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The Family Table: Eating Gluten Free

For millions of families in America, eating as a family requires taking allergies or dietary restrictions into account. For my family, that means gluten-free meal planning.

May is Celiac Awareness month. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that can become active at any point in someone’s life. It affects people of all ages and races. Approximately 1 in 133 Americans have celiac. People with celiac cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barely. If they do, it causes damage to the villi of the small intestine which is how the body absorbs nutrients. This can lead to short-term and long-term health problems.

Celiac is not the only reason people chose to eat gluten free.

Gluten-free diets have been reported, in some cases, to improve other health conditions from Hashimoto’s to autism.

I found out that I needed to start eating gluten-free ten years ago, just a few months before my wedding. At the time, a friend asked me if I planned to cook a separate dinner for my husband as to not subject him to a gluten-free diet. Um…no.

I only cooked one dinner then and I only cook one dinner now. Just because it is free of gluten doesn’t mean it is free of flavor.

My kids have also been advised to eat gluten free. They really don’t know any different. They have learned to always ask if something is gluten free before eating it if they are at a friend’s house and if they don’t know not to eat it. [There is a great Daniel Tiger episode about food allergies that was helpful to them figuring out how to articulate to others.]

If your health professional has determined that you or someone in your family needs to eat gluten free, it can be overwhelming. I promise it gets easier! Here are some good places to start.

Beginner’s Guide to Gluten-Free Cooking

So what do you eat? So many things. The list of what we don’t eat is far shorter.

We don’t eat wheat, rye, barely, or most oats and anything made from them.

That means most bread, pasta, pizza, and beer are out. There are gluten-free alternatives for all of those which we do indulge in from time to time. But they are expensive and some aren’t very good. Also, by generally avoiding bread and baked goods we avoid a lot of unnecessary junk food.

We don’t eat bread or pasta…so what do we eat?

Shopping and cooking gluten free can be simple.

Focus on shopping the perimeter of the grocery store: fruits, vegetables (including potatoes), fresh meats, dairy, and eggs are all gluten free. Rice, quinoa, and corn are all gluten-free starches. This encompasses 95% of what we eat in our house. Fresh foods full of nutrients and free of gluten.

Prepackaged and processed foods are where things get tricky. Often wheat or some derivative is used to thicken sauces and soups or added to bake things up with an extra crunch. However, many of these processed foods have a laundry list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and probably shouldn’t be eating anyway. Most soy sauce surprisingly has wheat in it. Always check the ingredient list on all packages as formulations and ingredients often change.

Gluten-free brands are expensive, but some are worth the splurge. I love pasta. I think 90% of my diet in college was carbs in the form of buttered pasta and dinner rolls. Sometimes this mama just needs a big ol’ bowl of spaghetti or rich chocolate brownie or a carby bagel. Or my kindergartener just wants to take a peanut butter sandwich for lunch like everyone else. For these times I splurge on some gluten-free alternative products.

Here are my favorites:

  • Pasta – Tinkyada brown rice pasta and Wegman’s gluten-free corn pasta.
  • Bread – Udi’s White Sandwich bread (the big loaf from Costco)
  • Crunchy Snacks – Many chips are already gluten free. Our favorites: Pirate’s Booty, Veggie Straws, Tostitos. Also, Snyders make gluten-free pretzel sticks that are delicious. A lot of my gluten eating friends prefer them over regular pretzels – just make sure you get the ones that are designated Gluten Free.
  • Baking mixes – King Arther Flour gluten-free mixes are my favorite, hands down. Their yellow cake mix tastes like a delicious, moist pound cake. Living G-Free from Aldi’s Chocolate baking mix makes some pretty decent brownies or chocolate cookies and is inexpensive.
  • Bagels – Aldi’s Living G-Free Cinamon Raisin Bagels have a good texture especially toasted and smeared with cream cheese.
  • Pizza – I haven’t found a frozen pizza I love because it’s frozen pizza. But J. Rocco’s serves the best gluten-free pizza I have found!

Eating gluten free is not a curse; it’s a lifestyle change.

Keep an eye out for our Gluten-Free Guide to Richmond with all our favorite places to get gluten-free eats and treats.

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