I do not consider myself a foodie or a gourmet. I like to eat food, I like to cook food, but the reality is that I’m not that creative. I follow basic recipes, I prepare mostly simple meals, and I eat the same foods often. In fact, in university, my roommates often commented on just how much pasta I ate. I would make a big batch and then have the leftovers for days. It saved me from having to cook as much, and the repetition didn’t bother me at all. Plus, pasta is yummy.
When my husband Jon went gluten-free to help his irritable bowel syndrome (it worked) and I followed after discovering that I feel better when I don’t eat gluten, it challenged my cooking habits. If I couldn’t eat pasta, bread or baked goods, how would I survive? There was a whole lot of melodrama for about 15 minutes, before I discovered that eating gluten-free really isn’t all that hard. Here are my tips for lazy gluten-free cooking.
Tips for Gluten-Free Cooking
- Stick to basics you already eat. Corn, rice and potatoes are all gluten-free. So is oatmeal, if you buy the right kind. Meat, dairy, beans, veggies and fruit are gluten-free, as well. This means you can eat mashed potatoes, nachos, steak, scrambled eggs, homemade granola and a whole lot of Asian cuisine. Eating foods that are naturally gluten-free is cheaper, and most of the time it’s more satisfying, because it doesn’t feel as if it’s missing anything.
- Keep quick meals and snacks on hand. I am currently buying a lot of hummus, cheese and tortilla chips. I also always have rice cakes and peanut butter on hand for a quick and easy snack. If you’re changing your diet in a big way, make it easy on yourself. You don’t want to have to spend a long time preparing every bite you put in your mouth – sometimes you just want a quick fix.
- Most baked goods are fine without gluten. I mix up an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend using Gluten Free Girl’s instructions. This works for most of the foods I make – chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, pancakes, waffles and pizza dough. I do use xantham or guar gum in most baking, because I find that it makes the finished product less crumbly, but otherwise I substitute my flour blend for regular flour and most people don’t even notice the difference.
- Accept gluten-free bread for what it is. Yeast breads are the one thing that really can’t be replicated without gluten. Gluten-free bread is expensive, small, and disappointing at first. If you’re expecting regular bread, well, it’s just not regular bread. I avoided it altogether for the first two months. Now I’ve gone long enough without regular bread that I’ll eat it in a grilled cheese sandwich or something similar and I enjoy it, because I’m not expecting it to be something it isn’t.
- Choose your pasta wisely. I’ve had good luck with corn pasta, and Tinkyada rice pasta. Other rice pastas I’ve tried were really mushy on the outside and hard and chewy on the inside. Look for recommendations, follow the directions exactly, and choose recipes with flavourful sauces. This pasta doesn’t stand on its own in the same way that wheat pasta does, so consider it a vehicle for other flavours. My gluten-free lasagna was great, though, thanks for asking.
- Surf gluten-free recipes. I’m one of those people who bookmarks recipes I plan to cook someday, even though I know that someday rarely comes. By searching out gluten-free recipes I’m reinforcing that there are lots of things that I really can still eat, and picking up useful tips. Plus, really, who wouldn’t love homemade oreos? There’s so much great food that doesn’t need gluten – explore it!
- Don’t go overboard buying gluten-free food. On my first post-wheat shopping trip I wanted to put every single gluten-free item in my cart. Cookies, crackers, pasta, bagels, waffles, donuts, you name it. Never mind that I hadn’t eat a regular bagel in years, I was going to buy the gluten-free kind. I also bought at least a half-dozen different kinds of gluten-free flour. This is expensive (those bagels were something like $6 for a four pack), and you’ll end up with a bunch of stuff you won’t finish. It’s exciting to find food you can actually eat when you give up wheat, but don’t let it go to your head.
- Find some gluten-free restaurant options. Sometimes you just want to order pizza, or pick up some takeout. Being gluten-free limits your options. So do a little legwork, and find a few local restaurants that will work. Indian and Thai food is often gluten-free. So is most sushi, provided that you use gluten-free soy sauce. Also, lots of pizza places offer a gluten-free version now. If you track them down, you’ll be able to take a night off from cooking now and then when you’re just not up to it.
It can take a little while to get used to the idea that your diet has changed. I think it’s important to allow yourself the space to mourn a little, while keeping in mind what you’re doing and why. After not too long you’ll adjust to your new reality, and you won’t feel as if you’re missing anything. After all, there’s still far more food that you can eat, than food that you can’t eat.
Have you ever given up gluten – or dairy or meat or some other staple food? How did you cope with the change? I’d love to hear your tips, too!