It’s challenging. First of all, my son isn’t a celiac, but his usual thoughtful and helpful attitude disappears entirely when he eats gluten. Instead of using his words, he becomes atavistic communicating with grunts, whines, and monotone cries. He breaks out with rashes in various places, which I know are painful. He isn’t comfortable and he isn’t himself. And it is challenging for my husband and I to deal with this side of him.
I also experience huge health problems when I indulge in eating gluten. Besides the “weighed down” feeling and the sleepiness, it makes my asthma and skin problems flare up. But even knowing the health benefits of avoiding wheat flour and other sources of gluten first-hand, it takes extra work as a mom to check labels diligently and to keep healthy gluten-free alternatives stocked at home and school.
At the Grocery Store
Living in a city like Madison is great when you have to buy foods ready-to-eat that are healthy as well as gluten-free. With stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the Willy Street Co-op, it is really easy to find a lot of new gluten-free products to try. But just in the last two years, I have found the availability of gluten-free products in my local Woodman’s and Target has exploded! I can now make gluten-free pancakes and make my mother’s classic velvet crumb cake with gluten-free Bisquick.
But gluten-free indulgences aside, the produce department has always been my first source of finding gluten-free alternatives. Instead of using gluten-free spaghetti noodles, I use a julienne peeler with zucchini to create “zoodles” (which don’t require boiling water) and top them with marinara and seasoned meatballs. For snacks and dessert, my son will eat just about any fruit, but he loves ripe bananas and fresh blueberries. He likes to eat his sweet peas cooked, seasoned with some butter and pepper. He likes just about any cooked vegetable with a little butter and some sea salt and black pepper.
Pre-made and packaged snacks, treats, and foods can be expensive, especially gluten-free versions of the gluten-y foods we all know and love. Finding recipes that are paleo or gluten-free isn’t too difficult, but finding the good ones or resources to get you started can be a challenge. This is what I do.
Google is my friend and Google can be your friend, too. One of my favorite pre-paleo/pre-gluten-free treats was the seven layer bar or magic bars or killer bars. So delicious! I found several different recipes to try just by searching “Paleo seven layer bar.”
Amazon is also a surprisingly great resource for recipes. I often can search for free e-books with terms like “Paleo” or “Gluten-free” (See my screenshot).
Once you have tried a few recipes, you might start to notice the same cooks or bloggers have some of the same great recipes time after time–follow them on Facebook or subscribe to their blog. Or in some cases, buy their cookbooks! I have found many great gluten-free alternative recipes that were posted by bloggers on Facebook. And while I don’t use my cookbooks as often as I used to, I do lend them out to my friends and family all the time.
Get creative. People have different degrees of skill when it comes to cooking. I grew up watching my mom bake and cook. She rarely had a recipe to reference and she rarely measured things precisely (which made my Home Ec class baffling to me in high school). I cook the same way. And I am finding it easier to try new things or throw some ingredients together to get a delicious dish (just don’t ask for the recipe since I don’t know the measurements).
Finally, let’s talk about those really special occasions. My son just celebrated his second birthday with all his friends at daycare. He is usually left out when other parents bring in cupcakes to celebrate, so it was important to me to allow him to feel as special as everyone else for his birthday. But I couldn’t bake and bring in cupcakes because of our daycare’s food policy. So I needed to find a local bakery that make delicious gluten-free cupcakes that still tasted amazing. I went to Bloom Bake Shop in Middleton after taste-testing a few of their gluten-free flavors as a family. I would highly recommend their bakery for gluten-free treats for kids and adults a like.
What about eating out? Instead of giving you a list of places in Madison that offer a gluten-free menu, I do my research first. You are going to have some favorite places to eat that you might have to adapt your usual meal a bit to accommodate a gluten-free diet. Other places are really great about having a gluten-free selection. I will give you a list of my favorites and how I eat there gluten-free*.
Red Robin – a family favorite. My husband and I order our burgers with the gluten-free bun or they also offer a lettuce wrap. My son doesn’t require a bun and he can have some broccoli as a side.
Culvers – another burger place. My son and I go bunless. I add lettuce, tomato and pickles and replace my fries with a side salad (to get a fork and knife).
Panera – seems like a trap, especially with one right next to work, but check out their hidden menu!
Buffalo Wild Wings – Naked Tenders all the way!
Nitty Gritty – also has a gluten-free bun option. I love their Grass Fed burger!
Chipotle – Order the salad or burrito bowl. I get the Carnitas salad with sauteed veggies and share it with my son.
Milios or Jimmy Johns – Milios now offers a lettuce wrap and Jimmy Johns has the unwich, also a lettuce wrap. When ordering a lettuce wrap from either one, I always add some extra meat and cheese.
* I CANNOT guarantee that these places have a separate gluten-free food preparation area.
So, yes, it is a challenge to accommodate a diet that doesn’t fit into what I grew up eating and what everyone else eats. But when my son is able to play with his little sister and sit through reading a book and when he watches me cook and tries to cook up his own treats, I know it is worth it!
Here are some of my favorite Paleo and Gluten-Free Food Bloggers with many delicious recipes online (but also look into buying their books!):