Any sort of major dietary change takes some preparation and thinking ahead, and gluten-free is certainly no exception. Breads, pastas, and other flour-based items may often play such a major role in rounding out our meals that it can be hard to think of foods with which to fill the gap. And many convenience foods contain wheat and gluten, making it tough for busy families trying to get dinner on the table. But it’s not as daunting as it may seem. Although preparing gluten-free dinners can take some advance planning, it can become second nature. Here are some tips to help you get started on the right track, especially if you’re living with diabetes.
Not all gluten-free foods are created equal
Just because something is free of gluten doesn’t automatically mean that it’s healthy. Many pre-packaged gluten-free breads, pastas, and mixes are often full of refined carbohydrates and sugar, sometimes even more than their gluten-filled counterparts. Swapping one white starch for another isn’t going to help you on your quest for an improved diet. Make a point of reading the food labels and use these things in moderation, just as you would any wheat-based product.
Get back to nature
Use this as an opportunity to increase your intake of naturally gluten-free foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Instead of a starchy side, such as bread or pasta, add a second serving of steamed or roasted veggies. Fill up on salad before you dig into the entrée. Most of us should be doing this regardless of whether we are trying to be gluten-free or not, so there’s no time like the present!
Try to think outside the box when it comes to your ingredients. Many vegetables are far more versatile than we give them credit for. Thin slices of eggplant make a great alternative to lasagna noodles. Spaghetti squash and zucchini strips are delicious with a hearty pasta sauce, and large lettuce leaves can make wonderful crunchy wraps. There are even pizza crust recipes based on cauliflower and zucchini, so you can load them up with your favorite toppings without the gluten guilt.
Chicken tenders, fish sticks, and other family favorites are typically coated with breadcrumbs. Although there are gluten-free versions available on the market, they tend to be expensive and not necessarily healthier. I highly recommend making your own versions at home, and breading them in ground or finely chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts, or pecans. A quick dip in an egg wash helps the nut crust adhere to the surface. Not only might this save money, it can add a wonderful depth of flavor, as well.
Try out new grains
If you love whole grains and still want to include them in your dinner menu, use some caution. Gluten is sometimes found in other grains, such as barley, rye, and some oats. Gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, corn, and rice are better options, but all of these are still high in carbohydrates and will need to be factored into your nutritional counts and meal plan.
Go for flavor
Gluten-free foods sometimes have a reputation for being bland and tasteless, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Win your family over to gluten-free by making sure your recipes include flavors everyone loves. In my house, a little cheese and garlic go a long way, and herbs and spices make foods more satisfying, and some may offer their own health benefits, too.
Bake your own
Craving bread or biscuits with your dinner? Search the internet for gluten-free quick bread recipes (and get gluten-free baking tips here), because there are plenty of them out there and many are made with healthful ingredients like nut flours and flax seed meal. You might not miss the wheat bread one bit.
Read your labels
As always, keep your eye out for gluten in unexpected places. It’s used as a thickener in many prepared salad dressings and sauces, and may be found in many soy products – and even in certain spices and spice blends – to prevent clumping. If the label doesn’t say gluten-free, it may still contain traces of wheat or gluten that aren’t listed in the ingredients.
It’s a gluten-filled world out there, but if you’d like to cut down or eliminate gluten from your dinner table, it doesn’t need to be an insurmountable challenge. Plan ahead and focus on fresh, whole foods prepared in new and different ways. It can be a delicious and healthy improvement.
Carolyn Ketchum is a writer, runner, and the mastermind behind All Day I Dream About Food, a mostly low-carb, gluten-free food blog. She has a Master’s degree in physical anthropology and an extensive background in higher education administration. Ketchum is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience