Going Gluten-Free: 6 Easy First Steps

When you’ve decided you’re going gluten free, you start in your kitchen. It’s Food Central, right? Whether it’s large or galley, stocked or empty, your new gluten free kitchen will be your safe zone. Your gluten free kitchen will become the place where you can always find and make yummy and safe gluten free foods. When your kitchen goes gluten free too, then you won’t be tempted to “cheat” by eating gluten–because there won’t be other options.

To create this safe zone, you need to set it up right from the beginning. Below are 7 tips to get you on the gluten free road quickly and easily.  Each step is crucial when you’re going gluten free.  Take the time to do it correctly, thoroughly, from the start. A solid foundation will make everything else fall into place with much less stress.

1. Clean Out and Reorganize to Make Your Pantry Gluten Free:

Most of us could use a good old-fashioned spring-cleaning in the pantry anyway, right? So use your gluten free transition as a kick in the pants to get you moving. Sit down with a big cardboard box and a trash bag. Put all the gluten-containing foods in the box. Put all the things that are expired or already opened in the trash bag. Now review the items with gluten in them. What are you really sad to see go? Make a list; this will form the beginning of your first gluten free grocery-shopping list. Take the box to your local homeless shelter or food bank and pat yourself on the back: you have now done a good thing for yourself and for others.

For the remaining gluten free foods, dedicate a section to your pantry or designate a cabinet to be entirely gluten free. If the whole house is going gluten free, well, that even easier! Thoroughly clean the surfaces of these cabinets and shelves. Make sure that no crumbs from the last bag of shredded wheat could find their way into your special gluten free foods. If anyone in your family is not going gluten free, you’ll need to designate a separate section or a cabinet for gluten-containing items. If they’ll be stored close by, use large clear plastic lidded bins to keep any errant gluten crumbs or spills off the gluten free foods.

2. Buy a New Toaster:

If you have ever tried to clean a toaster—I mean really clean a toaster—you know that it is nearly impossible to remove every last crumb.  Don’t even bother with this exercise in futility. Make an inexpensive, yet invaluable, investment in a new toaster – and some peace of mind.  If you have other gluten eaters in your household, dedicate this new toaster to only gluten free foods and attach a fun sticker or colored electrical tape to the toaster for a friendly reminder!

3. Double-Dipping Can Spread Gluten:

If possible, use condiments that come from squeeze bottles.  Otherwise, have a house rule that there is only one dip into a jar with any given utensil. Breadcrumbs hitchhike on peanut butter-laden knives, and can jump off and sit in the peanut butter jar. If the next person to use that peanut butter is gluten free, and those crumbs hitchhike their way back out on their knife, they’ll learn the hard way about the trouble with double dipping.

4. Replace Worn Out Pans That Harbor Gluten:

Many people suggest that you buy all new pans when going gluten free. They suggest keeping dedicated pans and utensils only for gluten free meal prep.  If this is possible with your budget and your kitchen storage, lucky you!  But for most of us, a whole new kitchen set (and finding a place to store it!) might not be practical. Instead, thoroughly examine any pans with worn surfaces, scratches or dents that could harbor food between uses. It’s probably time to replace them anyway, and going gluten free is the perfect excuse.

If you can separate any pans out for dedicated gluten free use, more power to you. I often recommend to my consulting clients that they identify these pans with brightly-colored electrical or duct tape wrapped around the handles. If you simply cannot dedicate pans for exclusive gluten free use, don’t worry. Just be sure to scrub the pans well and then wash them in a dishwasher using all washing and drying cycles. Your pans will be cleaner-than-clean, and also safe.

5. Become an Avid Label Reader to Avoid Gluten

If you’re serious about going gluten free, you need to be serious about becoming an expert food label reader! When you clean your pantry, use the opportunity to get good at label terminology. Get familiar with some of the many names for potential gluten sources like malt flavoring, malt vinegar or any unspecified thickeners, stabilizers, starches or flavorings. If these ingredients are wheat-based, wheat must be noted on the ingredient label; however, if they are barley or rye-based, they are not specifically required to be called out as such on the label.

What about products without gluten ingredients listed but not claiming to be gluten free? Some are likely safe — they could be “naturally” gluten free or the manufacturer didn’t want to make a GF claim for one reason or another. But other products may in fact contain gluten as part of something else listed. So how do you know? The best way to find out for sure is to contact the company directly through their website or customer service phone number. If they can’t give you a satisfactory answer, then opt against it; no food is worth the risk.

6. Everyone Eats the Same Foods, Together.

If part of your family is going gluten free, everyone in the family should be eating gluten free meals at home, together.

Once everyone tastes the delicious and easy foods available on your diet (trust me! just look through all the amazing gluten-free recipes on my site to get you started!), there will be no excuses! Furthermore, one of the easiest ways to stay on a gluten free diet is to have the support of your family and friends. If your family eats different foods at every meal, it will be much harder for you to stay on a gluten free diet and to remain positive about your new lifestyle.

Article by Jules Shepard, Gluten Free Expert

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