Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tips for Going Gluten-Free

It was overwhelming for me, at first, to put Barrett on a gluten-free diet. What would he eat for nursery snacks at church? How could I feed him while we were traveling? How would I get him enough calories? How much would it cost? Where do I even find gluten-free foods? But I learned that after I found a system things would fall into place and it would not be stressful for me.

There are many places to find gluten-free products. Most health food stores will have at least a small selection. Many grocery stores like Smith's and Macey's have organic sections or special shelves marked as "organic" that often have gluten-free foods. Sunflower Market also has gluten-free products that are specially marked.

For nursery I put gluten-free cereal, raisins, craisins, fruit snacks, and crackers in zip-lock bags and put them in a container. I explained the situation to all the nursery workers and they now keep his snacks in the closet so I don't have to worry about bringing something for him every week.

One thing I really struggled with was finding foods that I could give my son quickly. A friend told me that she makes gluten-free cornbread muffins and freezes them, then puts peanut butter on top and send them to school with her son for lunch. I thought it was a great idea, and although I learned that my son can't have corn I like to make zucchini and pumpkin bread muffins and keep them in the freezer. Then I just thaw them out in the microwave for 40 seconds on defrost and give them to Barrett. If I am travelling I put one or two in a ziplock bag and bring it in the car.

Many people make their whole house gluten-free when a member of the family goes on the diet. We chose not to do that because it is very expensive and my son has to avoid so many things it would be very difficult to have us all do it. We may try it if it becomes necessary, but so far Barrett just accepts that he eats different food than everyone else and does not have a problem with it. When I cook dinner I try to make it gluten-free if I can do it easily, otherwise I just cook something different for Barrett. When I make pasta I make the sauce gluten-free and then use rice noodles for Barrett and regluar noodles for the rest of the family. I thicken chile and soups with gluten-free flour (you can also use corn starch but I avoid that because of his possible corn intolerance).

There are many gluten free flours you can choose from for baking. You can buy premade pancake mixes, cake and cookie mixes, breadstick and pizza crust mixes and more. They are expensive but they tend to taste better than a lot of homemade ones. I however, prefer to make my own. You can read about different kinds of flour and how they work on the internet. Experiment with them and when you find a combination you like you can make your own pancake mixes and cake mixes and store them in large zip-lock bags or tupperware containers. It's a lot of work at first but in the long run it is cheaper and will save you time. Usually it's best to combine different types of flours so the flavor of one does not overpower your food. You also need to add a starch to it or the flour will not hold together very well. The standard mixture is:

2/3 part potato starch
1/3 part tapioca starch
2 parts flour of your choice
1 tsp xanthan or guar gum (I use guar because xanthan gum is derived from corn)

I usually throw the ingredients in a large ziplock bag and shake them up. Then I date and label them. Some flours need to be stored in the fridge so read the labels.

The noodles I have found to be the best are Tinkyada brand noodles. They are made from rice, taste good and they don't fall apart. Even the lasagna noodles work well. I also like Ancient Harvest Quinoa and Corn noodles, but they fall apart more easily if they are overcooked.

For breakfast you can usually find hot cereals like quinoa flakes, buckwheat cereal (not related to wheat), hot rice cereal, and gluten free oats for oatmeal (make sure the oats are specially marked gluten-free. Red Mill sells some gluten-free oats but they are expensive). Regular brand cereals that are currently gluten free (but always check the label because they change the recipe sometimes) are Rice Chex, Fruity Pebbles, Trix, and Dora and Diego cereals. I also like to buy Erewon Crispy Rice and some no-name brand called Cinnamon O's. (Basically just a plain box with plain black print I found in the gluten-free section at Macey's).

You have several options for flour. The best, if you are not avoiding milk, is Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix. It is a little light though and if you want something heavier just mix it with another flour. Bob's gluten-free baking mix is a pre-made mix made out of garbanzo and fava bean flours. It's alright but I never use that alone because the bean flavor is a little strong. The cheapest is rice flour. You can even get a grain grinder and grind your own to make it even cheaper. I can't stand the taste of rice flour though (brown rice is better than white rice in my opinion). Sweet rice flour isn't bad and is good for pie shells, but it is a lot more expensive. You can get it in Asian stores and it's usually called Mochika. I like to use buckwheat flour for sweet things like pancakes, cakes, and sweet breads (but never alone--mix it with another kind of flour). Soy flour works well if you do not have problems with soy. You can also use millet flour, garbanzo bean flour, fava bean flour, sorhgum flour, coconut flour, and potato flour (different from potato starch). Millet flour is better for pizza crust-type foods. I use coconut flour to absorb extra liquids. It is probably a good one to mix with the Pamela's mix. I will be posting recipes that I have tried and adapted on this blog soon.


  1. Wow, I knew it was multiple things but I had no idea just how many things he was intolerant to.

    One idea for quick snacks or meals is to freeze pancakes after cooking them. You can flash freeze them on a cookie sheet or plate, and once they're at least partially frozen, put them in a ziploc and freeze. That way they won't stick together in the ziploc, and anytime you need to give Barrett a quick snack, take one out, microwave for like 15 - 20 sec. and then it's good to go.

    We do that for our kids just as a convenience.

  2. Wow. I can see how that would have been overwhelming in the beginning.

    Have you given any consideration for just reducing the grain foods altogether (breads, cereals, crackers, pancakes, pastries, etc., not just the gluten), then you wouldn't have to bother with the expense and bother of the GF variations? Perhaps instead, just focussing on and feeding more of the foods you know are safe, like veggies, meats, nuts, fruit? After all, there are no "essential" grains or starches; it's more a cultural preference. That way your son would grow up with less of a taste for them and less chances to deal with "contamination"?

  3. If I could get Barrett to eat those things I would take that route more. But he won't eat most vegetables--I have to hide them. He does eat a lot of fruit. The other problem with those things is they aren't very filling so you have to eat a lot of them. He is so skinny he needs compact calories. I try to get him to eat a lot of peanuts but he will only eat a few at a time. He doesn't chew meats very well either but he is slowly getting better at that.

  4. Michelle, I understand that, been there, too. My son got very picky at age 2.5 (after eating everything! from 8 mos-2.5 years, even spicy Indian food). My husband and I like so many foods and have adventurous palates, so it was sort of frustrating for me.

    And I don't want to go the route my mother did with me, making me eat foods I didn't like, creating control conflicts between us (actually, I now think she also over cooked a lot of the veggies and relied too much on frozen mixed veggies, which are awful under any circumstances). As a result, I was over 30 yo before I would consider eating green beans and other things I hated as a kid! Some of these are my favorites now.

    I think for a while, in an effort to not do it like my mother, I went a bit overboard in catering to my son's pickiness and that encouraged him to become even more picky. To save time and not prepare two different menus from scratch, I did rely on too many heat & serve foods for him at one point, while I was preparing better foods for myself and my husband. I now wish I hadn't, for lots of reasons. But about the time my son was 5-6yo, I stopped doing that so much and it's been working out well, though it's still a work-in-progress. And I know from observing adults with restricted food tastes and other families with older kids (not to mention my own childhood), converting food tastes in older kids and teens is much harder than with little ones).

    Especially in the past year or two (he's 10 yo now), we have really seen his food tastes blossom, with all sorts of willingness to try new things, new variations, and give past dislikes a new try. We don't make a big deal about it, either. He's still got a way to go before he wants everything that comes to the table, but I'm very pleased with the progress he's made, he eats perhaps 85-90 % of what we eat.

    But I don't think that it would have happened this way if I hadn't put a lot of thought into what food should be in our home, about good food being important to build strong bodies, and working out a way to make food that satisfies my husband and I, yet allows some autonomy for our son to discover food at his own pace. The cornerstone is to limit what is in the house that I want to minimize in his diet (less distraction and temptation) and make it easier for him to choose the foods I think are better for him. I keep cut up veggies/fruit, hard boiled eggs in the fridge, nuts in the cabinet, or applesauce (now it's homemade from the apples that might go uneaten and soft). I silently put a plate of cut veggie sticks on the table as he does homework or while I prepare dinner if he is very hungry - he rarely fails to eat them now and sometimes asks for them. I'm going to have to nix the cubes of aged cheddar cheese I used to keep on hand, but I also keep cooked chicken or roast beef in easy reach in the fridge for him (he assembles his own snacks a lot in the past two years). He doesn't eat salad as much as my husband and I, but he eats the raw cut veggies or more of the cooked veggies that are there.

    And like your son, he didn't eat much meat when he was younger, but that's changed quite a bit, especially as I transitioned to long-simmered meats that become very tender and easy to pull apart (country-style spare ribs, pot roast, lamb tagine, etc.). You may find the same thing. I hardly ever get lean boneless cuts anymore, but instead chicken legs/thighs or shoulder cuts, which "stick to the ribs" longer. I make sure to use plenty of traditional fats to fill and fuel him (not industrial manufactured fats like margerine), and my smoothies are very high in natural fat (might have to nix the heavy cream and whole milk yogurt now, though) and low in sugar. The nice aged parmesan and cheddars were also cornerstones, but for the time being, they are off the table.

    Again, Rome wasn't built in a day, this has happened gradually. *But the key is that over time there were fewer, if any, starchy foods at the table or in the kitchen/pantry to divert his attention from what is available.* I hope this makes sense and doesn't come across the wrong way.

    I hold the view that my son can decide how much to eat and have some input/autonomy about what and how much to eat at the table, but ultimately, I am the food shopper and the cook (but not a short-order cook making individual meals for everyone). I know better than he does what he needs nutrient-wise (even with my flawed judgement and shifting knowledge base), and it's my job to make sure the good stuff is available for him and to minimize the foods that aren't good to consume. Kids are pretty good at holding out for what they want (esp if they know it's in the house) and moms always worry about their kids going hungry (a very strong instinct), but rarely do kids starve if there is good food available and not much junk to tempt them). Bit my bit, I catered less to his restrictive and repetitive childish tastes (though I reserved meat or whatever from sauces or spicy seasonings for quite a while while he went through that bland - don't mix up/ cover up with sauce stage). Or I served his raw veggies separate from the salad bowl, but the prep was the same.

    As I modified my own ( and my husband's) diet for better health (better blood glucose control) I realized that my son too would be better off without so much starchy and sugar as is typical for kids (I never served much juice, because that's sugar water with very few nutrients, like soda). Carby foods are filling fuel, yes, but not the best fuel (carbs burn fast or store as fat and need constant replenishment, and always make us hungry faster, because of the roller coaster BG and insulin levels). Providing my son with cold cereal because it was convenient for both of us wasn't really good for him in the long run (even before I knew about the gluten stuff) and it was definitely contributing to a "grazing" sort of constant eating and irritable behavior rather than satisfying him until the next meal. Not sure what I'll do if he turns out to be sensitive to eggs though. That has me in a panic. Meat-based breakfasts, I guess.

    And I realized that the food tastes and habits that we develop (are exposed to) as kids are what we take into adulthood. As you know, it's hard to change a kid's tastes, but I think it's even harder to change teens and adults' engrained (ha!) preferences. Why not work at it now, in baby steps, so our kids grow up with food habits that serve them well and won't need to be changed radically?

    For a couple of years I've been learning a lot about early human diets (long before agriculture, grains, dairy, soy, corn, seed oils, and many of the foods we take for granted now), and I realized that eating constantly, like a cow (5-6 small meals indeed!) isn't the way human physiology works best and that calorie and nutrient-dense foods like good fats, meat, nuts, for energy and structural growth and repair, with some non-starchy veggies for added micronutrients, should be the basic foundation, with the other things like sugars, starches, etc. as "garnish". Basically, the USDA food pyramid, but upside down! Sounds radical, I know, but that upside down pyramid describes the human diet for nearly all of the time since humans branched off from other primates, until just recently, about 10,000 (or less) years ago when some humans adopted farming and living in larger groups in settlements instead of small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers. We might live in a modern world, but our physiology is that of the late stone-age people and therein lies the conflict and the "environmental" part of the expression of our genetic code. Our stone-age genes that predispose to gluten/casein/soy sensitivity, weight gain, etc., aren't a problem in a stone-age diet that lacks those components, but the expression of those genes in the modern agricultural diet creates health problems (the egg sensitivity part does not fit so well, but perhaps the egg issue is precipitated by gluten damage?).

    Sorry for the length and hope this isn't too preachy. But as you can tell, I'm sort of passionate about food and love feeding my family and seeing them do well with it.