Planning for a Busy Gluten Free Life

Wheat Cracker
I have a confession to make.

I’ve been eating gluten for the past 2.5 months.

Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not; but I have been eating it. My stomach is a mess. And I’m tired. And I’m mad at myself. None of the gluten-filled food that I ate was even that good. I just ate it because it was there. And I was hungry.

Tax season this year was about survival. Keep food in the pantry. Throw together something for supper. Hope that there’s food for breakfast and lunch. Wash clothes only as needed. Housecleaning…let’s just say that the dustbunnies are more like dust gorillas.

I wasn’t ready for this tax season. I did not plan. I did not think ahead. It was like a whirlwind that caught me up before I even knew it was coming and blew me further off course than I could have imagined.

But now it’s over. And it’s time to cook good food that will heal my body. And it’s time to reflect on what I could have done better and share that with you.

Here’s what I will be doing to prepare for next year’s tax season. Maybe it will help you plan for busy times in your family’s life too.

1. Stock my desk with gluten free snacks:
The first gluten that I ate this season was a bag of Cheez-Its grabbed hastily from the huge snack boxes that my company replenishes twice weekly. I must have been thinking hard about something because I didn’t even realize I was eating gluten until I was pouring the crumbs into my mouth.

Next year my desk will be stocked with some or all of the the following:
fresh fruit
applesauce cups
gluten free chips and crackers
dried fruit
nuts
gluten free bars

(Just a thought, I should probably keep some of these items in the car too, for the next time David is hungry and CANNOT wait until we find a safe place to eat.)

2. Pre-mix enough baked goods for 2.5 months.
A few days before David was born I had the foresight to mix up several bags of the dry ingredients for my Finally, Really Good Sandwich Bread recipe and throw the bags into the freezer. With most of the work already done for me, it was easy to pull a bag out and make a loaf of bread while holding a little tiny infant.

Next year, I plan on mixing up 2.5 months worth of baked goods so that we don’t have to suffer through the dry loaves of gluten free bread from the grocery store.

3. Plan a month’s worth of easy meals to rotate.
Umm. . . so meal planning came to a grinding halt around her about a month ago. I couldn’t find the time to sit down, plan a menu, make a grocery list, and go grocery shopping. So I just went grocery shopping. And the result was a completely stuffed pantry, random and uninspiring meals, and very few leftovers. (For some reason I cook smaller when I don’t plan, which was completely unexpected.) By next year I’d like to have a month’s worth of easy meals (and shopping lists) planned before things get busy.

4. Take more salads and leftovers for lunch.
As I mentioned above, we’ve had a lot fewer leftovers for the past several weeks. Whatever leftovers we did have usually stayed at home for John and David’s lunch since I had access to food at work. However, the food at work must have been contaminated because my tummy stayed in a constant state of mild rebellion. Next year – more salads and leftovers for lunch. I’ll have to plan this into my month’s worth of meals, but it will save my tummy and my budget.

5. Have back-up frozen meals at work, just in case.

Despite all the planning, I’m sure that there will be days when I just don’t have time to pack up my lunch. Or nights when I realize that I’m going to have to stay at work till 11. These are the circumstances that generally lead to me caving in to gluten foods. I’m hoping that a stash of Amy’s frozen meals will keep the wolves at bay.

6. Check with restaurants to identify safe foods.
My company had a pretty neat program where they arrange for us to order-in lunch from different restaurants every day. We make our selection by 9 am, lunch is delivered around 11:30 and the payment is taken straight out of our paycheck. These lunches were a real blessing on the days when there was not much food in our house.

However, instead of actually calling the places that we ordered from to determine if any of the selections were gluten free – I just made a best guess. Some days that worked well (salad from Roly Poly); some days it did not (Falafel wrapped in pita from the local Lebanese restaurant). Next year I need to respect my body more and take the time to call ahead and ensure I’m getting gluten free food.

7. Request permission to order in my own overtime meals.
I try not to stay for supper during tax season, but sometimes it is inevitable. The firm brings in supper several times a week and those meals seem to be more gluten-filled than not. Think Papa John’s pizza and lasagna from the neighborhood Italian place. I tried to only stay on nights that we were having Mexican for supper, but even then you never know what seasonings have been used on the meat and veggies. Next year, I will ask if I can order in my own meals and have the company reimburse me for the expense. This would still be in accordance with the tax laws for overtime meals, and would keep my healthy.

8. Use the word “allergy” when making requests.
For good reason, people take notice when you tell them you have a food allergy. Celiac is not an “allergy” so I usually don’t describe it as such. But when I do, it’s amazing how much more responsive people are (especially restaurant workers). Since my health is at stake, I’m going to start describing my problem as a serious wheat “allergy” when I really need people to make modifications for me.

9. Premix hot cereals for breakfast.
Does anyone else struggle with getting a reasonably priced, healthy, and gluten free breakfast on the table? We subsist on hot cereals during the winter and they are not necessarily the fastest breakfast to cook. I’d like to try putting all of the ingredients for an individual serving into a freezer bag so that John or I can quickly microwave whatever we want for breakfast. I’m pretty confident that I can handle pouring the contents of a bag into a bowl, adding milk, and microwaving no matter how little sleep I’ve had. I’m going to test run this idea next week while we’re traveling and I’ll let you know how it goes.

10. Have a stash of easy snack and lunch foods for John and David.
John is great about taking on extra kitchen tasks during busy times. He’s a pro at making gluten free sandwich bread and flatbread, and he even tried his hand a flour tortillas a couple of weeks ago. However, since I’m the one who does the majority of the grocery shopping, he often doesn’t know what he can make with what I have in the fridge. Next year I’d like to keep a white board on the fridge so that I can leave him notes of what snack and lunch foods are on hand. Any thing that I can do to make his work in the kitchen easier, the happier we will all be.

If you have any tricks of your own for making the busy times of life easier, please let me know in the comments. This whole gluten free life is so much easier when we can learn from each other =)

Comments

  1. How about keeping some cheese sticks and Hormel Turkey pepperoni in the fridge at work? A jar of peanut butter or almond butter in your office makes for a quick, easy snack with some Glutino pretzels or an apple.

    As for the ordering out, don’t get sucked into it. I agree with you, keep some frozen meals on hand and ask your boss if you can expense those, since you can’t eat the takeout they order due to health reasons. Not an easy conversation, I know! But better to be eating safe and not feeling like a slug.

  2. Stephanie says:

    It was nice of you to share your difficulty, next time don’t hold off, tell one of us right away when you eat gluten-free and we’ll be there for you. No one is perfect, I still can’t cook anything near like you can and I don’t eat much for veggies, but I couldn’t imagine putting myself in pain anymore. Perhaps the solution isn’t any one of the above, perhaps its realigning your work with your spirit in mind. Maybe you could ask your boss to work from home more so you can be around healthy foods? Maybe you can find an accounting position in a company that understands food? Don’t ever hesitate to reach out, we get so much from your lovely blog and will always try to give back :)

  3. I can second the power of the “allergy” word in restaurant settings! Years ago I figured out that if I said “I’m vegetarian” I often got blown off- sometimes with an almost visible eye roll. However if, for instance at a Thai restaurant, I say “I’m allergic to meat, and that includes fish sauce and I don’t want to get sick” (which is true- I will get sick!) then they’ll double check and make sure the ingredients meet my requirements, and generally w/o the sassy eye roll! Now, I say the same thing regarding gluten.

  4. Hugs, Mary.
    I don’t have celiac, but my daughter does. I have been following your blog with interest for quite some time, and didn’t know it was even *possible* to slip up and eat gluten for a few months. So, although I am sorry that you feel icky right now, I’m actually relieved to know that you are still alive and kicking. if that makes any sense.. ;-)

    we keep string cheese, yogurt and FF puding on hand at all times. We like the Tiger Bars (they are filled with peanuts, so not okay obviously if you have those allergies), rice cakes in all flavors, corn and brown rice tortillas and lots of fruit.
    for snacking we usually stick to fruit, tortilla chips and microwave popcorn. I cook and bake a lot so our freezer is often stocked with mini muffins, etc.
    I use pre-packaged bakingmixes to save my sanity. We swear by Pamela’s, but I know the almond meal is not okay for many.

    have a wonderful weekend, and know that even though you slipped just a tiny bit, you have helped so many and even with your slip up, you made this nervous mama feel a bit better about living the GF life.

    oxox
    steph

  5. Elizabeth says:

    What a great post, Mary! Thanks for being so open. You are so capable in the kitchen and I have no doubt that you’re soon going to be back on top of everything.

  6. Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the encouraging words and suggestions. As soon as I am done with my vacationing I’m going to stock up on snacks for my desk and put some frozen meals in the freezer at work.

    I should point out that my employer has been very accomodating regarding my dietary needs. When we have a lunch meeting the executive assistants check to make sure I can eat the food and order me something else if needed. And when I’ve needed to eat out with a client, they’ve made sure we eat at a restaurant like P.F. Chang’s that has a gluten free menu. I also have the ability to work at home in the evenings so that I can come home, cook supper, and then get more work done. I’m feeling very blessed to work where I do, so I hope I haven’t given the impression that I don’t. Nevertheless, wheat is so prevalent in the American diet that it is a challenge to eat outside of my home and I often feel guilty for making so many special request. I know that I shouldn’t….and I’m working on that.

    Thanks again for the comments. I’m blessed to have such great readers and fellow bloggers =)

  7. Great post, and I love the way you reflect on those hard weeks positively: no complaining, just productive planning to make it better next time.
    BEAUTIFUL new banner for your blog, too.
    Great job!

  8. Welcome back Mary Frances! I missed you!!! I the honesty in this post and I have to admit I’ve done the same thing over the last few weeks! And since I do have a wheat allergy/sensativity instead of celiac, I’ve been all the stuffier, groggier, exhausted, and had to take way too much benedryl. You are right! It never tastes as good as you think it’s going too! I don’t know why I have given in several times to the gluten. Thankfully we sort of have a handle on our schedule now so hopefully that will make it less tempting and easier for me to plan! I really love this post! I think I’m going to print it and highlight all the great planning tips!!

  9. You mention the attention given to the word “allergy” in restaurants, it is with good reason. I have been a member of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) for 17 years…since my son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. (CD is brand new to us, although we know a great deal about it through FAAN, enough to be really bummed, but not daunted.)
    Anyway, FAAN has been very active in awareness education with restaurant associations, grocery manufacturer associations and legislative bodies. They advocate for safer food handling and labeling practices and have made huge strides over the years. If you wonder where these great new labeling standards are being advocated from, a big round of applause goes to the doctors on the board of FAAN, among others. They constantly ask us to write our legislators in both state and federal government.
    Over the years, I have watched the announcements of advancements in the newsletter, and seen the subsequent improvements in attention paid in restaurants, in labeling on packaging, even in emergency personnel preparedness. Many companies notify FAAN of mislabeling and cross-contamination that happens from time to time and we receive email notices warning us of these events. It has truly been a life-saving network for us.
    Through them, I also have a great many gluten and allergen free recipes to try, and substitutions that they recommend. But I still love the attention to flavor, texture and edibility that your site offers. It will save a great deal of experimentation time!

  10. Ann, Thanks for telling us about FAAN. I’ll be sure to sign up for their newsletter.

  11. Great site!
    Our family has been gluten free for almost a year and I’ve learned that planning ahead isn’t important, it’s necessary.
    I always keep in my freezer: two kinds of multigrain muffins (usually carrot zucchini, banana walnut or sweet potato), two loaves of multigrain bread, eight multigrain tortilla’s, 12 multigrain buns. Because I make them every week, it doesn’t take me long at all and I can make a huge variety of meals with these as a base.
    I would suggest checking out Once a Month Cooking on Recipezaar for planning your next tax season. A whole day of cooking doesn’t appeal to me so I double almost everything I cook and freeze half in single portions for lunches and or busy nights. Single portions thaw and reheat quicker in addition to being extremely convenient and healthy for lunches. And if everyone wants something different it’s easy.
    I second the opinion that a jar of peanut butter is the best thing to have in your desk drawer. The protein lasts longer than anything else that stores that well.

  12. I can’t say that I indulge in gluten treats on purpose. I don’t dare unless I want a mouth full of sores. Yes, it will bother my belly too, but the sores in the mouth are pretty immediate (within hours or less of eating gluten) and 9 times out of 10 when it happens, I can easily identify the culprit. It might be as simple as remembering that my kids had passed a piece of wheat bread over my plate (a crumb dropped in my plate) or I might remember that I had tried a food or drink I’d not had before and thought it was safe only to realize later that gluten was hidden in “natural flavors”.
    When I travel I always pack a cooler full of my foods so I can be sure and not get into questionable foods along the way. It’s a pain in the neck, but well worth the effort to not have to deal with sores in my mouth.
    Before I learned I was gluten intolerant the sores were so many and so bad I could barely eat, or talk it was so painful. That memory alone motovates me to be extra careful!

  13. I am so pleased to hear that although you got “glutened” and knew you were doing it to yourself – you survived with a plan to do better next time. I fed it to myself on purpose – I guess I needed to prove that it really makes me sick – and it does. Being new to the gluten free world – I am shocked at how ill I feel when I put that stuff in my mouth. amazing. Thanks for all you do to help us stick to our plan. I found some box “go picnic” lunches on Amazon that I keep in my desk – expensive – but better than being sick.