May 21, 2009 - The hardest part of the gluten free diet is probably when you realize that wheat is in almost every processed food imaginable. So don’t think about that now! Give yourself a week to mourn the fact that you can’t buy normal bread and pasta, and that Campbell’s soup can no longer dwell in your pantry. Mourn the obvious losses – we’ll deal with the rest later. For the first week, just focus on eating whole, unprocessed gluten free food.
(For more information on what to eat the first week of a gluten free diet, check out my ebook, The Gluten Free Survival Guide. It’s packed full of practical tips and strategies to help you get started and stay gluten free successfully.)
So, what are whole, unprocessed foods?
Most people are not used to cooking with whole, unprocessed foods or for looking for gluten in their foods, so don’t freak out if you still can’t figure out what to eat. I’m going to give you some ideas for breakfast and lunch and a menu plan (with shopping list) for your suppers.
If you usually eat cold cereal for breakfast, then this week try Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cinnamon Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Chocolate Chex, or Strawberry Chex. These Chex cereals are the only mainstream gluten free cereals. If you live near an urban center, you may find that your grocery store carries other gluten free specialty cereals, and if they do then feel free to try them. The advantage of starting with Chex is that it’s widely available, less expensive than other gluten free cereals, and familiar/
If you usually eat a breakfast bar for breakfast, first check to see if your usual bar is marked gluten free. If not, then I’d suggest switching to 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. Unless your store carries Larabars – those are all gluten free.
If you usually eat a hot breakfast, then see how many eggs 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. Bacon, sausage, and hot cereals are all processed and should be avoided this week unless they are marked gluten free.
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. Check out these recipes from Michael Ruhlman’s new book, Ratio, if you need some guidance.
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 gluten free foods and you 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.
Supper: 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 and potatoes. The second option is to print off the free menu plan that I’ll be publishing later this week, and follow it. It will have recipes for 6 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.
Homework: Make a list of what you want to eat for each day of next week. Here’s an example:
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.