For those of us who suffer from Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy a gluten free diet is critical for our health and well being. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley and rye and has a tendency to pop up in the most unexpected places such as: sauces, condiments, breakfast cereals, yogurts, ice cream and some processed meats. It may seem like a daunting task to not only remove gluten from your diet but also figure out how to cook gluten free food for you and your family.
Luckily, however, there are 2 advantages to a gluten free diet that are often over looked
#1: There are a lot of foods that are naturally gluten free (and not expensive, like many tend to believe).
#2: A gluten free diet means eliminating a lot of overly processed food with artificial chemicals and preservatives, so you actually will end up eating healthier food and there for being healthier without even trying.
Now that we know more about what we are up against lets talk about some general guide lines for planning gluten free meals.
If you like to eat a hot breakfast, you have the most options available to you. Eggs, potatoes, cheese, vegetables and most (check the label to be sure since they are processed) breakfast meats are gluten free. Think of how many different ways you can prepare eggs; fried, poached, scrambled, in a firtatta or omelet. Hot cereals can be problematic though as most are processed. However, you can find gluten free oatmeal and quinoa and rice porridge you make yourself are also gluten free.
– If you normally eat cold cereals for breakfast try a rice or corn cereal instead. Just be sure that the corn or rice was not processed with a malt, maltodextrin or any other ingredient that contains gluten. See the List of Ingredients that Contain Gluten on WeAreGlutenFree.com.
– If you eat a breakfast bar or shake for breakfast check to make sure that the bar you are eating is gluten free, or switch to a handful of nuts with berries or a banana. These are really easy to eat on the go. If you eat a pre made shake also make sure it is gluten free or make your own. Buy a gluten free protein powder you like and add milk to it before you leave in the morning. Or you can make a smoothie with all of your favorite fruits which are naturally gluten free and delicious. If you do not have time to make a smoothie in the morning try making it the night before and putting it into a portable cup with a lid so all you have to do is take it out of the refrigerator on your way out.
Lunch: – If you eat sandwiches for lunch, try warming up corn tortillas then spreading them with hummus or gluten free cream cheese and adding lettuce, tomato, cheese and gluten free lunch meat. Then just roll it up and you have a great substitute for a sandwich. You can also forgo the idea of a sandwich entirely and make a salad topped with your favorite vegetable, nuts, cheeses or chicken or tuna for extra protein. If you like chicken or tuna salad you can prepare a gluten free version of the salad (the mayo should the the only ingredient that might have gluten) and eat it on gluten free crackers you make or buy from your local grocery store.
– If you tend to eat a microwaved lunch there are gluten free microwaveable meals available in your local grocery store or online.
– The easiest option I find for lunch is simply taking leftovers from last nights dinner. Things like gluten free pastas, chicken, potato casseroles and other gluten free dinner entrees are easy to place in a reusable container and heat.
Dinner is probably when you will have the most options and the most control over what you eat, so it can be very easy.
– Gluten free pastas are widely available and are an easy dinner idea, just add some protein and you are ready to enjoy. – Look to other grains like quinoa and rice for hearty side dish. – Mashed potatoes can be made in a big batch one day and then frozen for future use. (*Boxed mashed potatoes are typically not gluten free. You can make your own very easily and most people agree they taste far better.)
–Making a meat dish is very easy as well since unprocessed meat is naturally gluten free. Just be sure the seasonings you are putting on the meat is gluten free.
– Get creative with dinner and look to other cultures for gluten free inspiration. Try an Asian inspired stir fry over rice (instead of soy sauce which is not normally gluten free, try tamari sauce it has a similar flavor and is gluten free), or a Mexican dish of tacos in corn tortillas served with refried beans.
– Soups, stews and chilis can also very easily be made gluten free and also made in big batches that you can freeze and use in the future. Just check to make sure the soup stock is gluten free.
– For gravies and sauces that need to be thickened you can use potato starch, corn starch or coconut flour to thicken it instead of flour. *Tip: For a thick velvety sauce or gravy, make sure that the starch or flour does not “clump up” in your sauce or gravy. Remove a small amount of the sauce from the pot and add it to the starch or flour in a separate bowl to mix it fully before adding it back to the rest of the sauce or gravy.
– If you are eating out for dinner it will take time to get used to asking the right questions in a restaurant and knowing what ingredients are not gluten free. See the article on Eating Out Gluten Free and Lists of Ingredients That Contain Gluten.
– Snacks can be a bit tricky if you are used to grabbing a bag of cookies or chips, but here is the good news: you will most likely tend to eat healthier snacks as most NON gluten free snacks tend to be high in fats, sugars and calories that our bodies cannot use efficiently.
– Instead of chips try gluten free crackers with cheese or gluten free corn chips (most are gluten free) with cheese or salsa. Or try crunchy rice crackers from the ethnic food section of your store, sometimes they are called by their Japanese name “arare”.
– If you like cookies there are gluten free cookies available but they can be a little expensive. You can also make gluten free cookies yourself (see the recipe section for the gluten free cookie recipes). *Tip: Roll part of the cookie dough into a log and over it with parchment paper and plastic wrap then freeze it so that when you want gluten free cookies all you have to do is cut the desired number of cookies from the “log” of dough and bake.
– Fruits and vegetables are the easiest and most healthy gluten free snack. Try a banana with peanut butter or celery sticks with hummus or gluten free dressing.
– Rice cakes with jam or peanut butter and apples.
– Popcorn is also a great option.
– Try cheese and apples or gluten free string cheese.
– Most (not all check the labels for Ingredients That Contain Gluten) yogurts and puddings are gluten free.
– For dessert look to simple items like in season fruits.
– Find a plain gluten free ice cream and add gluten free toppings such as nuts, berries and chocolate chips.
– Learn how to bake a few gluten free items that you enjoy. *Tip: You can always freeze what you do not use and reheat it for when you need a sweet treat.
– Find gluten free mixes for baked items such as cookies, pies, brownies and cakes online or in your local grocery store.
– Chocolate is usually gluten free, but beware of other candies especially the “gummy” candies such as gummy bears or worms as they usually have wheat added for texture. That is a very basic idea of how to plan gluten free meals. It is a good money and time saving idea to plan meals ahead of time by choosing meals from a list of gluten free meal ideas that incorporate basic ingredients so you do not have to buy a lot of gluten free specialty items. This takes the guess work out of making meals and grocery lists and it saves you money because you go into the grocery store knowing exactly what you want to buy and avoid expensive gluten free specialty items.