Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tips for Gluten Free Cooking


I have a friend with celiac disease that regularly eats with us. With the gluten free diet being a sort of craze at the moment, more people are understanding of the diet of a person with celiac. What people may not understand is just how very sensitive to gluten a person with celiac can be, and how much care needs to be taken in preparing their food.

A person with celiac cannot even walk into a bakery because there is wheat flour all in the air.

A person with celiac has to be careful with cosmetics. Did you know most lipstick contains gluten?

There are many hidden sources of gluten and you have to be very skilled reading labels and even calling manufacturers to determine if a product has gluten.

A person with celiac can have a gluten reaction just by eating food that has touched something that touched gluten. Cross contamination is dangerous for them. My friend explains it this way - pretend that gluten is like raw chicken. Everything that gluten touches becomes contaminated for her and will potentially make her sick. Can she eat broccoli? Yes, there is no gluten in broccoli. But what if the person cooking cut raw chicken on a cutting board, and then cut up the broccoli on the same cutting board without washing it? Yuck! We all know that would be dangerous. That is the way it is with gluten. What if someone sets the raw broccoli on the counter where there are some tiny little breadcrumbs? This could make a person with celiac very, very sick.

So if you know someone with celiacs disease, try to be understanding and supportive of them. They have a difficult life. They have to bring their own food everywhere they go and it is difficult not to be paranoid. Don't take it personally if they don't just take your word for it when you say that something is gluten free.

Now, if you *do* want to cook for someone with celiac's disease, I'll share what I have learned about how to prepare their food safely. I am by no means an expert, but I have some experience with food allergies within my own family, and have learned as much as I can so we can still enjoy hospitality and fellowship over a meal with one of our dear friends who just happens to have celiac disease.

  • It can be overwhelming to plan what to have for a meal at first. If you stick with meat, rice, salad, and vegetables, you likely cannot go wrong. Our friend also loves beans and rice, so we often have refried beans, spanish rice, and corn tortillas for her.
  • Fresh fruit and ice cream makes an easy and tasty GF dessert. Just make sure the ice cream doesn't have gluten - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry *should* be fine, but watch out for flavors with cookies and such in the mix.
  • I keep a bag of gluten free pasta, gluten free oats, and gluten free all purpose flour mix in the freezer and have experimented with cooking and baking with these. Oats *are* generally gluten free, but are usually processed with wheat products and can be contaminated. I like Bob's Red Mill brand and our local grocery store carries these. Baking is tricky, because GF foods don't have stretchiness in them. A crumble topping is very do-able. A GF pie crust? Not for the novice!
  • Keep a very clean kitchen/dining area! Take care to keep all work and eating surfaces very clean. I go around and clean up toddler crumbs before our friend arrives.
  • Beware of cross-contamination! In making GF pancakes along with regular pancakes, I used separate utensils all along the way. I even flipped the pancakes with separate spatulas and used two separate pans. I recommend always cooking the GF food FIRST and setting it aside in its own dish or plate so it won't touch food with gluten. Why not make GF for everyone? Well, GF ingredients are quite expensive, so I try to save them for our friend.
  • Rice and Corn Chex cereal are gluten free. You can crush it to substitute for bread crumbs.
  • Look at the setup in your kitchen. I realized that my knife rack was next to my two flour canisters and flour could contaminate the knives. I rearranged the countertop so gluten free canisters like corn meal and rice were next to the knives.
  • LaChoy and Braggs Liquid Aminos are good GF options for soy sauce.
  • Beware of broth. Look carefully at labels of storebought bouillon and broth - I use the Better than Bouillon brand, but again, read carefully, as some of the flavors are thickened with products with gluten. You can make you own, but do be sure the chicken pieces did not come into contact with gluten or wheat flour.
  • A note on gluten free communion bread... I have heard many Christians question why a person would need their own bit of gluten free communion bread. After all, it is such a tiny bite once a week, can't a person with celiac handle that? No. They cannot. Try to understand that if they have communion bread with gluten, they will be doubled over in pain with awful digestive issues for several days after. Think of it this way, would you eat just a tiny piece of raw chicken once a week? What if people gave you a hard time because you didn't want to do that while they got to eat safe, cooked chicken. This is not just a sensitivity, it is a serious matter for a person with celiac. Please don't mock someone as a hypochondriac for having a hangup over the communion bread, and especially do not judge their values or their commitment to Christ when they need to have their own GF communion bread. We need to be understanding and supportive.
I only have a few tried and true recipes up for now, but here are some that have been very successful for us:
I don't claim to know everything, but this is what I have learned so far. Hoping this is helpful for some of my readers, and if you have any tips to share, by all means, leave a comment.


  1. What a wonderful friend you are! Do you know a good gluten-free communion bread recipe?

  2. This is a wonderful post. As a celiac, I greatly appreciate people like you who make an effort to make life a little bit easier for us :-)

  3. Dear Churchmouse,

    Thank you so much for your sensitivity and suggestions. Myself and one of my sisters both have gluten sensitivity (though not to the degree of celiacs disease) and my seven year old niece has severe gluten and dairy allergies; both of which leave her as you aptly put it "doubled over in pain with awful digestive issues for several days after" after eating either. There have been times when I wanted to cry for her as she often has to refuse delicious food offered by well meaning friends and adults. Sadly, many people roll their eyes, get offended, etc. and chalk it up to suggestibility or hype. Your celiac friends are blessed to have you in their lives!

  4. Thank you Prisca! It is difficult living with food allergies, I know because my son is allergic to dairy, so while he was nursing, I had to cut out all dairy too. Living through that experience and seeing his pain when we messed up has helped me to understand better. It is especially hard for children, I think, so I really feel for your niece. Thank you for reading and sharing!


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