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!)

Gluten-Free Vacationing: I Did Not

Yesterday, I got home from an amazing vacation. Planes, trains, and automobiles (and even a ship!) took us on a nearly 8,000 mile roundtrip vacation. We saw glaciers, seals, redwoods, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and a whole lot more as we traveled through Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon, and California. I could talk about it for days, but for the moment, I’ll just share what I ate. And that was a lot.

This is me in front of Parliament in Victoria. One of the rare moments I wasn’t eating.

In twelve days, I gained about six pounds. (Yikes!) My feeding frenzy started on a cruise, but truthfully, I think a gluten-free diet could successfully be done there. My mom pretty stringently stuck to a gluten-free diet (minus a couple cheats), and the crew was very accommodating. They took her order the night before for each meal, so they could prepare her food in a separate pan. Although the selection was not tremendous, the buffets were labeled with gluten-free options, and there was even gluten-free bread available. (It wasn’t as good as Udi’s, but it was nice to have.) Even I did okay in this portion of the trip. I cheated, but it was typically purposefully and not with complete abandon. I ate lots of meats, eggs, rice, potatoes, as much fish and seafood as I could get, fruits, and veggies. The key here was I ate A LOT. The A LOT happened to include a lot of healthy stuff, mixed in with more special-occasion cheating than normal.

Traveling off the ship was another story. For our first lunch I was golden. Chicken, rice, and salad. Then we got on a train. We were supposed to be on the train for about six and a half hours. We were going to eat a very late dinner when we got to Eugene, but twelve miles south of Portland, we got stopped behind a broken down freight train for two and half hours . . .

Have you ever eaten in Amtrak’s dining car? If there’s a fancy one, it wasn’t on our train. Chips, candy, a couple sandwiches, and microwaved dinners were on the menu. They did have some Tillamook cheese, though, Oregon friends! That was our snack before we realized were going to have to eat supper there too. Turns out they didn’t have any gluten-free microwaved cheeseburgers on that particular train.

After we picked up our rental, somewhere in the vicinity of 1:00 a.m., I scarfed down a sandwich from McDonald’s. There were a few healthy bites along the rest of the trip, but mostly, I got rather lazy. I have the privilege of not having to be gluten-free, so if I decide to inhale a bowl clam chowder, and the bread bowl it came in, I can do so, and it mostly only affects my waistline. However, my laziness aside, there were several situations that made gluten-free eating pretty challenging:

1. Traveling via plane and then continuing travel without access to a refrigerator.
2. Being stuck on a train. For a long time.
3. Road-tripping through rather remote parts of the country. I would not have considered northern and north-central California remote until we drove through it. One day I ate Ho-Hos and Pringles for lunch. Again, lazy, but in my defense, the Shell station was about the most enticing place I saw between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Who knew??

Do you have gluten-free vacationing tips? If so, I would love to hear them. My mom is probably going to have to undergo some more testing, but she has a new doctor who is convinced she has Celiac, and I really just tend to feel better without gluten. As much as I enjoyed some of my indulging, I’m looking forward to getting back to healthier, more balanced, and gluten-free eating. Please share your tips! I’d love to hear them!

Wendy’s Now Offers Baked Sweet Potatoes

On yet another road trip, I was pretty thrilled to discover that Wendy’s now offers baked sweet potatoes as a side. I’m currently on the dreaded phase one, minus apples, bananas, melons, and gasp—all sweeteners. But, as a trade for apples and bananas, Dr. Jana said I could have sweet potatoes and quinoa.


I’m happy to report; it was delicious! I didn’t put any of the cinnamon butter or their “buttery spread” and it was still very good.

We travel pretty regularly, so another gluten-free fast food option is fantastic.

Not that I’m above cheating. Stay tuned for my confession of my glorious weekend of fail in Chicago. Cheating at the Italian Village in Chicago is far more rewarding than cheating at Wendy’s.