Soon after discovering gluten intolerance our family took a short cruise from LA to Catalina Island and Ensanada, Mexico. Since I was floundering to figure out how to eat gluten-free at home, I felt so pampered that the cooks made special meals just for me. (I didn't know I should avoid dairy yet.)
On Carnival cruises, the housekeeping staff leaves fun towel animals every day in your room!
The following is from an email I sent to an old friend when she called out for help figuring out how to eat gluten-free.
For starters, there are many foods that are already gluten-free naturally:
- fruits and vegetables
- meats, eggs, dairy products
- legumes like pinto beans and lentils
- grains like rice (I like brown rice as it has more flavor and much healthier), and funny sounding ones like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, sourghum, teff, tapioca, almond flour, coconut flour, and gluten-free oats.
Then for replacements for gluten products, look for a health food store in your area, and ask a worker if there's anyone working there who is really familiar with gluten-free foods. Ask if that person could show you around the gluten-free foods isle in the store. Ask what they recommend, what sells the best, any suggestions or ideas they might have. There are several brands of gluten-free breads, pastas, and tortillas. I would recommend trying out a variety of brands until you decide which ones you like the best. They are more expensive, and since you're the only one eating them in the family, you may want to keep the breads and tortillas in a special shelf in the freezer that's just for you. That way when you need your gluten-free food you can find it easily. Some Wal-marts and other grocery stores are starting to have a special spot in the store just for gluten-free foods.
Now you can buy gluten-free versions of these foods:
- Breads, bagels, rolls
- Rice cakes
- Pasta -- I recommend brown rice pasta, and rinse it in hot water when you're straining the water out
- Crackers -- they won't taste like you're used to, but they grow on you. My favorite brands are Crunchmaster and Mary's Gone Crackers.
- Chips - Lundberg brown rice chips are my favorite. Plain potato or corn chips. Just be careful of the flavored kinds as they likely have chemicals that may contain gluten.
- Baking mixes: Bizquick, cake, brownie, cookie mixes (even Betty Crocker has GF mixes at Walmart)
- Flours that you can bake with yourself: white rice, brown rice, buckwheat, tapioca, potato, sorghum. If you bake with gluten-free flours it’s recommended that you use a mixture of two or more flours, and add a little xanthan gum to the flour, as it helps it bind together (from a health food store). Experiment with your favorite baking recipes like cookies, cakes and muffins by simply using GF flours with a teaspoon of xanthan gum per normal-size batch. I usually use brown rice and tapioca flours. When I bake a batch of gluten-free treats, I freeze the rest for later.
- For thickening soups and gravies, I just use brown rice flour mixed with cold water. Cornstarch works too.
- Soy sauce: Braggs liquid aminos or Tamari sauce
- A couple brands now make breakfast cereal that says "gluten-free" like Rice Crispies. Most cereals have a bit of barley malt as a flavoring, which adds a bit of gluten. If you can handle GF oats, you can make oatmeal, and try GF granola.
- Our Costco sells a couple pre-made meals that are gluten-free in serving size packets. One is a pilaf of brown rice and quinoa. Another is a sauce over garbanzo beans.
- There are a few canned soups that are gluten-free. Progresso brand has a lentil soup that is GF. Amy's organic brand has chili and a couple others from those brands. I think you can find both of those at Walmart on the soup isle up high.
- Freezer meals: I think Amy's organic brand has a few freezer meals that are GF. I don't get them because they have dairy.
- I was taught that because companies can change ingredients any time without changing the look of their packaging, it's safest to check the labels every time you buy GF food, unless it's clearly labeled "Gluten-Free" on the front.
I find that eating too many foods with grains in them makes me still feel not as good, so I try to eat plenty of the other stuff too: fruits, veggies, meats, etc.
Another thing to watch for is chemicals. Did your Dr. say you have to be 100% strict with gluten? If so, there are chemicals you'll need to avoid that can contain a tiny bit of gluten. I'm guessing he gave you a list of these. They would be things like caramel coloring, MSG, etc. MSG is monosodium glutamate, and it’s also hidden inside chemicals with other names, which is pretty annoying. When I eat it I get a low-grade headache with my neck and back of head feeling tight, and I don’t think as clearly.
Ways to make gluten-free eating more affordable
If you’re used to pre-made meals and mixes, you might want to consider learning to cook from scratch. Gluten-free pre-made meals and mixes are expensive! I learned to cook extra of my favorite gluten-free meals and baked goods from scratch, and then freeze them in serving sizes for later. I also use leftovers for lunch the next day.
Gluten free bread is quite expensive. Our local Walmart sells gluten-free bread in the freezer, I think by the breakfast foods. My friend Jonell (the cookbook lady) got good at making gluten-free bread in her bread machine, which was much cheaper. Good Earth has good prices on gluten-free flours in the bulk room. I never did tackle GF bread making but I'm sure there are plenty of blogs about it. Experiment with a few different recipes until you find one that works and that tastes good to you. When baking with gluten-free flours, there are a couple tricks:
1) Use two or more different flours - not sure why this works better for gluten-free baking.
2) Use xanthan gum with the flour. It helps bind the ingredients together. You'll notice this in a lot of gluten-free recipes.
For breakfast, Jonell alternated different gluten-free grains in her rice cooker: quinoa, toasted buckwheat, and then oatmeal (you can buy that gluten-free) in a regular pan. On the weekend she made pancakes or hash browns, scrambled eggs. Pancakes with gluten-free flour would be cheaper is French toast with store-bought gluten-free bread, but I bet you can get the hang of baking it yourself. Brown rice also makes a good hot breakfast cereal. You can eat it whole with some kind of milk, or crack it first like cracked wheat cereal.
God bless you!
I understand that this is an enormous lifestyle change, and it can feel very overwhelming and discouraging! Please pray for help, and Heavenly Father can help you through the tough adjustment phase. I know it gets better! Yesterday I baked whole-grain GF pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and my kids wanted them. But usually I just freeze the rest of any baked goods I make so I can eat them a little bit here and there. All I'm saying is there are good tasting GF foods out there! Be open to trying new things, acquiring a taste for things you wouldn't have eaten before, and you'll find a whole new world opening up to you!