If you read my article last month, you know that I am the only person in my family who is not on a strict 100% gluten-free (GF) diet. BOTH of my children, and later my husband, were diagnosed with celiac disease just over a year ago. The only treatment for celiac disease is to religiously adhere to a gluten-free diet. So this past year has been an intensive crash course in celiac disease, gluten-free cooking, and the GF lifestyle.
In my last article, I wrote about what we went through emotionally upon receiving the diagnosis and shared some of the strategies that helped us through that period of emotional upheaval and distress. Today, I would like to share some of the practical tips that helped with transitioning to a GF lifestyle.
1. Make your Home Gluten Free
I am lucky enough to be friends with the amazing Ronnilyn Pustil, founder of GlutenFree Garage, a blog and pop-up marketplace of all things gluten free. Ronnilyn had lunch with me when I was in a fog of grief and fear right after having received the diagnosis. I wrote down every recommendation she had to share, but this one stands out and remains the best piece of advice we ever received when dealing with the diagnosis.
“Make your home gluten-free.”
Now this probably sounds obvious in a home where celiacs outnumber non-celiacs 3 to 1. Ronnilyn has just one celiac family member, her daughter and gluten-free muse, and at the time only my youngest had been diagnosed. She said to me, “you are going to be spending your life telling your child “no”, so make your home a place where you can always say “yes”. Your child is often going to be in a position where she is eating a special meal, different from everyone else, for the rest of her life, so make your home a place where she eats what everybody else eats.” Moreover, one of the greatest dangers with celiac disease is cross-contamination. Do you really want to be constantly worrying that a dish wasn’t washed properly, or that a spoon used to stir one kind of pasta was dunked into the other kind, or that someone put regular bread in the Gluten Free toaster? Of course not! Although making the whole home Gluten Free seems drastic, it actually is much easier in the long run. Anyway, you don’t really want to be preparing two separate menus for every single mealtime, do you?
2. Buy in Bulk
The cost differential is dropping as Gluten Free items become more prevalent on your grocer’s shelves, but eating Gluten Free is still more expensive – like 162% more expensive (this is down from 242%, so we’re making progress, people!). But over a year later, I still get sticker shock from our grocery bill (I do try to remind myself that this is probably at least somewhat offset by the fact that we eat out much less frequently since going GF).
My best advice is to watch for sales and buy in bulk. Costco carries an astonishing variety of GF items now, and even at your regular grocery store you’ll find regular sales on GF items. When you see a sale sticker, stock up!
3. Stick with what You Like
If you find a product you like, stick with it. The cost premium of GF foods should be enough to lead you to avoid experimentation. The great thing is that there are many terrific GF product lines out there now. Some of our favourites are All But Gluten, Glutino, Kinnikinnick, Nature’s Path, Felicia, and Bob’s Red Mill. But there are many other yummy ones, so enjoy finding the ones your family loves!
This piece of advice is true for restaurants too. When you are eating GF, it pays to become a regular. The kitchen is far more willing to accommodate you when they know you’re likely to be back! Moreover, being a regular means that the GF tutorial you have to give the waitstaff and kitchen staff every time you go out to eat is considerably shortened. You know you can trust them, so you can relax and actually enjoy your GF meal.
4. Stress Cross-Contamination
Whether you’re eating out or at a family members’, it is most important to be very clear about the risks of cross-contamination. Many people may know that barley, rye, oats and wheat are off-limits for celiacs, but may not understand the dangers of cross-contamination. The amount of gluten necessary to make a celiac sick is measured in milligrams, not bites.
So if a toaster is used to toast GF bread, you can’t stick a slice of whole wheat in there. If a fryer is used to make breaded onion rings, your (gluten-free) potatoes become glutened when they are put in the same fryer. You can’t use the pasta strainer to strain the wheat pasta then re-use it on the GF pasta without washing it carefully. Even someone sticking their hand in the bowl of gluten-free pretzels after eating, say, pita bread will contaminate the bowl.
Be really clear about these dangers, since this is one area that even generally well-informed people are often surprised about. Plus many people assume that being glutened just means a stomach ache. Explaining the dangers for celiacs of eating gluten – lymphoma, seizures, infertility and more – will help others understand that eating gluten-free is not a choice but a necessity for life.
5. Say Thank You
One of the biggest, and nicest, surprises since our switch to being GF is how accommodating people have been. I expected – and was willing – to bring our own food wherever we went. It has genuinely moved and surprised me how willing people have been to go the extra mile. Friends and family have made gluten-free cupcakes, gluten-free matzos, gluten free turkey stuffing and stocked gluten-free snacks in their homes for when my kids come over. Every one of these gestures, and the many other kindnesses we have experienced, has made me more grateful than I can ever express (although I’m going to try here: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!). So every time someone goes out of there way, or texts you an ingredient list, or shares a website, be sure to say thank you. Kindness breeds kindness, and you can look forward to more good will coming your way.
Are you or a family member on a GF diet? What are your tips for staying gluten free? Share your advice in the comments below!