Going gluten free is no picnic. Because wheat products have wormed themselves so deeply into our everyday cuisine, the prospect of going without them forever can be quite terrifying (in my experience at least), and many of us resist the change until the nasty symptoms that we, or members of our family, are suffering are no longer worth the pleasure of eating our favourite pastries, breads and pasta dishes.
Of course there are gluten-free substitutes but they do require a little bit of adjustment and are not usually available when you go out.
In my case it was my child’s significant and prolonged failure to gain weight and a few worrying behavoural traits that triggered the change in my family, and when I went along with it for his sake I discovered that some very crippling stomach aches I had been suffering on and off for years just vanished. (He and I both test negative for coeliac by the way.)
We tried eliminating everything else in his diet first (yes I was in gluten-sensitivity denial along with our Paediatrician at the time) and then when none of these made any marked difference, out went gluten, and on poured the weight. He also almost immediately began eating a wider variety of foods.
While these results make our sacrifices worthwhile, they were not always happy sacrifices let me tell you. One friend who had been trialling GF diet for her child suggested we used mashed potato as a base for most meals, but that didn’t work out for us as our fussy eater had always turned his nose up at mash and wasnt going to change his mind about that in a hurry.
My sister (and coblogger) had been trialling gluten free in her household too – but with much older children, the issues were very different. My challenge was that I had to try to duplicate all of my son’s daycare meals (two per day and snacks), which are proper warmed up, sit down affairs. And I had to do in a way he wouldn’t feel left out when the other kids were served up pizza and sausage rolls. We also had to cut out dairy (and no eggs allowed at daycare) which narrowed our options even further.
I could find very little help online with meal suggestions that would appeal to him and meet these criteria so we just muddled through and in the end we were a much healthier and happier family. (We will never go back)
Anyway to cut a very long story short – here are some of the ways we coped in the early days, and I hope this will prove useful for others taking this rather intimidating plunge into the gluten free waters.
With snacks, it was very much a case of trial and error. Wheat based sweet biscuits were switched for gluten free bikkies which are readily available in most supermarkets and tasted far better than anything I was able to concoct myself. Likewise savoury biscuits; there is quite a decent range in most supermarkets to choose from.
Little pots of fruit and jelly are also favourites on the menu, as are vegetable sticks and sliced meats (generally placed inside crackers or home made bread/toast).
With bread, we started out using commercial breads but because we couldnt have egg at daycare, and they were using preservatives in the bread, I decided to bake my own from commercial mixes, (it is as easy as cooking up a cake mix and you don’t even need a bread maker) and I found this tasted so much better than anything shop bought at the time.
These days we combine a loaf available in some supermarkets from the Dovedale for toast and I try to make my own bread to make sandwiches – or we use a nice GF loaf now available from our local pharmacy – which is nice for sandwiches if you give individual slices of bread a short blast in the microwave. (We find that many of the big commercial brands now use too many preservatives for our kids’ vulnerable systems).
Rolls etc we get ready made from the Schar or Livwell brands sold at a number of supermarkets and Harris Farm.
For breakfast cereal, we tested out a few in the supermarket, but settled on a one that was much more like rice bubbles and Freedom Foods has also recently upgraded their rice puff cereal recipe.
For pasta sauces, I concocted a basic white sause using gluten-free flour and home made stock/rice milk combination. To the sauce I would add some pureed vegetables (carrot, leek, celery, brussels). I then froze it in an ice cube tray and then transferred all the blocks in a freezer bag in the freezer – so when I wanted to use it I would just add about 5 or so blocks to a cup of cooked GF pasta as well as some small pieces of chicken or tuna to give it some substance.
I did the same with bolognaise sauce to provide some variety, and this meant I could whip up nutritious meals relatively fast. Mashed potato can also substitute for pasta if you want to create even more variety. (Yes I keep frozen pots of that in the freezer too!)
To ensure I always have cooked chicken on hand, I flatten any leftovers from our weekly roast into a pancake shape and store it in the freezer wrapped in freezer wrap and foil. This means I can snap small pieces off as I need it (you can do the same for any protein type substance – sausage, cooked pulses etc). Alternatively for non roast dinner types, sauted meat/veg can be cooked up on the spot to add to the sauce, and a tin of tuna is even simpler.
We also discovered our fussy boy liked rice noodles with the same sort of vege/chicken combination as above. I just soak the noodles in boiling water for a minute, drain and dry them (rotating them a bit in a colander every couple of minutes to get them nice and dry), and then add them to whatever veg I have fried with a dash of golden syrup (and later GF soy sauce when he could take a bit more salt in his diet). You can also get Changs ready made gluten free noodles in the supermarket too – which makes things a lot easier.
Another yummy, easy dish we discovered for him was a very simple fried rice which can be cooked up in about five minutes (I usually keep a few small portions of boiled rice in the freezer in order to create this dish). All I add to the defrosted rice is a little Tamari gluten free soy sauce in a frypan with finely grated carrot and small bits of chicken. You can also add peas etc if you want. So quick to make and a real favourite with Mr fussypants.
Sandwiches are also a popular option with home made bread which seems to stay nice as long as it is stored in the freezer (you need to give it a quick refresh in the microwave before you use it). We put ham, sliced chicken, spread etc on sandwiches and these always go down well. They will even store for a few hours as long as you keep the packaging fairly airtight.
Pizza is another favourite. We make our own bases from a packet mix (I usually make a big batch and then freeze a few portions of dough in balls in the freezer for when I need it). All you need to do is roll out the base and we usually add a little tomato paste, bacon/ham and chopped tomato. For a ready-made version, The Freedom Food pizza base is also nice – I can usually find it in my local Coles.
Sausage rolls have proved our nemesis for a very long time. I tried making my own puff pastry but even with packet mixes it was truly beyond my culinary skills. I realised at daycare my son was just peeling off the pastry anyway and gobbling up the sausage insude. Anyway it is now available in most supermarkets (not Woolies) in the freezer section near other gluten free goods, so no more discussion needed on that.
I usually just roll the pastry round a cooked sausage as a time saver (the ones we buy are quite tender) but obviously some sausages can be a bit of a choke hazard for younger kids so some people will prefer making up a traditional sausage filling. I cook the whole sausage roll and chop afterward to prevent the pastry drying out during cooking. (Both Pizza and sausage rolls can be stored in freezer for use later on).
There are also some great little chicken and fish nuggets from Bayview that you will find in the same part of the freezer in Coles and IGA.
Baked beans are another essential part of our diet. Most are gluten free (unless they say on the tin) and he loves them combined with mash (its about the only way I can get him to eat potato).
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In terms of dairy-free ingredients, fortunately our son loves Vitasoy Rice Milk so we can add that to our cookery, and a product called Cheezly has dairy and soy free cheeses which can substitute nicely (we just use the plain soy, dairy-free cheddar). You may have to hunt around to find someone nearby who sells it – I think Choices Bakery in Sydney does – as well as a number of vegan online food suppliers.
You might also find the following blog post interesting: Eating out on a Gluten Free Diet
For delicious stuff like cakes and biscuits, it really is a case of trial and error. I have found some great recipes now which I will always try to share with you here – but when I first got started, none of the recipes from books that I tried amounted to much (especially without added egg or dairy) so initially we got by using packet mixes and ready made products in the shops, and have stuck with the ones we like best.
easy meal ideas for kids.
You might also find the following blog post interesting: How to detoxify your diet