Haley’s story of discovering a gluten allergy in her child will help anyone exploring a gluten sensitivity or just hoping to gracefully host a friend who is gluten-free. With gluten sensitivity and Celiac both on the rise, figuring out how to go gluten-free, especially for families, is really important!
When my oldest child was diagnosed with asthma, we were a little bit devastated.
My husband has always struggled with asthma and hoped it would be something our kids wouldn’t have to deal with. We tried to research what we could do to alleviate our son’s asthma, allergies, and eczema symptoms and tried to pinpoint what triggered flare-ups. I had an inkling that one of the culprits was gluten and my mama instinct was confirmed when he tested positive for a gluten allergy, among other things.
So we were suddenly a gluten-free household, much to the dismay of my husband, an artisan breadmaker. It seemed like gluten was in EVERYTHING and “what will we EAT?!” was the constant question.
A friend lent me a cookbook filled with recipes for gluten-free baked goods and, flipping through it, I wanted to cry. Where do I buy amaranth flour? What IS xanthan gum? It was overwhelming. (Gluten-free specialty products in this post are linked to Amazon)
Over time, we’ve gotten the hang of it. I’m not scared of the unfamiliar ingredients anymore. But, if I could write a note to myself three years ago when we were trying to navigate the new restraints on our kitchen, I would have thrown the baked goods book out the window and shared this advice:
7 Beginner Tips for Going Gluten-Free and Surviving
- DON’T start by trying to bake a gluten-free version of your family’s favorite treats. Really. Just don’t. There’s a learning curve. And odds are, you’ll put a lot of work into that gluten-free monkey bread and it won’t taste nearly as good as your gluten-filled tried and true family recipe. There’s plenty of time to become an awesome gluten-free baker, but the first month of your new gluten-free life might not be the right time to spread your wings.
- DO Make a list of your family’s favorite meals. What are your go-to recipes? Don’t think too hard, just write down whatever comes to mind. Pinpoint a few recipes that are naturally gluten-free. Your favorite chili recipe? Beans, ground beef, and tomatoes are gluten-free! No substitutions needed. And just enjoy some corn tortilla chips on the side. Roast chicken and veggies? No gluten there! I think you’ll be surprised how many recipes you can still enjoy without changing a thing.
- Is there an EASY substitution? Substitute corn tortillas for the flour tortillas in your favorite enchilada recipe. Make a side of rice instead of bread or couscous. Your kids love grilled cheese sandwiches? Make quesadillas instead. Use a gluten-free thickener like arrowroot powder for that soup or sauce. Switching out one ingredient is pretty doable, so start there and save the fancy stuff for after you find your feet.
- Instead of dwelling on all the meals you can’t make that are still on your list, put it aside for a while. You can go back and re-create gluten-free versions after gluten-free cooking and baking becomes second nature, but in newly gluten-free survival mode, give yourself some grace.
- Going to an event where there’ll be food? Bring a bag of apples, nuts, or other gluten-free snacks like Larabars in case you or your kids are hungry and can’t eat what’s provided. The good news is that gluten allergies are so familiar now that people are increasingly sensitive and helpful about it. And my kids know to ask whether food is gluten-free and can be in charge of feeding themselves at events. (Ok, so occasionally I find the 2-year-old grabbing a cookie.) Check out 15 ‘Larabar’ recipes in Healthy Snacks to Go alongside many other gluten-free snack recipes!
- Make it easy on yourself. Gluten-free specific foods can be pricey and over time you learn how to limit your purchases of mixes and boxes of gluten-free products. But for now? Grab a box of gluten-free pasta if need be. And until you’re ready to put together your own gluten-free flour mix (Katie has a great recipe), Bob’s Red Mill makes gluten-free pancake mix and other mixes for baked goods. Feel like you can’t live without sandwiches? Don’t overwhelm yourself with the process of making homemade gluten-free bread just yet. It’s ok to splurge on the store-bought stuff at the beginning.
- Have a backup plan for if you need to eat out. Sometimes our carefully thought out meal plans fall through. If you do some quick research on what gluten-free options are available at your favorite local restaurants, you can avoid the stress of figuring out where to go and what to order. A few of the local pizza places in my town even provide gluten-free crust (which is like a gluten-free kid’s dream come true).
GLUTEN-FREE CAN BE CONFUSING BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE HARD!
What is Gluten, Anyway?
If you’re confused about what it means for a friend or loved one to “go gluten-free,” let’s start with the basics.
It’s easier to remember the gluten grains than I expected: it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s what gives structure and form to our bread, rolls, and cookies.
There is no gluten in non-grain-based foods unless it’s in an additive or spice. So yes, all those fruits and veggies marked “Gluten-free!” are just silly marketing.
There are lots of grains that don’t contain gluten, like corn, quinoa, rice, millet, sorghum, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, and oats. Oats are a tricky one because they’re almost always contaminated with wheat flour, so a Celiac would need gluten-free certified oats. (source)
Hidden Names for Wheat and Gluten
Where is there hidden gluten in your house?
The catch is that you can’t just skim for wheat, barley, and rye. Three words would be far too simple.
You have to include variations of wheat like spelt, Kamut, triticale, einkorn, and durum.
Ingredient labels are almost never quite as easy as wheat flour, water, sugar, salt. It seems you need to take a thesaurus with you to the store these days if you want to buy anything with more than one ingredient (even with the best of intentions, most of us realistically can’t make everything from scratch).
OTHER NAMES FOR WHEAT INCLUDE:
Watch for these as you read ingredients lists:
- Binder or binding
- Duram (durum)
- Gum base
- Hydrolysed wheat protein
- Modified food starch
- Modified starch
- Thickener or thickening
- Triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye)
OTHER NAMES FOR HIDDEN GLUTEN MAY INCLUDE:
- Natural flavor
- Monosodium glutamate (already a Pandora’s Box – see the 20+ titles under which MSG can be filed)
- Lectins (lecithins)
These lists were found here (click for more information on why the four above are included on the list). If you want to see a serious list that is 2-3 times as long as this abbreviation, see this unsafe gluten-free food list, which includes such possible gluten hazards as some artificial colors, baking powder, modified food starch, and hydrolyzed-a-bunch-of-stuff.
Note: Preparing food for someone who has Celiac Disease probably isn’t even safe unless you have a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. Check out how sneaky gluten can be cross-contaminating everything you cook with!
Now you’re equipped to get through gluten-free survival mode without starving! Little by little, explore some simple resources and overtime gluten-free cooking will become second nature (and easier on the budget).
GLUTEN-FREE CAN BE CONFUSING BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE HARD!