One of the ways to maintain sanity on a gluten free diet is to make sure that you plan for meals ahead of time. Last minute trips to the grocery store do nothing but make your life more stressful and your grocery bills higher. When you proactively plan your meals, life become much easier.
Since your group of food allergies may be different than mine I’m going to try to cover all of my bases and give you a lot of options and ideas for each meal. Not all will work for you, but feel free to pick and choose and create a plan that fits your needs.
Since you’re just starting a major dietary change, I want you to keep things as simple as possible. The easiest way to stay gluten free is to eat naturally gluten free whole foods and packaged foods that are certified gluten free. If you need to abstain from other foods in addition to gluten, then make sure that you avoid any of the foods listed below that contains those ingredients.
The second thing that I want you to to this week is to be okay with doing things differently. Depending on your particular food needs, you may find that you need to try some new foods. Or you may find that it’s easier to eat leftover for breakfast. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Give yourself some grace and try to just experience food this week, not judge it.
If you usually eat cold cereal for breakfast, then try a gluten free cereal this week. Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cinnamon Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Chocolate Chex, and Strawberry Chex, as well as Gluten Free Rice Krispies are some of the main-stream cereals that carry a gluten free label.
If you live near an urban center, you may find that your grocery store carries certified gluten free cereals too. Cereal is probably not a good choice if you need to avoid rice or corn too.
If you usually eat a breakfast bar for breakfast, first check to see if your usual bar is certified or labeled gluten free. If not, then I’d suggest switching to a gluten free cereal or fresh fruit for a week.
You’ll be tempted to read the labels on all of the breakfast bars in the grocery store, but that’s just going to depress you. Save that for next week. Again, if you have multiple allergies, it may be difficult to find a breakfast bar that will work
If you usually eat a hot breakfast, then see how many egg recipes that you can come up with. A few that I can think of off the top of my head are: scrambled, fried, poached, omelette with veggies, and frittatas.
If you’re not a huge fan of eggs, some mild or medium salsa on the side can go a long way to making them more palatable. In fact, we love fried eggs and black beans with salsa on top for breakfast. It’s basically huevos rancheros without the tortillas.
Another one of our favorite hot breakfasts is ground turkey, seasoned with salt and chili powder and gluten free mustard. It sounds strange I know, but it’s really good. Bacon, sausage, and hot cereals are all processed and should be avoided this week unless they are marked gluten free.
Fresh fruit is always a winner, and is a delicious and simple way to start the day. Use fruits that are in season because they will taste the best and will hopefully be the easiest on your budget.
Preparing a tempting platter of fresh fruit may take a little more work in the morning, but I think that it’s worth it. If your kids need to be gluten free, then this may be your best option. Most kids love fruit and are generally happy to see it first thing in the morning.
If you have access to a microwave at lunch, then the easiest option is to eat leftovers from last night’s meal for lunch. Add a salad or fresh fruit if you need to round out the meal. Lunch is easily the most bread-centric meal of the day, so don’t freak out when everyone around you is having sandwiches. You will be able to eat good bread again.
If you don’t have access to a microwave, then pack a large salad and some fresh fruit. I like to add chickpeas to my salad as the protein – that way I don’t have to worry if I forget to take my lunch to the refrigerator.
A lot of salad dressings contain gluten; an easy solution is to make your own vinaigrette at home and take that with you to dress your salad. A basic vinaigrette recipe is 2/3 c. oil and 1/3 c. vinegar. I like to use flavored vinegars to make the salad dressing extra special. I also like to add avocado or gluten free hummus to my salad if I’m craving something creamy.
If you have to go out for lunch, please try to get the lunch moved to a restaurant that has a Gluten Free Menu or has a chef that is very familiar with the diet. You are new to eating gluten free and are very likely to slip up if you try to identify the gluten foods on your own.
Call the restaurant before hand and talk to the manager or the chef and explain to them that you have to eat gluten free, but that you’re going to need their help since you are new to the diet. They should be able to tell you which items from their menu are gluten free, or can be prepared gluten free.
The manager at a good restaurant should also be willing to oversee the preparation of your food to make sure no one slips up. And, if you call ahead, hopefully all of this can take place discreetly in the background, especially if it’s a business meeting.
To make supper easy for you, I think you’ve basically got two options. The first option is to prepare simple meals of a meat (seasoned with salt, pepper, and/or other herbs), a side of fresh vegetables, and a side of rice or potatoes.
The second option is to print off this free menu plan, and follow it. It will have recipes for 6 supper meals, a cookie recipe, and a shopping list.
The point of these options is to keep you from having to search for recipes and then make sure that all of the ingredients in the recipes are gluten free. That would be way too frustrating for the first week of the diet.
Option one will probably work best for those people that are accustomed to cooking without a recipe and feel comfortable dealing with unprocessed foods.
Option two, the menu plan, should work for everyone else.
Your assignment for this lesson is to make a list of what you want to eat for each day of next week.
Monday: Rice Chex and banana for breakfast, green salad (with chickpeas) and balsamic vinaigrette dressing for lunch; cheddar cheese slices and an apple for snack; baked chicken breast, mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies for supper.
Your assignment is to carefully consider your shopping habits. Are you looking for certified gluten free products? Are you comfortable eating products that are labeled gluten-free?
Are you eating foods that don’t have a gluten free label or certification? Do you call food manufacturers and check on the gluten free status of products? Have you ever discussed gluten free cross-contact issues with your butcher?
Pick one of these issues and investigate it more thoroughly this week. Take the time to identify the assumptions you’re making about the gluten free status of a food and then test it by having a conversation with the food manufacturer or processor.