Today I am very stiff and sore so I am going to keep this short. I woke up early, but was able to get back to sleep for a few hours. The girls rode their bikes to school so I helped them get their lunches ready by chopping up and steaming vegetables for them. This got me to thinking. There are a lot of people who have told me that gluten free food is expensive, and more people who have mentioned that it would be so hard to be gluten, egg, dairy, and potato free. This is true if you are unprepared for this type of thinking, but once you explore what you can eat, it becomes a matter of changing your thought patterns and shopping habits. Today's list is easy meals that will not break your budget.
1. Spaghetti squash. It doesn't get much easier than wash and bake. Once your squash has cooled, remove insides with a fork, and serve, with, or without spaghetti sauce. I prefer to drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. You can also try flavoring it with Italian seasoning, dried kelp, or topping it with other steamed vegetables. It can be a main course, or a side, and it is cheap, easy, and nutritious.
2. Salad. I don't eat as much salad as I would like to, especially in winter. It's cold and I'm cold so I prefer warmer foods, but salad is a quick and easy meal that you can assemble in a matter of minutes. Today my youngest is taking a salad made with romaine lettuce, carrots, and celery, but you can go wild with toppings and not feel the slightest bit guilty about your crunchy raw sprouts and veggies.
3. Baked or roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans. You can substitute other veggies, but my kids both like green beans so we eat a lot of them. Put your potatoes in with the meat, and supper will be ready when your items come out of the oven. This literally takes less than five minutes to prepare if you use frozen green beans. Cooking time will be longer, but the prep is dead simple.
4. Stew. The other night my daughter and I made beef stew with a chuck roast I bought. We browned onions, celery, carrots, and parsnips and deglazed our pan with red wine which I thought gave it a nice flavor. I did drop the meat on the floor, but we were able to rescue it and now we can look back and laugh at that together. Cooking for people on restricted diets can be fun if you go into it with that mentality, try it sometime, you'll see what I mean.
5. Soup. For ease, simplicity, frugality, and flavor, it is hard to beat soup as you can use leftover veggies and pieces of meat to create a warm and nourishing meal for yourself or a loved one. Suppose that you have made the previous meals. If you have leftover green beans and chicken, you can chop onions, carrots, and celery, throw them in a pot, and add some chicken stock for a meal that hasn't taken much time or effort on your part. I make my own stock, and I'd encourage you to learn too if you don't already.
6. Rice bowls. My aunt likes to remind me that there are huge populations of people who consume little, if any wheat. Rice is the main grain in Asia, and it's another very easy item to prepare in bulk. We make white rice in our rice cooker, and brown rice on the stove. Today my oldest daughter took a serving of brown rice topped with peas, parsnips, and steamed spinach that I snuck in at the last minute. You can top rice with just about anything, I like it with steamed vegetables, and tofu for extra protein.
7. Fish. Cooks in a fraction of the time needed for chicken and beef, and is a nice break from those as well. I love poached fish with steamed or raw vegetables. Orange roughy is my favorite, it's pricey, but worth it to me. My oldest likes canned tuna, and sometimes I buy wild caught frozen salmon for her. After it's thawed I broil it and squeeze lemon on top, but don't let that one suggestion stop you from trying other ways to prepare it.
8. Tacos. A lot of gluten free tortilla chips are on the market these days. We open a can of refried beans and top them with whatever people would like. My oldest likes olives and fresh pico de gallo, my youngest prefers red peppers to the tomatoes. You can even get adventuresome and make your own tortillas. I would like a tortilla press, but the flattened corn is tasty and sometimes we eat these as pancakes with syrup.
9. Beans and rice, rice and beans. I have a cookbook that features different combinations of rice and legumes. When we have leftover rice, I will chop some onions and garlic along with carrots and celery, add rice to those, and work with whatever we happen to have in our pantry. You can make Spanish rice, dirty rice, or an Italian style risotto. Try lentils, or skip the combo and try a hearty dish of home made baked beans. I love red beans and rice, but feel free to create your own pairings. With the varieties of rice and beans out there, you could probably eat this for a month straight without repeats.
10. Wraps. My youngest daughter loves it when I grate carrots, dice leftover chicken, and heat them for a bit on the stove in a small amount of oil. We take this mixture, put it on romaine lettuce leaves, and she can put away a couple of these. My oldest daughter is not a fan, but wraps are a nice way to get leafy greens into people without making a salad. Just about anything you can put between two slices of bread can go into a wrap so try different things to see what works best for you. When I make veggie wraps I make long thin cuts so carrots, peppers, cucumbers, and avocadoes will lie neatly inside of the lettuce leaves. Don't forget that people tend to grab what's in front of them. I like to set out a plate or platter of fruit or veggies so people can nibble on those until the next meal is served.
We didn't cover snacks, but there is an endless abundance here too. We haven't touched things like sushi or miso soup which can be purchased without barley. There are adaptations to be made when you cook and eat like this, but as you just saw, you can make quite a few meals without resorting to expensive prepackaged items like gluten free bread which is usually not good anyways. I know what it's like to be sick and have major digestive issues, to be exhausted and frustrated, and to buy things that don't turn out and your family hates. You will have bad days and want to give up, but for some of us, gluten free is a mandatory lifestyle change that we can't afford to be lax about.
I find a lot of great cookbooks at thrift stores although I have also purchased some from book stores and even Amazon. Instead of trying to make baked goods like cornbread and cookies without eggs, I try to find recipes where flour can be skipped. It was disappointing to eat broccoli soup the first time we couldn't use regular milk in it. We don't drink a lot of either soy or almond milk, and we all have severe Vitamin D deficiencies despite our diets. Having a disease means that your body doesn't work the way that it should. That sucks, it really does, but I am also profoundly grateful for the discovery because I am much better off in many ways than I was before these diagnoses.
We are meeting a new GI doctor on the 17th, and it's hard for my girls to understand what gluten and other foods that they are allergic to or intolerant of are doing to them, and sometimes, they just don't care. The world we live in is a crushing monstrosity of food type items that my children can't have, and navigating that and sticking to your safe foods can seem like an overwhelming and impossible task. It's not. Arm yourself with fortitude, find things besides food to take joy and get comfort from, and I promise you that if you resolve to eat cleaner, and make a conscious effort to do so, it will get easier as time passes. I don't exactly love tofu, but it's an inexpensive source of protein so I buy it and eat it. Food should be enjoyable, nutritious, and above all safe.
Don't let the negativity of others burden you, you have enough problems in your life already. Make it a point to bring things you can have to parties and events and people should respect your boundaries and your right to safe foods. I've ridden in an ambulance and have had friends take me to the emergency room after meals that we thought were okay at a restaurant. You are not being rude by questioning what is on a menu or in things. When in doubt, skip it. Fresh fruit, plain veggies, and meats are all safe until someone cross contaminates them. You can't afford to take the chance that someone else didn't accidentally stir something with a spoon they used for another dish you can't have. This too sucks, but just remember, it could save your life.
Until next time,