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Cooking Gluten-Free

Can’t eat wheat, barley, oats, or rye products?
No eggs? No dairy?

What if several types of nuts, fruits, and vegetables were also off-limits? 

This was the news a nutritionist gave me after determining that my young daughter’s asthma was related to delayed-reaction food sensitivities.
 
Meat was out because we were already vegetarians. I ran through a mental list of the food options left and came to one stark conclusion: We would be eating rice three times a day for the rest of our lives. But I wanted my daughter to breathe easier more than anything else, and this was becoming increasingly difficult for her. Before leaving the nutritionist’s office, we decided that the whole family would go cold turkey and eliminate all the foods to which our daughter was allergic. How could we sit there eating “normal” food when she had to eat . . . rice? 
 
Easier Than You Think
Thus began my odyssey into non-gluten grains—and nutrition in general. Along the way, I threw out many concoctions that weren’t edible. In the process I discovered a whole new world of food options and a brand-new way of cooking and eating. Thanks to this fascinating journey, my daughter is healed, and what seemed like an impossible task to face has become a blessing. After four years of not letting a molecule of an “offending” food enter her mouth, she was deemed well—her body essentially remade by the miracle of cell regeneration. My daughter can now eat anything she wants and has been allergy- and asthma-free for more than ten years. 
 
If it’s gluten you want to cut out or cut back on, no problem! I’ve got you covered. Here are some tips that I learned through trial and error. 
 
To Start
  1. Immediately get a three-ring binder with side pockets to hold your new recipe collection. Yes, there are cookbooks on the market for gluten-free and other allergy-free cooking. Many of them are very helpful, but for anyone who’s allergic or sensitive to a number of foods, it can be hard to find a book that fits your exact profile. You’ll want to clip recipes from Taste for Life and other sources and have them on hand in one convenient place.
  2. Learn to read every label extremely carefully. I purchased a food dictionary to help me understand the terminology I found on most packages. Gluten is an ingredient in many prepared foods—including processed cheeses, lunch meats, salad dressings, canned soups, candies, beer, and more.
  3. Stock up on gluten-free staples, like rice cakes and crackers; alternative grains, like millet, quinoa, and different types of rice; and boxed cereals of rice, quinoa, or corn for quick breakfasts or snacks. Corn tortillas are good to have on hand, too, for quick meals or snacks (topped with refried beans, cheese, or veggies).
  4. Plan ahead. Trust me—this makes life a lot easier in the long run. I made a grid listing the days of the week for four weeks (dinners only). Training myself to think ahead—e.g., Tuesday as soup night or Friday as pasta night—helped me to have the necessary ingredients on hand and not panic an hour before dinnertime, scrambling to figure out what to cook. You can also make a simpler grid or list for lunches, breakfasts, or side-dish options. 
 
The Secret to Success
Here’s the secret: guar gum, which comes from the seed kernel of the guar plant—an annual legume that grows primarily in India. Much like gluten, but without its down side, guar gum is the “glue” of cooking. It makes foods created with nongluten flours act more glutinous. Before discovering guar gum, my muffins, pizza crust, and cakes often came out grainy or fell apart. While diet drug products containing guar gum have raised concerns and were taken off the market, it’s safe to use guar gum in small amounts as a food ingredient. Add one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of guar gum to bread, muffin, or crust recipes and see the difference!
 
Special Occasions 
If your child is on a gluten-free diet, those school birthday parties can be quite a challenge. I made sure the teacher alerted me when a birthday was coming up so I could send in a homemade, gluten-free treat with my daughter. Since our experience began, many terrific products without gluten have become available that may also be dairy- and/or egg-free, so it’s not really necessary to come up with something on your own. But you need to be prepared, one way or the other. Toward the end of my daughter’s ordeal, a nondairy, nonwheat, no-egg pudding came on the market that was a lifesaver! I made sure the teacher’s cupboard was always stocked with these so that when a celebration happened in school, my daughter would not feel left out.
 
Speaking of Desserts
You can create your own desserts with nongluten flour alternatives or sample some of the many ready-made gluten-free cookies. But try to let fruit gradually become your dessert of choice—a healthier alternative whether you want to cut back on gluten or not. Dipping apple or pear slices in honey is fun, and so is dipping fruit into melted chocolate. Even if you have a dairy allergy, dark chocolate is an option since it’s dairy free. If it’s cake you crave, I found gluten-free carrot cake to be the best, both in consistency and flavor.
 
Slow Down
A change in diet means a change in lifestyle as well. Fast food is no longer an option—ever. In fact, dining out may be hard since an offending food may accidentally slip onto a plate in a restaurant. This can be a blessing, though. We ate as a family—always (except for school lunches). We became much more conscious of what we were eating and more appreciative of it. 
 
What had seemed an impossibility became a way of life. After four years, we were able to reintroduce all the foods we had eliminated, gradually, one type at a time. I now cook with gluten-based grains as well as with the breadth of options I discovered on this journey. The nutritionist’s recommendation to observe a four-day rotation diet has become a general course of life. Varying the grain type essentially assures that no particular one will dominate your diet, which helps prevent a food allergy or sensitivity from creeping back in.

Breakfast Options

Our nutritionist taught us to think out of the box and not feel confined to the typical American breakfast choices. Options could include

  • Rice, millet, or quinoa served with maple syrup, nuts, and raisins.
  • Scrambled tofu with slices of broiled polenta (available in deli departments) can be a new twist on eggs and toast.
  • Leftover soup works, too! 

Lunch Options

Lunches need no longer be defined by a sandwich, although there are a number of decent rice breads on the market, making that an option. Sandwich alternatives include:

  • Veggie and fruit sticks,
  • Soy yogurts,
  • Tuna
  • Nuts 

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