Going Gluten Free – Best First Year Advice

It’s been many years since I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease.  The diagnosis came with more questions than answers.  I was referred to a dietitian, but was left to figure most things out on my own.

Six months after my diagnosis, my oldest daughter was diagnosed at age five, and I got serious about how to feed my family so no one was deprived.  I received lots of advice in that first year, and looking back, I can identify what was most helpful and how I applied it.

#1 – Set Yourself Up to Succeed

Most of us struggled for many years with different symptoms and our own makeshift solutions for coping.  Now that I knew what was wrong, I was able to take some constructive steps to help myself and my daughter.

Meals – Don’t concern yourself with what others in the house eat for breakfast and lunch.  They don’t have the same restrictions and have more options.  Let them do their own thing and make their own choices.  When it comes to dinner, try to have everyone eat gluten free.  It’s not that hard.  Any meat, any fish, any vegetable, any fruit, it just depends how it’s prepared (this became my mantra).  When small children are involved, or someone who can’t make their own meals, you may have to handle food with gluten in it, but make this an opportunity to introduce healthy gluten free options everyone can enjoy.

In our house it worked like this –

Breakfast – a variety of cereals, if oats were on the menu, we used gluten free.  We always had two toasters, and the gluten free bread was always kept in the freezer.  If we made pancakes or waffles they were gluten free.  Bacon and eggs were often served, and always gluten free.

Lunch – This was somewhat of a free-for-all.  I rarely prepared sandwiches, we often ate soups, salads, leftovers, or luncheon meats and cheese with crackers or corn chips.  Stovetop mac and cheese was a favourite, and always the gluten free kind.  When my daughters were at school, they both usually took a gluten free creation to make it easier for me.  My husband took advantage of buying lunch out a few days a week while at work.  This way, he never felt he was missing out on anything.

Dinner – This was the meal of the day when we all sat down at the table and ate together.  It was our opportunity to find out how everyone’s day was, and my opportunity to serve a healthy gluten free meal that everyone could enjoy.  So the any meat, any fish, any vegetable, any fruit rule gave me so many options.  If I wanted to make something breaded, I used gluten free bread crumbs.  If I wanted to serve a gravy or sauce, I made it with gluten free flour or simple corn starch.

The times when we strayed from the no gluten dinner were for pasta and pizza.  It took a long time to find a pasta that everyone enjoyed, so for years it worked well to boil two pots of water, strain and prepare ours first and be mindful of the separation of cooking utensils.

Pizza is a whole different challenge.  My best advice is to find a simple recipe to make a good gluten free crust and have everyone eat it.  You can make it ahead and freeze it for later.  Here’s the link to my recipe –  https://www.suesglutenfreebaking.com/pizza-calzones-3.

Unfortunately, pizza is often on the dinner menu for nights when everyone is in a hurry, or tired, from a long week, so take out, or frozen is the better option.  There are some good take out pizzas and once you find one, establish a relationship with the shop, so they know you, and will make the extra effort to ensure your pizza is gluten free.  Frozen pizzas can be hit and miss, it can take some effort to find a good one.  Don’t be afraid to ask around.  There is great joy in finding a good frozen pizza and then watching for it to come on sale.  You can bake a gluten free and a wheat pizza in the same oven at the same time, just make sure the two pizzas are on different trays, you use different utensils and if possible the gluten free pizza is cooked on a higher shelf, so no gluten crumbs fall onto it.

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Simple mini chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

Dessert – This is for most, the hardest challenge.  There is only so much fruit and ice cream that one can eat, while watching someone else devour a piece of cake or pie.  Best advice – try to bake.  If you didn’t bake before your diagnosis, you are not likely to naturally bake for yourself afterwards.  Make the effort, at first with a couple of mixes, then later from scratch.  There is freedom and power in baking for yourself.  You normally can’t get what you want easily in a store, but you have the ability to make it just the way you like it.  A chocolate cake mix can make a layer cake or cupcakes, can have a vanilla or chocolate frosting, and be topped with sprinkles of your choice.  Your family and friends are much more likely to join you in a cupcake that you’ve made gluten free, than one of the over-priced store bought ones.  It’s wonderful now that there are options for gluten free baked goods in many grocery stores, but be careful to read the ingredients.  In an effort to use cheater ingredients and get an appealing texture and taste, many manufacturers are loading their treats with far more sugar and fat than traditional wheat versions.  Take baby steps and try baking something at home, it’s not as hard as you think, and everyone will praise you for your efforts.

I’ll talk more in future blogs about the other useful advice I received in my first year of the gluten free diet.  Finding a balance in feeding you and your family seems daunting, but is easier than you think.  You CAN do it!