookbooks: Some ingredients that were once considered unsafe, like maltodextrin, modified food starch, and MSG are now viewed as safe as long as they’re made in the U.S. or Canada. Prior to 2006, when the new labeling laws were put into effect, these ingredients were questionable, and literature or websites that haven’t been updated will still tell you to avoid them. So always check the copyright date on cookbooks, and if you see a discrepancy, check it against the celiac.org website.
You may decide to experiment with different flour blends as a way to keep costs down. I tried this at first, after collecting recipes from lots of cookbooks and online, and ended up with about 14 different kinds of flours/starches. In my opinion, it doesn’t really save much money if you must have several flours – most of which require refrigeration – and use them up before they go rancid. This is why I’m such a big fan of the Pamela’s blends when you’re first starting out. It may be more expensive, but I’ve found one product that seems to work in GF recipes and regular recipes (both the biscuit/baking mix and bread mix have the Xanthan gum in them already, which is nice because Xanthan gum is very expensive). Besides several flours, many GF cookbooks call for lots of other specialty ingredients (like dry gelatin powder, egg replacer, etc.), which add to the expense. So I would personally recommend starting with the Pamela’s mixes and trying the recipes on the website, as well as your own recipes that call for a small amount of flour.
Another good commercial flour blend is the Bob’s Red Mill (hereafter, BRM) flour blend, which is less expensive and available at Winco and Fred Meyer. It contains bean flours, which more closely mimic the texture of wheat flour, and have lots of fiber. The BRM “Wonderful Bread Mix” makes a nice white bread that is similar in texture to regular bread. The BRM flour blend also makes delicious banana bread (recipe is on the back label). The problem we’ve had with it is that my husband is super sensitive to the bean taste (I can’t taste it, unless I’m eating a lot of it), which can be overpowering in savory breads. So we like the BRM pancake mix (which does not have bean flour in it), and other sweet bread products, but when we used it to make pizza crust we were disappointed. The first slice tasted great, but then the bean taste became overpowering the more we ate. So we prefer Pamela’s biscuit/baking mix or homemade flour blends for most things.
Even if you decide not to experiment with flour blends, it’s a good idea to get a hold of a GF cookbook to learn about the different kinds of flours available, and how to use and store them. Also, be aware that gluten-free dough will look and handle differently than what you’re used to. You also may need to use dark, nonstick pans for better browning.
What if I want to make my own flour blend?
Now that I’ve learned how to use GF flours, I keep a blend with 1c. rice flour, 1 c. brown rice flour, 2/3 c. potato starch (sometimes I substitute corn starch for half of the potato starch because it’s cheaper), and 1/3 c. tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch) on hand to substitute for flour in most recipes (along with the appropriate amount of xanthan gum, which you can find listed on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill brand xanthan gum). I also keep a bag of potato flour and sweet rice flour in the freezer (Bob’s Red Mill carries all these flours, although some can be found in the bulk flour section of some grocery stores). I’ve found that by adding 1 T. potato flour and 1 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour because of its excellent binding properties) to the flour blend mentioned above, my baked goods are soft and pliable. I also keep a bag of ground flax meal in the freezer to add to baked goods for some extra fiber and nutrition, since most gluten-free flours are low in fiber. A teaspoon or two is barely noticeable in sweet breads and muffins. The Carol Fenster blend, mentioned earlier, contains sorghum flour which is higher in fiber than rice flour, and works great in muffins and baked goods that you would use whole wheat flour in.
What other substitutes can I use in baking?
- Chex Cereals: If you need to make a crumb pie crust (i.e. graham cracker, Oreo) try using crushed cereal crumbs like Rice Chex or Honey Nut Chex with a little sugar and butter. Crushed Chex can also be used as a breadcrumb substitute in homemade meatballs and chicken nuggets.
- Cookies: Leftover homemade GF cookies can be crushed with a rolling-pin, mixed with melted butter, and pressed into a pie plate for ice cream pie crusts. We’ve enjoyed Pamela’s Pecan Sandies cookies in a cookie crust recipe. Pamela’s chocolate cookies can be used for chocolate crumb crusts. Kinnickinnick K-Toos are a yummy Oreo-type cookie that Fred Meyer carries. Kinnickinnick also makes a yummy graham cracker called “Smorables” that’s only available online or through Jakes GF store in Meridian.
Can I find gluten-free baked goods in stores?
Fred Meyer does carry some GF breads, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and a few frozen items like brown rice tortillas and pizza crusts. However, these are very expensive and the buns don’t taste nearly as good as the Pamela’s or Kinnickinnick products. The breads dry out quickly, although the Ener-G brand light tapioca bread has decent fiber and works for French Toast and grilled sandwiches. If you eat it without toasting first, it will suck the moisture out of your mouth, so stick with homemade Pamela’s bread for your PBJ. If you have access to Udi’s frozen bread (we don’t, and it’s expensive), it is amazing, as are the Udi’s bagels.
- A note on toasters: You’ll probably need to get a separate toaster for your gluten-free breads. Your current toaster is covered in gluten-containing crumbs that will be impossible to completely clean off. We opted for a toaster oven instead of a second toaster, and it’s worked great for heating up small meals and toasting our GF breads.
If you do end up buying bread in the store that goes stale, don’t throw it out. If you don’t have time for toast or French toast, use it to make bread crumbs, stuffing, or cube it and fry in butter to make homemade croutons. Never throw out GF bread – it’s too precious!
Does it really matter if we have a little gluten from time to time?
If you are gluten sensitive, even a few breadcrumbs will trigger the autoimmune response and cause damage, so be very careful about cross-contamination if you are preparing gluten-containing foods in your kitchen. Use separate pans and utensils, or cook the gluten-free food first and keep warm while you cook the gluten-containing food. Wipe up any crumbs from gluten foods with a paper towel and wash your hands often if you’re going back and forth between gluten and GF foods. If you’re sharing a condiment jar with someone who’s using it on a wheat product, insist that they scoop out and drop onto their bread the amount they’ll need before touching the bread with their knife, to avoid cross-contamination. If you’re at someone’s house or a potluck, try to be the first to butter your food before everyone else contaminates it. Insist that a new condiment jar and separate utensils be used when ordering at a restaurant for the same reason.
What if I can’t have dairy?
A year ago we took our daughter off of dairy, so I know how difficult it can be to have multiple allergies. Fortunately, after a couple months of being completely dairy free, she can now tolerate cheese, butter, yogurt and most dairy products in small doses, except straight milk. A friend of mine, who has a more severe dairy intolerance, has found that she can handle ice cream and cheese if she takes a Lactaid pill and a probiotic pill (the helpful bacteria found in yogurt) before eating dairy. There are a few helpful strategies and substitutions for almost every dairy product except cheese. Unfortunately, there is just no good substitute for cheese.
- Sweetened almond milk (especially vanilla almond milk) tastes terrific for drinking and cereal, and is fabulous in French Toast and pancakes.
- Rice milk is an excellent replacement for milk in cooking and baking.
- Earth Balance makes a buttery spread that is non-dairy. Nucoa is a soy-based margarine that works for baking. Butter flavored Crisco is also non-dairy.
- There are some decent soy ice creams out there, as well as soy yogurt. But soy can disrupt hormones, so use it sparingly.
- Pamela’s pancake and baking mix contains powdered milk, but Betty Crocker recently came out with a GF Bisquick that is dairy free.
Be aware that rice milk and almond milk don’t contain protein like cow’s milk, so they’re more like drinking a vitamin. I’d strongly recommend taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement when going completely dairy free. It’s a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if you’re gluten free, anyway, since you’ll be eating fewer fortified foods.
What if I don’t have the stores mentioned where I live?
Kroger is the same chain as Fred Meyer. Whole Foods has an amazing selection of gluten-free products. I’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s, but I hear they have a great selection, too. Our Wal-Mart has recently begun carrying gluten-free products, and most grocery chains now carry at least a few items. Look near the health food or specialty food sections. Asian and Hispanic aisles are also good places to check for gluten-free items. Amazon.com has an amazing selection of GF products at a substantial savings (plus free shipping) if you use their Subscribe and Save program. It allows you to determine how often you want the items delivered, and you can cancel at any time. I do most of my GF shopping this way for items we use on a regular basis.
Can I ever eat out again?
Lots of restaurants have gluten-free menus on their websites, and others have them available in the restaurant upon request. We started our GF dining adventures at restaurants with GF menus we could print off and take with us, for pain-free ordering. Always ask if fries are in a dedicated fryer, otherwise cross-contamination can take place if cooked with breaded items like nuggets.
Places we’ve liked with menus online include:
- Outback Steakhouse – substitute garlic mashed potatoes for fries
- Carino’s Italian Restaurant – substitute roasted potatoes for pasta
- Old Spaghetti Factory – has GF pasta
- Wingers – fries are GF, as well as several regular chicken dinners
- Louie’s Pizza and Pasta in Meridian – both GF pizza and pasta. Check phone book for coupons.
- P.F. Chang’s in Boise – the only option we’ve found for Chinese food, but oh so good
Places we’ve liked with no online menu, but an in-house GF menu:
- Smokey Mountain Pizza – small GF pizza and pasta
- Chicago Connection – small GF pizza
- Jalapeno’s Mexican Restaurant – all items are GF except that taco shell for taco salad (substitute corn tortillas for flour tortillas)
- Olive Garden’s GF menu has GF pasta, meat and veggie meals, and the salad is GF!
- Tucano’s Brazilian Steakhouse in Boise – call ahead to get GF menu. Lots of choices.
- Brick 29 Bistro in Nampa – chef will highlight GF options
- Disneyland! Yes, many restaurants at Disneyland serve GF foods including hamburger buns and pizza. It truly is the happiest place on earth for those with gluten intolerance!
Places we haven’t yet tried with online menu:
- Red Robin, On the Border, Macaroni Grill all have allergen menus on their websites, but there’s not much left that would interest us on the GF menu.
Fast food places with an online menu and a decent amount of choices:
- Wendy’s has the most extensive list of GF items. We love their chili and baked potatos.
- Jack-In-the-Box has quite a few items on their online menu.
- Taco Del Mar is mostly GF, except for a few ingredients. Check online.
- Costco all-beef hot dogs are GF without the bun (grab a bag of chips and who needs the bun anyway!). The Chicken Caesar Salad is GF without the croutons. The rotisserie chicken at Costco is also GF, and for $5 provides more than enough meat for our family.
- Carl’s Jr. in Nampa has a dedicated fries fryer, and their low-carb burger is GF – it comes wrapped in lettuce, rather than on a bun
- Burger King now has GF fries, and their grilled chicken is GF as well as their burgers without a bun.
- Avoid McDonald’s grilled chicken because there is gluten in the marinade. You can basically get a burger with no bun at McDonald’s. The fries are questionable since the allergen menu lists gluten in a fractional amount,but my family has eaten them without getting sick. So you have to decide if it’s worth the risk.
What if I’m eating out with friends or family at a restaurant with no gluten-free menu?
The key to successful dining outside the GF safety zone is to (politely, of course) ask lots of questions. If possible, try not to dine during peak hours, or call ahead and ask to speak to a manager or chef about gluten-free options. You’ll need to ask them to check their ingredients lists for items containing wheat, barley or barley malt, rye, and oats. If you’re at an Oriental restaurant, check to see if there are any items that don’t contain soy sauce (which has gluten). While you’re never totally safe eating out, because of cross-contamination risks (waitresses getting lettuce from a bag after handling croutons, burgers cooked on the same grill as the buns, etc.), there are some menu items that will be safer bets than others.
- American Food – Ask about the seasoning blend for steaks and hamburgers (without buns, of course), and ask the waitress to check for gluten in BBQ sauce. If ordering chicken that has been marinated, ask about whether gluten or soy sauce was used in the marinade. Fries may not be GF if they’re fried with breaded items, but baked potatoes or mashed potatoes should be safe. If your meat comes with rice, make sure it’s not rice pilaf (which has pasta in it), and that there’s no gluten in the seasoning. If you don’t want to ask about ingredients in the salad dressing,you’re generally safe with vinaigrette. We’ve ordered a steak and baked potato with salad bar at Sizzler many times and been fine, even though they don’t have a GF menu. So it can be done!
- Mexican– Most Mexican restaurants will give you the option of using a corn tortilla instead of a flour tortilla, but check to see if the corn tortilla has wheat since some places use corn tortillas with wheat in them and typically fry them alongside breaded items. Generally, taco salad hard shell bowls have wheat in them. Check on rice,too, since wheat may be used in the seasoning.
- Italian– Even if you can’t have pasta, many Italian places have grilled meats and a potato option or polenta, which is made with cornmeal and is usually GF. If ordering a chicken Caesar salad, be sure to ask about the marinade for the chicken & order without croutons.
- Fast Food – Thanks to the Atkins movement, people won’t look at you like you’re a weirdo for ordering a burger in a lettuce wrap. Always double-check what’s in grilled chicken before ordering, and ask if fries are in a dedicated fryer. Hot dogs may or may not be safe,depending on the fillers. So unless you know it’s Kosher, it’s best to avoid them. Corn dogs have gluten in the corn breading, so they’re not safe. Honestly, we have mostly given up on fast food because it’s not worth the risk and hassle. Instead,we get a GF pizza or Costco rotisserie chicken from time to time, and save up our money to visit a nice GF restaurant once a month as a family, and once for date night. We have also designated fast food restaurants as ice cream places, and get shakes or sundaes when we want to take the kids to climb around at Carl’s Jr. or McDonalds.
What about potlucks and parties?
It’s a good idea to bring your own food for your family. You can always politely ask others what’s in their casserole, but you don’t want to assume the food provided will be safe for your family. Generally, Jello, salads, and fruit will be okay, so as long as you bring a main dish and dessert you’ll probably be covered. If your child is going to a party where pizza or burgers are served, try to send a GF version with your child, or discretely give it to the adult in charge. If you need to send a treat for some other occasion (after game snacks, etc.) try to have an equivalent snack or something slightly better so your child thinks he’s getting a better deal. (Lots of kids would rather have your child’s candy bar than a cupcake!)
Now take a deep breath, pray for peace, and get out there and live gluten-free! You can do it!!