When you’ve decided you’re going gluten free, you start in your kitchen. It’s Food Central, right? Whether it’s large or galley, stocked or empty, your new gluten free kitchen will be your safe zone. Your gluten free kitchen will become the place where you can always find and make yummy and safe gluten free foods. When your kitchen goes GF, too, then you won’t be tempted to “cheat” by eating gluten–because there won’t be other options.
To create this safe zone, you need to set it up right from the beginning. Below are 7 tips to get you on the gluten free road quickly and easily. Each step is crucial when you’re going gluten free. Take the time to do it correctly, thoroughly, from the start. A solid foundation will make everything else fall into place with much less stress.
Remember, gluten is a food protein that is found in the grains wheat, barley (malt) and rye, so anywhere those grains could be found are potentially dangerous products, and they can leave residue behind, so label or menu reading and cleaning at home are the two essential components of staying safe and gluten free.
Before we get started, it’s important to understand why a fresh beginning is so essential to going gluten free successfully. Because gluten is just one tiny ingredient in lots of foods – it’s not something you can actually see. It can lurk in crumbs, sauces, pasta. That means that anything in your kitchen that has touched these things (think toasters, pans, colanders, lunch boxes, utensils, counters, dish scrubbers, tea towels, etc.) may still have gluten on it or in it. When this gluten residue touches your gluten free food, gluten contamination (or gluten cross-contact) occurs.
Studies have shown that anything more than 1/8th teaspoon of regular flour, or 1/350th of a slice of regular bread (up to 10mg gluten) can cause intestinal inflammation and even villous atrophy in celiacs. Many people find that they experience symptoms with even less gluten exposure. Other studies attempting to find the threshold for prolonged gluten exposure formed the foundation for the FDA’s decision to restrict gluten free food labels to only those foods containing less than 20ppm gluten.
All this is to say that mere crumbs could harm someone with celiac disease. Trace amounts can cause symptoms for those with gluten sensitivity. That’s why we never simply pick the croutons off a salad, for example. And you shouldn’t risk using pots, pans, condiments, grills or appliances which may have such crumbs remaining from a non-gluten-free meal. These types of avoidance when you’re going gluten free will go a long way toward protecting you and other gluten free family members from accidental gluten contamination.
Most of us could use a good old-fashioned spring cleaning in the pantry anyway, right? So use your gluten free transition as a kick in the pants to get you moving. Sit down with a big cardboard box and a trash bag. Put all the gluten-containing foods in the box. Put all the things that are expired or already opened in the trash bag. Now review the items with gluten in them. What are you really sad to see go? Make a list; this will form the beginning of your first gluten free grocery shopping list. Take the box to your local homeless shelter or food bank and pat yourself on the back: you have now done a good thing for yourself and for others.
For the remaining gluten free foods, dedicate a section to your pantry or designate a cabinet to be entirely gluten free. If the whole house is going gluten free, well, that even easier! Thoroughly clean the surfaces of these cabinets and shelves. Make sure that no crumbs from the last bag of shredded wheat could find their way into your special gluten free foods. If anyone in your family is not going gluten free, you’ll need to designate a separate section or a cabinet for gluten-containing items. If they’ll be stored close by, use large clear plastic lidded bins to keep any errant gluten crumbs or spills off the gluten free foods.
If you have ever tried to clean a toaster—I mean really clean a toaster—you know that it is nearly impossible to remove every last crumb. Don’t even bother with this exercise in futility. Make an inexpensive, yet invaluable, investment in a new toaster. And some peace of mind. If you have other gluten eaters in your household, dedicate this new toaster to only gluten free foods and attach a fun sticker or colored electrical tape to the toaster for a friendly reminder!
If possible, use condiments that come from squeeze bottles. Otherwise, have a house rule that there is only one dip into a jar with any given utensil. Bread crumbs hitchhike on peanut butter-laden knives, and can jump off and sit in the peanut butter jar. If the next person to use that peanut butter is gluten free, and those crumbs hitchhike their way back out on their knife, they’ll learn the hard way about the trouble with double dipping.
Many people suggest that you buy all new pans when going gluten free. They suggest keeping dedicated pans and utensils only for gluten free meal prep. If this is possible with your budget and your kitchen storage, lucky you! But for most of us, a whole new kitchen set (and finding a place to store it!) might not be practical. Instead, thoroughly examine any pans with worn surfaces, scratches or dents that could harbor food between uses. It’s probably time to replace them anyway, and going gluten free is the perfect excuse.
If you can separate any pans out for dedicated gluten free use, more power to you. I often recommend to my consulting clients that they identify these pans with brightly-colored electrical or duct tape wrapped around the handles. If you simply cannot dedicate pans for exclusive gluten free use, don’t worry. Just be sure to scrub the pans well and then wash them in a dishwasher using all washing and drying cycles. Your pans will be cleaner-than-clean, and also safe.
If you’re serious about going gluten free, you need to be serious about becoming an expert food label reader! When you clean your pantry, use the opportunity to get good at label terminology. Get familiar with some of the many names for potential gluten sources like malt flavoring, malt vinegar or any unspecified thickeners, stabilizers, starches or flavorings. If these ingredients are wheat-based, wheat must be noted on the ingredient label; however, if they are barley or rye-based, they are not specifically required to be called out as such on the label.
By the time you’ve reorganized your pantry, you will be an expert label reader. You’ll be able to fly down the grocery store aisles buying foods that you can trust! Carry lists of gluten free grains and gluten containing ingredients as a reference to double-check when you run across something new or unique. You don’t have to spend more money on these lists; you can find lots of fact-checked content online. You can even carry my book with you, The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten Free.
Many companies’ food labels list no obvious gluten containing ingredients. Does that mean the product is gluten free? Since August of 2014, the FDA has required manufacturers who label their products as “Gluten Free” to ensure that their products contain less than 20ppm gluten. Some do a better job than others. The best way to be sure that a product is safe for your family is to buy products that are CERTIFIED gluten free by independent organizations like GFCO and CSA.
What about products without gluten ingredients listed but not claiming to be gluten free? Some are likely safe — they could be “naturally” gluten free or the manufacturer didn’t want to make a GF claim for one reason or another. But other products may in fact contain gluten as part of something else listed. So how do you know? The best way to find out for sure is to contact the company directly through their website or customer service phone number. If they can’t give you a satisfactory answer, then opt against it; no food is worth the risk.
Remember that gluten could be in anything from salad dressing to chewing gum, so don’t assume a food is safe just because it doesn’t obviously contain flour.
In cooking or baking gluten free, one of the hardest things to get used to is that the ingredient list is usually double that of most ordinary recipes. Don’t let that deter you! One of the easiest tips for your new gluten free kitchen is to either buy a big box of certified all purpose gluten free flour or mix a large batch (the flour blend or each individual ingredient needs to be certified gluten free) and store it in your cupboard. If the flour is ready to go, you have probably just cut the preparation time of your gluten free recipe in half, and you certainly have cut back on possible excuses not to bake!
A high quality, truly all purpose gluten free flour is the essential ingredient to going gluten free, happily. A works-in-everything flour will allow you to make all your old favorite recipes again!
Feel free to try a sample of my gfJules flour for only $5. Trying is believing that gluten-free foods can taste just as good (or better!) than those with gluten!
If part of your family is going gluten free, everyone in the family should be eating gluten free meals at home together.
I understand buying your non gluten free child occasional gluten containing items. Regular sandwich bread for packed school lunches means more of the good gluten free bread for you, right? Plus, your kid might not even eat the sandwich, since you aren’t there to make sure they eat it before the pudding! Otherwise, there is honestly no reason why you should have any gluten flour in your kitchen any more. It is far too easy for such a light ingredient like flour to contaminate other things in the kitchen. Plus, it’s cheaper, easier, more efficient and more conducive to family dining if you can all enjoy the same food. And lick the bowl together.
Once everyone tastes the delicious and easy foods available on your diet (trust me! just look through all the amazing recipes on my site to get you started!), there will be no excuses! Furthermore, one of the easiest ways to stay on a gluten free diet is to have the support of your family and friends. If your family eats different foods at every meal, it will be much harder for you to stay on a gluten free diet and to remain positive about your new lifestyle.
You’ll surely hear some folks say that a gluten-free diet is unhealthy for those who don’t have to eat GF for medical reasons. This misconception is based on the nutritional content of most processed gluten-free foods. Gluten-free snacks and pre-packaged items like cookies, pretzels, chips, bars, cereals and the like do often contain more sugar and/or fat than their wheat-based counterparts because most manufacturers opt for cheaper gluten-free flours with odd flavors or grittiness that needs to be masked by extra sugar or oils.
If you steer clear of such processed foods, you’ll save money and avoid the nutritional void offered by products like these. Instead opt for adding more whole foods to your diet — shop the perimeter of the grocery store and stock up on vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans) and nuts, as well as unprocessed meat, seafood or organic tofu for protein. If these form the foundation of your family’s gluten-free diet, everyone will eat well, in fact probably better than before the family started reading nutritional labels and removing gluten from their diets.
To ensure that this lifestyle is one you can maintain, don’t deprive yourself or your family of fresh gluten-free breads, cakes, cookies and treats … just bake them yourself! That way you can control what goes into them and the deliciousness that comes out! Gluten free baked goods like these should be the special extras that you add to your new whole food-based diet, meaning that your family will eat a nutritionally balanced diet but not feel deprived of breads and treats — a true recipe for long-term success.
Download your complimentary copy of my New to Gluten Free e-book
or buy the electronic version of my paperback: The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten Free.