You just found out you have to go Gluten Free.
What do you eat now?
This will seem counter to all of your intuitions, but the first thing you should NOT do is go out and buy every gluten free thing you can find. You will want to and it is exactly what I did:
The day we found out that Alex had celiac disease, my husband and I headed straight to Whole Foods. We spent FIVE hours strolling the aisles, hundreds of dollars and rushed home to prepare a smorgasbord of gluten free childhood delights we were sure our family would love - namely cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese and cookies. Sadly, the meal ended with ALL iof us in tears. We were literally all crying - it tasted horrid and we could not imagine eating this food for the rest of our lives.
Almost three years later, some of the foods that we ate that first night are our favorites that we eat regularly and I can make it through Whole Foods (one of our favorite shopping venues) in under thirty minutes with my cart overflowing with gluten free food that we love.
The point being, you will probably not like the gluten free food the first time you eat it.
- First, if your celiac child is like my daughter, they feel awful from being sick for a long time. My daughter remembers not wanting to eat in general because her stomach hurt so much. So no food tastes really good at this point.
- Second, gluten free food is different. It really does take time for your taste buds to change. I still remember the first time I baked a loaf of gluten free bread. I did not like the taste of it, but I also could not stand the smell of it baking.
You need to give yourselves a little time to forget what bread and cookies made out of wheat tastes like. Start with the simple changes outlined below and give yourself time to feel better and for your taste buds to adjust.
- Yogurt, Smoothies,
- Enviro Kids Koala Crisp (my very picky eaters never turned those noises up at this cereal)
- Nature's Path Honey'd Corn Flakes
- Fried eggs
- Pocono Cream of Buckwheat - This might be pushing it a little for the newly diagnosed, but we absolutely love this! Buckwheat is good for you and naturally sweet so it is a winner all of the way around. We make a double serving, and refrigerate half for the next morning. Top with milk, sugar and cinnamon! Delicious!
Lunch and Dinner ideas
- Steamed rice - Lundberg Farms is GF
- Lunchmeat - Hormel Natural Choice lunchmeats are GF. We make ham roll ups. Just roll some lunch meat and cheese and stick a fancy toothpick in it. We still eat these.
- Hot dogs - Boars Head are GF. Most kids don't eat their hot dogs on buns anyway. Heinz Ketchup and French's Mustard are GF.
- Thai Noodles instant rice noodles - just add water and microwave for three minutes. Leave off the seasonings or go light on them.
- Baked Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Potatoes of all kinds
- Any kind of meat, just be careful how you prepare it. Gluten is in everything.
- Nachos - Tostitos chips with melted cheese on top. (If you are using shredded cheese, make sure it is gluten free. Some manufacturers coat shredded cheese with flour to keep it from sticking. In the beginning I shredded all of the cheese myself. I now use Tillamook cheese).
- Peanut Butter - Jif while not the healthiest is GF.
- Corn Thins - These served as our initial replacement for bread and sometimes still do. They hold up well in a sack lunch and are good spread with peanut butter, butter and cheese, ham and cheese . . .. They are made by Real Foods and sold just about everywhere.
- Smoothies saved us: Yogurt is good for your digestion (assuming you do not have a dairy allergy), it is cold and tastes good. Yoplait yogurt says gluten free on the label. Go to www.glutenfreemom.com to the Recipe section for some our favorite smoothies. We even have a chocolate/strawberry smoothie that is also casein free.
- Don't forget fruit and vegies: Do not underestimate the value of fruit and vegies. We eat more of these than anything else. Bananas and apples can be very filling. In fact, recent research shows that people who eat an apple before lunch actually consume less calories during lunch. That is how filling an apple can be. We love trying all of the fruits as they come out with the seasons, blueberries and raspberries in summer, apples and pears in the fall. I often just leave a bowl of carrots on my kitchen bar - they seem to disappear amazingly fast.
- Cheese: Again, assuming dairy is okay, cheese will probably also become a big part of your diet. Frigo cheese chicks, blocks of cheese . . .. As things progress try different flavors - my kids love gouda and sharp cheddar.
- Chips - Cheetos, Plain Lays, Tostitos. Go to Frito Lay Gluten Free List
- Air popped popcorn: Some of the microwave popcorn is gluten free but I get tired of having to check on it all of the time so we bought our own popper and we make our own popcorn. Of course this is how we grew up. You'd be surprised what a treat this is for kids of the microwave popcorn generation.
- Hard boiled eggs
- Pudding: Kozy Shack. My kids like the chocolate but not the tapioca.
Now that you have at least a few things you can eat, you need to get educated. Thankfully there are many gluten free resources. The following are my favorites:
Books About Celiac Disease
- Kids with Celiac Disease: A Family Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy, Gluten-Free Children by Danna Korn
- Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic by Peter H.R. Green, M.D.
There are several great glulten free cook books, but I have found that most of my old favorite recipes are very easy to convert. Additionally, there are so many great recipe sources on the internet that you could almost go without buying a gluten free cookbook. When I am looking for a new recipe, I just do a search such as "Gluten free recipe for -----"
- Cooking Gluten-Free by Karen Robertson Great section on desserts and good general tips on cooking gluten free.
- Living Without is a magazine for "people with allergies and food sensitivities. It discusses a variety of health-related issues, and provides support, encouragement, guidance and resources." I read it for the first year, but have not since then.
- Living Gluten Free is my favorite magazine. It is very informative and answers the questions that are currently on my mind. Most recently were articles on how enriched gluten free food is, reading labels and whether the flavoring in yogurt contains gluten.
- Celiac Disease Foundation - I also belong to this group which holds annual education conferences and sends out a very informative quarterly newsletter.
- R.O.C.K. - Raising Our Celiac Kids is a support group for families with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. In the beginning, this group was a great a source of support, encouragement, love and advise. It was also encouraging for my daugther to be around other kids that had the same diet restrictions. Follow the link above to an article on the group with local state by state contacts. If you cannot find the group through this link, just search for ROCK, celiac and the name of your state.
- Celiac ListServ is an unmoderated discussion list for those with gluten-related intolerances. The topics cover a range of issues from what to eat at Disney Land, recent scientifc research, recipes, where to find mail-order gluten free food. I get it in the digest version so my email is not constantly overflowing. I find it very helpful when there are changes to mainstream products. Recently, Lays changed the ingredients on their BBQ chips which were a treat for us. I found out about this change from the listserv. This list is free to anyone with internet access.
- Delphi Celiac Disease On-Line Support Group is another on-line support group for people with celiac disease. This group also provides great information on the gluten free lifestyle as well as support.
- Celiac Food SmartList This was extremely invaluable to me when we first started out. I was terribly nervous about reading labels and this list gave me the assurance I needed when shopping for mainstream items. The SmartList is software you download that contains verified gluten information on thousands of products. I download the software to my computer at home and to my PDA that I take everywhere with me. You can simply type in an item name like "ice cream" and it gives you a list of manufacturers and what they say about their products. You can also search by individual manufacturers. The list is not going to contain everything you need. There are way too many products out their to expect that. But it will give you a ton of information.
GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN
You have found enough food to eat that you will not starve for the moment and you have learned a lot of new information, now it is time to get back in the kitchen.
Have you been wanting to reorganize your kitchen?
Get some new appliances?
Now is the time.
Deciding How Far to Go
Eventually you are going to have to decide how far to go on the gluten free lifestyle change. Most likely, similar to my family, only one or two of you are gluten free. If you are reading this website, it may be just one child. In our family, it is my oldest daughter who was initially diagnosed followed by my realization that I, at a minimum, have a gluten intolerance. If you have very small children, it may be easy to just cook gluten free for them. I know some families with toddlers and preschool aged children who bake a gluten free pizza for the little ones and still order carry out for themselves.
However, if you have older children (my daughter was nine when she was diagnosed) I recommend that the entire family try to eat gluten free, at least when the gluten intolerant child is around.
First of all, no matter how good of a show the child puts on, it hurts when other people eat gluten around them! My daughter's worst experiences have been when other students have brought donuts into the classroom and she has had to not only smell them but also watch her freinds eat them!! It is hard enough for my celiac daughter to see her friends eat gluten, much less her own siblings. IThey have to constantly eat different food out in the real world. Their home should be a safe haven where they don't feel constantly deprived and where they can eat almost everything in the refrigerator and pantry.
Second, it will be a bigger adjustment in the beginning for the entire family to go gluten free, but it will make things easier in the long run. It will greatly diminish the cross-contamination issues in your kitchen. Occasionally, my four and eight year olds who do not have celiac disease will eat gluten items. Wheat products such as bread and cookies are just messy. By the time I clean them up, then clean the crumbs up from the kitchen, it usually seems hardly worth that slice of bread. Plus, I hardly have the energy to cook one meal every night, much less two. That being said, we do have a designated gluten area and toaster in our house, and my non-celiacs take wheat bread sandwiches to school in their lunch boxes. This is an easy compromise for me because the food is eaten out of the house and, most importantly, not in front of their celiac sibling.
Finally, even though my daughter was the only one diagnosed with celiac disease, I thought it was extremely important for me to experience what she was going through so I could be as supportive and helpful as possible. I know this may seem extreme - but I can sympathize with her because I know what it is like to go to a party and not be able to eat everything. I am also very motivated to cook great gluten free food because I know how it feels to see others eating pizza and to want some that is gluten free and just as good as my friends. That same motivation keeps me constantly searching for new and better products. As a side note, this is also how I figured out that I am gluten intolerant as well.
I know that not everyone has the time and resources to go completely gluten free, but just try to go as far as you can. Everyone will benefit from you efforts.
Clean out the Cabinets
Sorting out Safe versus Unsafe Food
Now is the time to go through the food items in your kitchen and sort out the gluten versus the gluten free items. Arm yourself with as much information as you can and clean out your cabinets and refrigerator. Why not donate the gluten items to a local food shelter?
Read the labels: Become familiar with safe and forbidden ingredients and then read all labels carefully. If an unsafe item is clearly listed, then it is an easy decision. If it is one of the items listed below as a possible hidden source of gluten, check with the manufacaturer. I take my cell phone with me so I can call before I buy it. This is also another reason that I love the Celiac Food SmartList mentioned above.
By now you know that gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Oats are okay to eat, but can be contaminate with wheat gluten.
Some, but not all, UNSAFE FOODS AND INGREDIENTS:
Here is a condensed list of some of the more common unsafe, gluten containing ingredients and food:
Some, but not all, SAFE FOODS:
- buckwheat (make sure it is not combined with wheat flour)
- canola oil
- cheeses (except Roquefort)
- maltodextrin (that is made in the USA - this does not apply to ingredients listed on medicines and vitamins)
- meat (plain)
- vinegar (except malt)
Hidden sources of gluten:
In addition, if the ingredient label lists one of the following, you will want to call and double check. They may or may not contain gluten:
- modified food starch
- hydrolyzed plant protein
- hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- mono- and diglycerides (probably okay in the US)
- artifical and natural flavorings
For more complete lists, Scott Adams has a through list of unsafe food on his website. List of Unsafe Food Print this list and take it with you to the grocery store.
For a similar list of SAFE gluten free items, go to List of Safe Food Print this list as well.
All of the these lists of safe and unsafe items were somewhat overwhelming in the beginning which is why I adopted the philosophy that simpler is better. Thus if something has more than five ingredients and is not clearly labeled, I will not buy it. I would rather go without than spend all the time it is going to take to find out if it is gluten free. I have also found that in most instances it is quicker and easier to make it myself and find reassurance in knowing what all of the ingredients are and where they came from.
Initially,it is going to take a lot of time as you figure out what kind of ketchup, sryups, jellies etc. are okay. The good news is that once you get your list of main ingredients your family eats regularly, things get much easier. I can now go to the grocery store and know what is safe to buy. Nevertheless, every time I buy something, I read the ingredients label and check the front of the package to make sure the item has not been changed (i.e., "new and improved" is a signal to check the ingredients again with the manufacturer). This is also why I like the Celiac Food Smart List. Ingredients changes by mainstream manufacturers show up on these lists relatively quickly.
Whenever I want to cook something new, I do research at home to check for new ingredients I might need. This always takes a little extra time but saves me from buying food that I cannot use.
To get started and for some more ideas on safe food, go to www.glutenfreemom.com to find our favorite GF pasta, pizza crusts, cookies and tips on where to shop and mail order food.
Sorting Out Your Kitchen
Because of contamination issues, clean anything out of your kitchen that could have the residue of gluten on it. The main items you are going to have to clean out of your kitchen and replace with designated gluten free items are your cutting boards, strainers, wood spoons, toaster and any other porous items. Don't cut your celiac's fruit on a cutting board that has been used to cut bread. We also replaced the grill on our BBQ. Alot of marinades contain soy sauce which is made with wheat. I bought all new cookie sheets. It may not have been necessary (a good scrubbing can probably get any former gluten residue off) but I was a little too paranoid to use my old cookie sheets for my now gluten free cookies. Again whether you go all of the way and adopt the gluten free diet in its entirety is up to you. But if you do not, you will want to clearly label not only all food but all gluten containing appliances.
We have a dedicated gluten area in our pantry where we put our "wheat" toaster and bread. You may not have this option, but I like to keep the crumbs out of the main kitchen area. We also have a dedicated shelf in our pantry and refrigerator that are clearly labeled as the "gluten areas." Someday you will get out of the house again. You want these areas to be clearly labeled and for your babysitters to know that any food in these areas is off limits when you are gone. Yes, I am paranoid but I have seen too many family members and babysitters confess that they understand the cross-contamination issue then dip a knife with wheat crumbs on it in our gluten free butter. Eliminate the concern by elminating this option when you are not around to monitor.
Other sources of gluten to be on the lookout for
Do not forget to check out other sources of gluten that you may be ingesting. Anything that you can ingest through your mouth can be a source of gluten. This applies to, but is not limited to, medicine, vitamins, chap stick, lip stick, Play Doh, toothpaste. Even bug spray and sunscreen can have gluten in it.