Rethinking The Dinner Table

Risotto Milanese

The first thing so many newly gluten-free folk do is try to recreate their gluten-indulging pasts. I think that’s a bad idea; it’s rough enough transitioning to a new lifestyle without constant (and not-very-satisfying) reminders of a past that won’t be coming back. I strongly advocate for making a clean break with your past eating habits, and I promise that following a gluten-free diet is much easier than you initially think.

Recently, I wrote about strategies for hitting the grocery store. Now I want to talk about strategies for eating great gluten-free meals. This will be an ongoing theme because I have discovered an incredible world of naturally gluten-free meals and recipes. In fact, it turns out most of the food out there is safe for us to eat…and once you start exploring, you’ll know what I mean!

The good news is this isn’t going to be an expensive transition. There are constant (and annoying) studies about the cost of the gluten-free diet. Most of these, I believe, focus entirely on gluten-free substitutes of non-gluten-free foods. If you avoid specialty foods, the gluten-free diet is not any more or any less expensive than any other diet.

And if you do it right, you will certainly eat a healthier, richer diet.

Here’s the deal: the cost of a gluten-free diet comes when you try to recreate the past. You will read many articles and recipes touting the deliciousness and ease of gluten-free baked goods — and that’s what we’re really talking about here. The truth is, yes, some of these recipes taste good, but they are not “the same”, and, generally, they are not as easy as advertised. I am not opposed to gluten-free baking, writ large, but I am very much an advocate of good-tasting food.

I am even more an advocate for getting dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time. I have a lot of admiration for bakers working to make gluten-free breads, etc super-tasty — and I’ve certainly used their recipes — but when it comes to time and money, I cannot say these are good choices, particularly if you work full time. Dinner should be delicious and fairly fast.

Which leads me back to my lead paragraph: we cannot eat gluten. We can’t. Barring some miracle, we never will. We can spend time pretending what we can enjoy is “the same”, but we will always know it isn’t. Gluten does things that all of our workarounds don’t. And, if you’re newly gluten free, you aren’t helping yourself adjust to your new life…and it’s a great new eating life!

This means meals that are naturally gluten free: the meat, veggies, and a carb like rice or potatoes standard is naturally, easily gluten free; most stews and braises are gluten free without modifying the recipes; soups and chilis are gluten free. Craving a big salad? Eliminate croutons, wonton strips, or other breads, and, voila!, gluten free.

This is what I mean by rethinking the dinner table. It’s time to build your meals around foods that are naturally, inherently gluten free rather than relying on gluten-free substitutes of old standbys. I want you to eat well. I want you to show your friends that you’re not deprived in the least. I want you to know that being gluten free is an opportunity, not a punishment.

What is the best advice you ever received when you started your gluten-free journey?

Tip of the Week

Keep certain gluten-free ingredients on hand for those “emergency dinner” nights, like, oh, when traffic refuses to move and you get home later than expected. For me, this is one of the rare times I break my no-specialty-food rule. I keep gluten-free pasta and sauce in my pantry, and I always have the makings for a green salad in the fridge (we eat a lot of greens in our house). Sometimes fast and easy is worth the cost.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

As I mentioned, most foods are naturally gluten free, and that where rethinking your dinner table comes in handy. Your pre-GF meals were likely pretty much gluten free without you realizing it. And there are lots of easy ways to modify certain recipes to be perfectly safe. We’ll get to those in time.

This week, I want to continue on the theme of easy, naturally gluten-free meals. On Friday nights, I carbo load, and one of my favorite ways to do that is by whipping up a risotto while talking to my husband. We chat, sip wine, and I stir my rice. It’s very relaxing.

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