At church on Sunday I was approached by a friend with the deer in the headlights look I know all too well. The doctor had suggested her son go gluten free in the hopes it will help some of his health issues. I sent her an e-mail of my thoughts and as I was putting it together I thought that I should post it for everyone else where I was just a year ago. Warning: This is seriously long!
Having a doctor recommend going gluten free is super overwhelming. It’s been just over a year since the rheumatologist suggested Ani might have Celiac. The first time I went grocery shopping, it took almost 3 hours. Slowly that time got shorter as I got used to what was okay to buy, where on various packaging the gluten free label is located, and no longer had to look so many things up on my cell phone to see if they were gluten free or not. Now, once again, I am in and out in 45 minutes. Meal planning was agonizing. We used to eat so much pasta and suddenly pretty much every pasta recipe we liked was no longer allowed. The first 3 months or so was hard and a time of a lot of learning. We made mistakes. Now, being gluten free is second nature.
At first we tried to have Ani gluten free and the rest of us keep eating as we always have. That just didn’t work for me. I know many families do it that way, but I was so incredibly stressed about cross contamination. That stress affected Fritz is a major way. He was terrified of poisoning his sister with gluten. So it ended up easier to just have everyone go off gluten, at least at home (though the little guys were still allowed Ramen noodles and Hot Pockets). As it turned out, all the health problems I’ve had for many years that were diagnosed as so many random things was actually Celiac (which we have discovered I inherited from my father). Several months later we realized Adrian had those same symptoms and so he went gluten free at that point as well. Jamie feels better when he doesn’t eat gluten, but he does not have Celiac. Cameron and Fritz do not have Celiac either and are allowed to eat whatever they want when we are not home, but our house is 100% gluten free.
I use Pinterest a lot to find gluten free recipes. Some of them have been bad, some have been okay, and some have been great. The great ones go into our regular rotation of meals. Some especially great recipes include:
Pizza Crust at Petite Allergy Treats – We actually have pizza every Tuesday. For a long time we used a recipe in an America’s Test Kitchen Gluten Free Baking cookbook, but the kids didn’t love it. This recipe was a hit.
Flatbread at Gluten Free Gobsmacked – This has been a huge hit in our house. All 6 of us love it and it’s so versatile. It can be used for traditional meat and cheese sandwiches or grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly or even a breakfast danish (see the comments for some things people have done with this flatbread including the danish). I recommend a pan at least 12×18. I got this one and it works perfectly.
Cinnamon Rolls at Petite Allergy Treats – I’m not a big fan of cinnamon rolls and Ani doesn’t like them at all, but the boys like them so I tried this recipe and to our surprise both Ani and I love them! They are so good. They take a bit of work, but it’s totally worth it.
Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole at Flippin’ Delicious – The reviews from the kids were mixed on this one. Overall they were generally positive, but the little two especially were not fans (to be fair, Adrian is not a fan of most things that don’t involve rice and cheese).
Slow Cooker Stroganoff at 365 Days of Slow Cooking – Ani, Fritz, and I loved this. I served it over gluten free pasta (Adrian not surprisingly chose to just eat the pasta). So delicious. Jamie and Cameron would not even try it because of the mushrooms. Fritz said he’s never had such good mushrooms (I don’t think he’d actually ever had mushrooms before).
Pancakes at Barefeet in the Kitchen – These pancakes are amazing. They really are totally light and fluffy. Adrian helps me make them most Sundays. We serve them with super easy homemade syrup. (A package of frozen fruit – my kids like plain strawberries best but I really liked the mango, papaya, strawberry combo we had this past Sunday, a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, and a good pile of sugar. You can use more or less sugar to your tastes. Boil it all together stirring every so often. Once it starts thickening just a little bit either mash the fruit or run it in a blender depending on how smooth you want it.)
White Bread at Cooking Classy – This bread absolutely disappears when we make it. It tastes just like we remember bread tasting like. The recipe is a little finicky. Ani is the only one of us that has 100% success with it so if it doesn’t work the first time, try again.
Chicken Tikka Masala at Palachinka – This isn’t a specifically gluten free recipe, but it’s naturally gluten free if you make sure the spices and yogurt you get are gluten free. A lot of recipes are gluten free as is or can be altered slightly to be. We serve this with naan bread (see below)
Naan Bread at Gluten Free on a Shoestring – This naan bread is amazing. Everyone in the family practically inhales it when we make it. Parchment paper is a must (actually parchment paper is a must for a lot of gluten free recipes). Don’t be afraid to add lots of flour while it’s mixing. I usually add a good half cup or more.
Coconut Flour Crazy Bread at Up Late Anyway – These are a little odd. We weren’t sure at first if we liked them, but they really grew on us. Now we really like them. We make them sometimes when we make Zuppa Toscana (see below).
Slow Cooker Zuppa Toscana at The Chunky Chef – This tastes just like we remember Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden tastes like. Make sure to use gluten free flour. We are no longer able to find the Simply Potatoes at the store so we dice 3-4 russet potatoes and fry them until they start to brown and soften up a little bit. I don’t like onion pieces in food so we use onion powder, but diced onion could be fried along with the potatoes.
Sesame Chicken at Mommy? I’m Hungry – Everyone likes this one. It’s hard to find good Chinese recipes that are gluten free. This one is a winner. Kikkoman has a gluten free soy sauce that is really good.
Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Mini Blender Muffins at Averie Cooks – These sound kind of weird (after all the flour is replaced with bananas and peanut butter!), but they are really good. Cameron can eat a dozen on his own. Unfortunately Jamie can’t have them because he is allergic to bananas. I tried it with pumpkin with so-so results.
Rice Bowl with Black Beans, Avocado, and Cilantro Dressing at All Parenting – Mostly it’s just Ani and me who eat this one. It’s quite tasty and versatile, too. You could easily substitute other beans or vegetables.
Chicken Gyros at Gluten Free on a Shoestring – These are amazing. We all love them (except Adrian of course – he just eats the feta cheese and naan bread). Make sure you have plenty of time to make these. They are time confusing, but completely worth it.
Cornmeal Crepes with Taco Filling at Gluten Free on a Shoestring – I’m not a huge fan of corn tortillas so I don’t love these, but the rest of the family enjoyed them a lot. They are much easier than making regular crepes (see below) which we have also used for tacos or fajitas.
Chicken Enchilada Casserole at Gimme Some Oven – I use regular tortilla chips kind of squished and only one can of black beans. I also only do the chips-sauce-beans and corn-chicken-cheese layers twice. If you get canned enchilada sauce be sure it’s gluten free. Most are not.
Gluten Free Crepes at Gluten Free on a Shoestring – These are excellent. Cameron earned money for Scout camp last year by selling these and everyone who bought them raved over them and were so surprised they were gluten free. They work really well with King Arthur Gluten Free Flour, but not so good with Namaste. I think it’s because King Arthur is a little more coarse than Namaste.
Gluten Free Cream of Chicken Soup Replacement at Food.Com – This is very easy and very useful. It mixes up super fast so it’s barely more difficult than opening a can of cream of chicken soup.
Grain Free Meatloaf at Our Small Hours – I’m not a huge fan of meatloaf so we don’t have this very often. It’s very good, though, as far as meatloaf goes.
Simple Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry at Paleo Grubs – This is another good gluten free Chinese recipe. We don’t often like paleo recipes. They are convenient because they are usually gluten free. A lot of the recipes just aren’t what we like.
Southwest Pepper Jack Salad with Creamy Avocado Salsa Dressing at Carlsbad Cravings – I love salad and this one is excellent. The dressing is incredible. Make sure the tortilla strips are gluten free.
Chicken and Broccoli at Gimme Some Oven – This is a super fast and yummy meal. Everyone (except Adrian of course) likes it. Sometimes we add cheese to make it cheesy chicken and broccoli.
Avocado, Chicken, and Bacon Chopped Salad with Creamy Basil Dressing at The Recipe Critic – Another salad with a really great dressing. I like this one more than everyone else in the family.
Sheet Pan Fajitas at Laughing Spatula – All my life when we went to Mexican restaurants I got fajitas. I love fajitas. I have yet to find a gluten free tortilla recipe I love and no matter what the recipe, they are hard to make. So we don’t have fajitas so often anymore. When we have them we usually have them with crepes (see above). They work well enough as a tortilla substitute.
Hamburger Buns at Petite Allergy Treats – These are decent. They are relatively easy (English muffin rings help a lot with shaping them). But the inside is a little sticky so the texture is a little odd. I haven’t bothered looking for a different recipe because they are good enough.
Southwest Crockpot Pork at Lauren’s Latest – I’ve made this recipe for years. It works really well as a once a month cooking recipe (split the ingredients into three ziploc bags – look at how they are added to the crockpot to figure out what goes in which bag – before freezing). Make a double recipe of the gluten free cream of chicken soup (see above).
Burrito Bowls at D*mn Delicious – These taste just like the burrito bowls at Chipotle. So good! You could easily add meat if you didn’t want to make them vegetarian. I’ve never found chipotle paste so I always get a little tiny can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I throw away the peppers and use the sauce that’s left. Once Jamie chopped up some of the chipotle peppers to put in the cream sauce and it was way too hot to eat.
Indian Butter Chicken at The Kitchen Paper – This is another recipe that is incredible with the naan bread (see above). It takes a bit of time to cook so we usually only make it on Saturdays or holidays.
Honey Lemon Chicken at Gimme Some Oven – Fritz loves this so much that he once ate way more than his stomach could hold (I’ll just leave it at that). You can make it sweeter by adding more honey or more tangy by adding more lemon.
Poke around at the recipe blogs that are dedicated to gluten free food. There are lots of great recipes to be found. Another good one that I don’t have any recipes pinned from is Against All Grain The recipes are paleo so they use some interesting flours.
Speaking of flour, there are lots of gluten free flours available in the baking aisle of the grocery store (at our grocery store some are inexplicably in the gluten free section instead). I like King Arthur, Namaste (Costco carries that one), and Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 (though I’ve noticed using that one I have to increase baking times by a few minutes). I usually use the America’s Test Kitchen gluten free flour mix. One recipe of it makes about 5 pounds. I have a container that holds right about exactly a double batch. I store it in the refrigerator, though I’m not sure that’s really necessary since we go through it really fast. The recipe can be found at Cook’s Illustrated (I figured up based on the costs at our grocery store, about 5 pounds of this flour is just over $7). There are other flours and mix recipes out there. I don’t know how they are, though, since I’ve never used them.
A smart phone is your best friend while shopping. If something doesn’t say if it’s gluten free or not, google it. It makes your shopping trip take longer, but it’s worth it. Before long you’ll know what is gluten free and what is not. When in doubt, don’t buy it! Getting glutened is a pain (literally) so it’s not worth guessing. Some brands label if their products are gluten free. Others label if they contain gluten. You’ll figure out which way the things you generally buy label very quickly. Kraft has a useful pdf about their gluten labeling.
Eating out is a bit complicated when you are gluten free, but it totally can be done. There are apps available that tell you what restaurants are Celiac-friendly and what things at various restaurants are safe. Google is, once again, your friend. When ordering, say you have an allergy issue. It doesn’t matter that that’s not exactly right. Many servers don’t know what Celiac or gluten-intolerant means, but the word “allergy” gets their attention. If they are confused or aren’t sure they can accommodate you, don’t be afraid to leave and go somewhere else. It’s not worth getting glutened.
Honestly, right now is a great time to be gluten free. So many people are gluten free because they want to be or believe it is healthier that it gives those of us who need to be gluten free many more choices and more products are labeled now than used to be (though I think it was overboard when carrots were labeled gluten free!). Although I suffered with pain and digestive problems for many years, I will say that discovering I have Celiac now is way better as far as ease of eating than it would have been if I was diagnosed when I was going through all the testing to figure out what was wrong with me back when I was 15 or 16. The only drawback to a gluten free diet being popular is sometimes it takes a bit to make people understand this is a life-saving necessity for three of us and totally not a choice.
So, while it is overwhelming at first diagnosis or recommendation of a gluten free diet from a doctor, I promise it gets easier. And it is totally worth it in the health benefits for those of us who can’t handle gluten. Good luck!