Give us this day our daily bread.
What would you do if you were told to completely eliminate wheat from your diet forever.
No bread, bagels, pasta, pizza, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, buns. NO BREAD!
Those first few days after the doctor called and told me I had to go gluten-free immediately, resulted in the completion of 2 bags of York Peppermint Patties. Every time I opened the refrigerator I saw 100 things that I could no longer eat, but there were those sweet, minty, dark chocolate treats that wouldn’t damage my intestines. This is NOT my suggestion on how to handle a Celiac Disease diagnosis. Instead it is a real-life example of how overwhelming a medical diagnosis and a restrictive diet can leave you. I mourned my loss in the comforts of chocolate – not the best health decision I have ever made, but I imagine that I’m not the first girl to turn to the cocoa for support.
Today’s post is not, in any way, a persuasive essay to get you to join a Gluten-Free cult. It is just about how we figured it all out and survived the steep learning curve that went with it. Today’s post is in honor of two friends who have recently gone GF and are trying to figure out where to begin.
On a side note, I really wish I could have a business where I come in and completely de-gluten a home, walk them through the first grocery visit, and then stay and cook for a week – proving that GF meals can still be delicious and satisfying. Sorry, today you are stuck with words and photos and nothing to taste.
This March is our 2-year Celiac anniversary. We didn’t all contract it at once, but thanks to blood tests, a biopsy and the genetic nature of the disease, we were all tested for and diagnosed within weeks of each other. Just in time for Spring Break, Easter and a slew of birthdays. How’s that for ironic timing? I was left to make friends with numerous new ingredients and try to figure out how to make delicious birthday cakes. Decide which candies I could put inside the easter eggs. Find 3 restaurants a day on vacation to feed my family during spring break. And, somehow re-vamp cinnamon rolls, quiche and french toast to keep up with our favorite traditions. Ugh!
Reasearch and understanding were my focus, but lurking in the back of my mind (and probably adding to my urge for chocolate) was a good dose of guilt. Guilt that for years, every time my little ones were sick to their stomachs I would love and nurture them with toast and crackers and pretzels (just making it so much worse.) Guilt that my Motherly instincts didn’t kick in and demand answers beyond stomach virus, eczema and growing pains. And the greatest guilt of all – that it was my own genes that gave them this disease to begin with. ( Seriously – I had my husband tested – the guilt genes belong to me.)
So – my advice for how to make the transition is more “do as I say, not as I did.” What I have learned in two years makes me realize that it can be fairly simple. Once you let go of what you will be giving up, there is a huge variety of options available, not to mention the improvements you will feel. Today, I can honestly say that I have never had to give into the temptations of gluten – not even around NY Bagels or freshly baked bread or beautiful pastries. The urges go away.
Here is a simplistic, step by step way to go GF.
Step 1. Clean the Kitchen
Sorry, but a good, deep clean of the kitchen is needed – especially for those with an allergy or Celiac Disease, for whom even one crumb can make a difference. Clean counters, and drawers and the refrigerator for crumbs. Replace the toaster. Replace any bakeware or pans that have been seasoned with repeated recipes that may have contained flour or breading. I also splurged on a new strainer for pasta – as the sticky gluten may be hard to thoroughly clean out of all the little holes. The strainer and toaster are important especially if you plan to still have some gluten eaters in the house. Use them separately, not interchangeably.
Step 2. What is in your refrigerator?
Look at all the foods that you normally eat, and determine what is gluten-free. (You might be surprised that your favorite yogurt or pasta sauce don’t need to change.) Determine what is not GF. Separate the two. Designate certain shelves or drawers in your refrigerator and pantry for GF foods. This way you will see a full array of options (and not just peppermint patties.) While I make this sound simple, it can be time-consuming. Gluten is hidden in so many places that you wouldn’t think to look: yogurt, ice cream, salad dressing, candy bars, hot dogs, deli meat, granola bars, chips, hot cocoa, etc. Read all labels, use the internet to double-check your results. Here is a helpful list to see you through all of the ingredients out there. http://www.glutensolutions.com/ingredients-to-avoid-on-a-gluten-free-diet.html
Step 2. Replace your gluten-full foods.
Instead of feeling deprived, have a plan as to how you will replace the foods that you rely on for your daily meals. If you plan to continue eating other grains, look for breads, pastas, and mixes available in rice, corn, potato, almond, tapioca, and quinoa flours. Also – remember that fruits and vegetables are GF. Many meats and dairy are GF. Nuts and seeds are GF.
Step 3: Research
Before even stepping foot in a grocery store, health food store, etc – READ! Spend time on the internet creating a meal plan and a grocery list. Don’t just put Yogurt on your list – put Yoplait Yogurt – so that you know a specific, safe product. Have a list of reliable brands, and the ingredients to avoid with you. A smart phone is INCREDIBLY helpful on the spot.
Step 4: Shop
Most people can find a plethora of GF foods at a health food store or Whole foods. You will also find a larger grocery bill than you ever imagined. Only supplement your regular shopping with a few GF items. Fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy, cereal can all be purchased at local grocery stores. Sam’s Club and Costco have also supplied many GF items, especially meats. Your new fast food meal can be a Sam’s Club rotisserie chicken and a salad.
Step 5: Cook
I think that this can be the hardest part to adjust to. I spend a huge amount of time making meals. We didn’t eat out often, but when I could no longer stop and grab a pizza or chinese food, I had to figure out some “fast foods” that I could have ready for dinner in minutes. I also suggest trying to make your favorite meals instead of serving your family very foreign looking ingredients with unfamiliar tastes and textures. Adapt your favorite meatloaf, pasta dishes, soups, stews, tacos…. Sometimes it only requires replacing one or two ingredients.
Some of my favorite resources:
My favorite GF cookbook: http://silvanaskitchen.com/
Recipes & Info: http://celiachandbook.com/
For sweet treats: http://cookiesxo.blogspot.com
Step 6: Venture out
If possible, avoid eating out at first. Get comfortable with your new diet and allow yourself to go through the adjustment without a menu full of temptations and frustrations. Once you do go to a restaurant, again, do your research first. I rely on this site: http://GlutenFreeTravelSite.com to find GF-freiendly menus and restaurants.
Whenever possible, call ahead so that the staff can be alerted to the issue. Just like the average population thinks of wheat in terms of bread, pasta, pizza - wait staff and cooks don’t always realize that sauces, marinades, and seasonings can all contain gluten.
While I have tried dozens, maybe even hundreds of GF products, the one question that I get asked about the most is BREAD. Honestly, cakes and cookies have their place, and pasta might be on your menu once or twice a week – but bread is a constant. Our daily bread. Toast for breakfast. Sandwiches for lunch. Rolls with dinner. As a family we tried many, many different varieties, to include making our own. Here are the family favorites in our house.
I think Udi’s is top. It tastes like good, sliced Italian bread. I love it alone. I love a hot sandwich. I enjoy their bagels. I feel so-so about their hot dog and hamburger buns.
Two of the kids prefer this one: Food for Life’s Millet Bread. This one absolutely need to be toasted. It is a dense, grainy bread. It is filling. The kids like it with Nutella spread on it.
My other daughter likes this one: Kinnikinnick’s Tapioca Bread. (We have tried the sandwich bread, but it crumbles apart.) Again, this one is better toasted, but edible as is. It has a spongy, more regular bread-like texture.
Bread Mix. We have tried a few – but this one by Gluten Free Pantry has continually been the best. I make it in the bread machine on the dough setting, then bake it in the oven. I have also turned the dough into cinnamon rolls.
Two years in, I rarely think of bread. We just don’t eat a whole lot of it anymore. Sometimes it takes us a month to go through one loaf. In an effort to eat less processed foods, we have bread for the occasional grilled cheese, or toast, but the kids have become fans of soups, stews and salads for lunch. For a picnic on the beach, or an easy field trip lunch, we rely on lettuce wraps.
Layer your fillings on a large lettuce leaf. Seen here: turkey, parmesan cheese, and shredded carrots.
Roll it up and enjoy!
Stay tuned for more products, restaurants, and recipes. There’s nothing like having some additional options up your sleeve when faced with some major dietary changes.
I suppose this story is a bit like life – once you stop focussing on what you can’t have and more on the abundance of what you can, attitudes and perceptions improve greatly.