Eleven Easy Gluten-Free Go-Tos

My little sister, Ellen, has been on a path toward becoming gluten- and dairy-free, which has significantly improved her health issues. When she cooks for herself and strictly monitors for cross-contamination, the golden age of GF living reveals all its rewards. One smidgen of gluten though . . . and she’s a goner. When we were together at Christmas, I told her I’d work on a cheat sheet for quick grocery store purchases and safe items at the restaurants she has access to. Many of these are based on what’s close to my office as well–crappy fast-food where I am able to find gluten-friendly fare. I don’t condone a great deal of eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants, because home-cooking is really the only way to monitor quality of ingredients, but reality is that I will be too rushed to make my lunch two days out of the week. It’s good to be aware of my g-free options, even if they aren’t super healthy. (Links below are to the allergen pages for each restaurant/manufacturer so you can scope out the menu items that will work best for you.)

  1. Costco Rotisserie Chicken. $4.99 for a whole cooked chicken. Boom. Most of the time, you can’t even buy a raw chicken for that amount, never mind the hassle and expense of cooking it. A lonely girl like me can get a good four to five meals out of this lovely seasoned bird, and I freeze the carcasses to make my own GF chicken stock down the road. Check the label next time you’re in the store. It says gluten-free in red letters across the bottom. Holla!
  2. Wendy’s. Gluten-friendly items include the baked potato, chili, hamburger patties, and side salads (watch it with the dressings and no breaded chicken!). Sadly, Wendy’s fries are not listed as GF because they are cooked in the same oil as breaded items.
  3. Chick-fil-A. This is no help for my sister, but I want to marry Chick-fil-A sauce, so I’m putting it on the list: chargrilled chicken salad (amen), waffle fries (the choir crescendos!), Chick-fil-A sauce (a downright religious experience). Add a half-sweet half-unsweet tea, and I could die a happy woman.
  4. Qdoba or Chipotle. I don’t love Mexican. Therefore I don’t love these places. But a rice/bean/meat/veggie bowl works in a pinch, and these places make it easy to eat g-free.
  5. Gluten-Free Waffles (Van’s are my favorite). When I first cut out gluten, I ate these for dinner three nights a week. A little butter, almond butter, and a handful of raspberries, along with a couple poached eggs, made for a perfectly satisfying meal. I watch for BOGO sales and keep a couple boxes in my freezer at all times.
  6. Brown rice cakes. GF bread is spendy, and I really don’t like it unless it’s toasted. Brown rice cakes are a great vehicle for albacore with pesto and veggies, turkey and goat cheese, or whatever you might normally put in a sandwich.
  7. Kind Bars. I eat one of these nearly every morning. I only love two or three flavors (the rest are too sweet for me), and I buy those by the box through Amazon Subscribe-and-Save.
  8. Sonic. I don’t love Sonic, but in a pinch, it’s good to know you can get something that won’t derail your lifestyle. Hamburger patties, tots, and fries should be safe.
  9. Arby’s. Arby’s has a fairly comprehensive allergen sheet with some good options, including roast beef and roast turkey, side salad, and roast turkey chophouse salad. Steer clear of the fries!
  10. Quinoa. By the truckload. Almost daily. I have grown to love quinoa more than any kind of rice. I make a double batch with chicken stock on Sundays and use it throughout the week–as a heated side, cold on salads as a shot of filling protein, mooshed together and lightly fried alongside a veggie scramble, etc. Buy at Costco if possible–way cheaper!
  11. Canned soups and stock. Let’s be honest. I am not going to cook soup from scratch every week. Some nights I am going to drag my sorry rear home at 7:00 and reach for a can of soup. Thank the Lord in heaven there are options. (Are you paying attention to this one, Ellen?) Progresso has an assortment of g-free soups. Skip the creamy soups if you’re dairy-free as well. Add a piece of GF toast with tomato slices and crumbled goat cheese on top, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, and this isn’t a half-bad meal. (Also worth noting is Campbell’s allergen document. If you don’t have access to a Whole Foods, which believe it or not, many people don’t, it’s good to know that your standard grocery store carries GF chicken stock, a staple in my kitchen.

Next time around, which will likely be in three months since that’s the frequency of posting I seem capable of, I’ll get together a list of my favorite gluten- and dairy-free bottled salad dressings–another of the challenges for someone new to this lifestyle change. (I promise I won’t wait that long, sis!)

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Wellness Part 1: Connecting with June Cleaver

Molly and Jen recently taught me to knit. It’s very exciting. During our weekly knitting lunch, I looked at Molly and exclaimed, “Ooh! I can make my own dishcloths! How domestic will that make me?”

To which Molly gently replied as only a good friend could, “Maybe you should just try making your husband dinner first.” Touché, Molly. Touché.

I have a tendency to get really busy and then really lazy about certain things. Between extra doses of travel and company this fall, Josh’s busy schedule, our very different diets, and me rarely being home before 6:30, we’ve pretty much kissed home-cooked meals goodbye. I was hardly June Cleaver to start with, so I’ve got some work to do. Molly and I laughed really hard at her joke, but I’m actually trying to put it into practice. At least a couple times a week, anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about living intentionally and about the most important things in life. Molly’s 30 list is inspiring me to take another look at my list and be a little more proactive about it. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about wellness and what that means. Is it possible that a homemade dinner at the table can contribute to wellness? I think so. Here are four areas of life I’ve been mulling over a lot lately.

In no particular order . . . except that food is first because that’s mostly what this blog is about . . . here are four areas that I want to really be intentional about in my life:

  1. Diet. Not the four-letter version of that word, as in “I’m on a diet.” If you’re on a diet, may I be blunt? Stop being on a diet. I mean “diet” as in what you eat and drink on a regular basis. Our well-being is so tied to what we put into our bodies. It’s actually shocking how this affects us, but hang on, I’ll address more about that in a minute.
  2. Exercise. Move it or lose it seems to be a pretty accurate adage. If you want to be mobile when you’re 80 you have to be mobile when you’re 30. That means I have got to stop hitting my snooze alarm.
  3. Spiritual and Emotional Health. This might be two, but I’m going to lump them together. For me, they are intricately connected. Two words: Be Still. I need so much work on this it’s ridiculous.
  4. Relational Health. Turns out people really affect us. And we affect them. It might as well be for good.

So let’s chat about the first one today.

1. Diet

If you’ve spent some time on this blog you know that Molly has to be gluten-free, Jen mostly has to be gluten-free, and I just tend to feel better when I’m gluten-free. But this is about more than not eating gluten; it’s also about eating things that are really good for you.

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

That’s brilliant. And I believe it. It’s become my mom’s mantra as she is battling some severe health issues. I’ve seen it transform my dad’s life. Molly, Jen, Lisa. I could go on. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need actual medicine. But sometimes just changing what we eat and drink can be life changing.

Here’s the thing. Healthy diets can look a little different for everyone. It’s a matter of finding what works best for your body and being pretty diligent to live that way 85% of the time. Cut some bad stuff and add some good stuff.

Adding good stuff is key, but here are a few positive things I’ve experienced or heard of others who have experienced from cutting the gluten.

  • Weight loss and maintenance. I have been consistently 11 to 14 pounds lighter since I’ve cut most of the gluten from my diet ten months ago.
  • Allergy relief. Some people actually get relief from other allergies by cutting gluten from their diets.
  • Improved mental health. People with depression and even things like autism notice improvement from being gluten-free.
  • Being happy. One of my mom’s doctors told her recently that the human body’s intestinal tract has more serotonin receptors than the brain. Serotonin leads to feelings of well-being and happiness. Don’t smash your receptors! Don’t clog them, block them, or smother them. When I’m really dedicated and intentional about my diet (and for me that means being gluten-free), there are days you can’t smack the smile off my face. When I’m not, well, it’s touch and go.
  • Improved digestive health. If you have any kind of digestive problem, I highly recommend trying gluten-free living. Indigestion, heartburn, bloating, feeling too full. Whatever your problemo is, I have personally felt a lot better, and I know others who’ve had the same experience.

It’s not easy to change. It’s not easy to live intentionally. But life flies by so quickly. I want to soak up every last good drop of it. So I’m going to work to cook homemade meals at least twice a week. Pitiful? Yes, a little, but progress. June Cleaver? Hardly, but I like leftovers.

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I’m going to take a page from Molly’s book and do some crock-potting. That’s what I’ve done that last couple weeks, and it seems like a good fit for those of us who spend more time in the office than in the kitchen. Do any of you busy folks have some tricks and tips for preparing healthy meals on a regular basis? Do you have a life-changing food experience? I’d love to hear about them.

The Grim, Hypoallergenic Soup, and an Allergy Attack!

For those of you out there with severe allergies, there is no worse feeling in the world then that moment your throat begins to close and you realize you’ve eaten or been exposed to something on your severe allergy list. It happened to me yesterday.

A sweet and every well-meaning co-worker had made gluten-free, corn-free chocolate chip cookies. They were delicious. But I’d eaten almost the whole cookie when I heard her tell another co-worker that she’d used applesauce in place of sugar. I immediately threw away the rest of the cookie, but the damage had been done. I’m very allergic to apples, so I popped a half of a Benadryl®. But twenty minutes later, my throat and tongue started to swell and I could feel my face getting bigger. Another half a Benadryl® and another twenty minutes later, and I had to go home and take another (I don’t drive if I have to take more than one, so I went home before I took #2). As I turned down my street (which faces a large park) I saw a huge black dog all alone in the park under some trees. At that point, I had enough medicine actively working in me that, combined with the fact that I had just re-read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban over the weekend, my first thought was, “OMG! It’s a Grim! I’m going to die.” Yes, I know: nerd alert!

Luckily, my mom was able to meet me there to make sure I didn’t need to go to the hospital. And clearly, the black shaggy dog did not mean my demise was imminent since I’m writing this to you now. The second full Benadryl® did the trick, but I was essentially passed out until this morning, when I groggily got up and made my way out to vote and go to work. But I know I’ll be taking a half a Benadryl® morning and night for the next week to three weeks as the hives continue and my body slowly, but surely recovers. Bummer, huh?

But the whole thing got me thinking about what would have happened if I didn’t find out about the apples right away and had gotten really sick at work. The “Grim” I saw may have been a little more terrifying then! So I thought I should share my reaction plan with y’all and see if you have any other tips or tricks for dealing with a bad reaction.

Molly’s Allergy Attack Plan:

  1. As soon as I start feeling a reaction, I tell someone–preferably more than just one person. I also show them my EpiPen® and explain how it works if they don’t already know. (Multiple family members, friends, and co-workers have had this demonstration and know the drill already). If I’m alone, I call everyone I can think of within driving distance until someone agrees to come over and watch me.
  2. I take a half a Benadryl® and give it 20 minutes to kick in. If I’m still feeling it after 20 minutes, I take another half. If, after 40 minutes and a whole pill, I’m still feeling it, I get myself to somewhere I can sleep and take another pill.
  3. If within 20 minutes of taking the second Benadryl®, I am still feeling reactive (and not just sleepy from the medicine), I immediately go to the ER and get treatment.
  4. Once I have the most immediate symptoms of the reaction under control, I generally sleep for the next 12-15 hours. I do ask that my husband wake me to make sure I get lots of fluids and eat something super-safe. I’ve found that drinking plenty of water helps reduce symptoms and helps my body recover more quickly.
  5. I stick to very safe foods (like the recipe below) for the next few weeks, knowing my body will be more reactive than usual until it recovers from the bad attack. This means no eating out and making sure I prepare everything I eat myself if at all possible. I usually have hives for several weeks after an attack, so I pop a half a Benadryl® morning and evening to help control the uncomfortable itching. I also try to get extra sleep and rest.

What about you? Do you do anything differently after an attack? I’d love any tips for a speedier recovery!

This time around, my awesome mom made me potato soup while she was keeping an eye on me to make sure the Benadryl® was working and I didn’t need further treatment. This is a go-to food for me when I’m reactive as I know nothing in it bothers me and it’s hydrating since it’s soup! Here’s the recipe:

Hypo-Allergenic Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Cups chopped potatoes
  • 3 Cups broth (I use Pacific Vegetable or Chicken Broth)
  • 1 Cup chopped onion
  • 1 Cup chopped celery
  • 1 Cup chopped, cooked chicken (I generally just pan-fry in a little olive oil)
  • Seasoning to taste–I like salt, pepper, cilantro leaves, organic poultry blend, thyme, or rosemary
  • Grated cheese (optional for serving)

Directions:

  1. Sauté onion and celery in olive oil until slightly translucent.
  2. Add chicken, potatoes, broth, and seasoning. Bring to a boil.
  3. Simmer soup for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Serve with grated cheese

Voila! Easy, delicious, and safe. Perfect for recuperating with a good book, like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, just don’t let your imagination run away with you like mine did!