You’ve received the news that your dear son or daughter has celiac disease. You might still be reeling with emotion, feeling overwhelmed, and even dreading the attempt at a strict gluten-free (GF) lifestyle. If you haven’t read my story, I’ve been where you are now with tears, 1001 questions, and all. I understand how distressing this season of life can be. Three years ago, I was stunned by my then seven-year-old son Noah’s diagnosis of celiac disease. Today, we’ve got celiac by the reins and I am here to help you on your child’s road to wellness.
The good news.
Thanks to the increase in celiac awareness, you’ll find an abundance of resources and suggestions to help you begin your family’s celiac journey. It’s unlikely that you’ll get all of the information you need in one place, but I assure you, it’s out there. Going what I call “celiac gluten-free” might seem daunting at first, but it gets easier and easier as you go.
Walking the road to wellness.
It’s best to begin with the most crucial part of this change—the safe eating part. You are your child’s lifeline and pathway to healing, and this all starts in the kitchen. Though I am grateful that you’re taking the time to read my suggestions for your partial or all-in gluten-free transition, I encourage you to read other notable resources for additional tips and tricks. (I’ve supplied links to a few of my favorites at the end of this article.)
Ready for your kitchen transformation?
(Sorry. No TV home-makeover surprises here, but you’ll have a great excuse to do some shopping!)
Operating a fully or partially gluten-free kitchen will take focus, so set a few hours aside and remove as many distractions as possible before tackling this first step. (This excludes enlisting the help of a good friend.) You’ll want to be mindful when preparing your celiac-safe kitchen, so I’d recommend that it be a no-kid zone while you’re in the throes of crumbs and woes. I surely thwarted Flour Mania ‘17 and a major cookie heist by reorganizing my kitchen when my little guys were in bed. And, I got to finish the last of the gluten-y treats without shame or having to share. Shhhhh!
Now, these next steps might seem extreme, but it’s important to know that most celiacs can only tolerate up to 10 milligrams of gluten per day, which equates to 1/350th of a slice of bread—a mere crumb! Gluten consumption beyond that amount can have adverse effects, so, you’ll want to eliminate as much exposure as possible in your kitchen and any other areas of your home.
1. Decide if your kitchen will be partially or entirely gluten-free. Of course, you can change your mind down the road, but you’ll need to commit to one or the other for your initial kitchen set-up. My family chose to have a strictly gluten-free kitchen at first and moved to a shared kitchen when Noah seemed accustomed to his new lifestyle and didn’t mind watching us eat foods that he couldn’t.
2. Regardless of your response to Step 1, you’ll need to do some serious cleaning. Again, crumbs matter! Sweep and wash the floors, as your child might not remember or understand that the beloved five-second-rule can no longer apply. Wipe down the inside of your refrigerator, cabinets, pantry, sink, and clean your oven—racks included. I’d suggest cleaning phones, keyboards, remotes, mouses, and any other shared items your child might use. Yes, a big UGH!
3. Inspect your pots and pans—especially non-sticks—for grooves and places where gluten can be trapped. Cast iron pans and pizza stones can absorb gluten, as can any ceramic or non-stick pans with scratched surfaces, so consider this when making your kitchen shopping list. Stainless steel and aluminum cookware can usually be cleaned well enough after each use, but check the handle fasteners inside your pots and pans for possible food remnants.
4. Be prepared to replace or repurchase some commonly-used kitchen items. Gluten can leach into plastic, silicone, wood, and other porous materials, so you’ll need to replace (or get a second set of) the following items to keep your gluten-free cooking truly free of gluten:
- Cooking and eating utensils (made of anything that isn’t metal)
- Silicone spatulas, whisks, and baking sheets
- Cutting boards
- Strainers and sifters
- Storage containers (if all you have are plastic ones)
- Baking pans, sheets, and tins that have corners, grooves, etc.
- Wood rolling pins
- Hand or stand mixer beaters and other attachments (if you’re not willing or able to clean them completely)
- Any cookware (as mentioned in Step #3)
- Toaster, bread maker, waffle maker, and other impossible-to-clean appliances
Kitchen towels and sponges can be contaminators, too, so I’d suggest keeping designated kitchen sponges and towels for gluten clean-ups. Not to be wasteful, but paper towels are a good way to stay on the safe side of celiac.
5. Buy a Sharpie, Post-Its, and colored electrical tape to keep in your kitchen drawer.
If your kitchen is not entirely gluten-free, you should decide if you’ll be labeling gluten or gluten-free items. Our kitchen is predominantly gluten-free, so marking “GLUTEN!” is manageable and obvious to other family members. As far as pots and pans go, the electrical tape works well on handles to distinguish safe and unsafe cookware. A Sharpie works great on cutting boards, baking sheets, and most everything else. I also like to keep quart- and gallon-sized freezer bags handy for gluten-y cookies and other unsafe foods with ‘leaky’ packaging.
6. Locate any food items that might have been contaminated.
A knife spreading butter, jam, or whatnot on a piece of bread and double-dipped would have contaminated those items. Replace whatever’s needed and be sure to label any duplicates for gluten or gluten-free use. Likely cross-contamination suspects can be:
- Butter, margarine
- Jams, jellies, preserves
- Peanut butter, other butters, Nutella
- Mustard, relish, mayo, and other bread-friendly condiments
Also, think about shared gluten-free snacks in bags, such as chips. If “gluten fingers” had possibly invaded an otherwise safe snack, throw it out! Going forward, serve gluten-free snack items in bowls to prevent possible cross-contamination.
7. Should it stay or should it go?
OK, this requires a bit of thinking and background knowledge. Thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) you can trust that if a food contains any form of wheat that it will note “wheat” clearly on the label. Now, the FALCPA doesn’t require companies to indicate if foods are made in facilities that process wheat or are made on shared production lines, so you might want to contact those companies if they don’t have clear allergy warnings. (Click here for more information on understanding FDA gluten-free labeling rules.)
This article by Celiag.org will help you to understand what gluten is, the hidden sources of gluten, and what “certified” means.
Now you’re finally armed and ready to begin reading the food labels in your fridge, cabinets, and pantry to determine what should be kept or tossed. Mark these items with Post-Its or your Sharpee, if necessary.
Three things to keep in mind:
- Foods (except for GF-certified) that are made in a facility that processes wheat are not considered safe for celiacs.
- Keep in mind that soy sauce, cereal, soup, bouillon, and chips are all common sources of gluten.
- If a label doesn’t have clear allergy warnings, look on the company’s website or call customer service.
8. So where do you put the gluten? You put it on the bottom shelves of your fridge, freezer, and cabinets. Crumbs fall down, not up, so it’s always the safest place. I also recommend putting boxed or packaged gluten in those trusty freezer bags and labeling them “GLUTEN!” with your new Sharpie.
9. Buy a toaster oven that comes with a pizza pan. It’s so much easier to clean a toaster oven than your full-sized oven, so it’s a safer option for cooking and reheating gluten-free foods. I especially like the toaster oven for frozen pizza nights, because can put our gluten-y pizzas on the racks of our regular oven and our gluten-free pizza on a pan in the toaster oven. No cross-contamination worries!
10. Now that you have a toaster oven, say goodbye to your toaster! If your toaster had ever toasted gluten-y bread or bagels, it can’t be cleaned well enough to be safe for a celiac. You can easily toast bread on a piece of foil in your shiny new toaster oven.
11. Prevent food-sneaking or accidental exposure. If you think that your little celiac might sneak a little gluten or if your child has access to his own snacks, you might want to hide or toss the unsafe items. I’m always worried that a visiting friend or family member, who isn’t familiar with our safety protocols, might contaminate our kitchen. The mere presence of labels and bags won’t necessarily prevent a problem, so I usually tell guests to think of gluten as a loaded, dirty diaper. Keep it contained and wash your hands before touching ANYTHING else in the kitchen! Also tacking a simple Dos and Don’ts list on the fridge might be helpful to a babysitter or other visitor. Even my husband needs food safety reminders once in a while, though he might deny it!
12. Purchase and tout the naturally delicious gluten-free goodies your child can eat. There are so many! Stock your kitchen with their favorite fruits, vegetables, cheeses (if tolerable), as well as some new and exciting gluten-free items that you know they’ll enjoy. (Stay tuned for a future post with my family-friendly food picks.)
If you’ve reached this point in my post and feel ready for a nap or a glass of wine, I’m not offended. I felt that way after writing it! After three years, I’d almost forgotten what the post-diagnosis days and weeks were like, and that’s a good thing. I guess it’s kinda like our mommy memories relating to childbirth; we look back and say it wasn’t so bad. My hopes today are that you feel prepared for the days and meals ahead and that you enjoy celiac-safe cooking and eating with your family. Once you see your child’s symptoms decrease, you’ll be thrilled, invigorated, and ready to travel the road to healing full speed ahead–perhaps with a new kind of bread! And, if there’s an accidental gluten exposure along the way, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll do better next time.
Thank you for reading. Eat safely!
P.S. More tips:
- When unloading your dishwasher, check your dishes for possible leave-behinds.
- Use good handwashing practices when preparing and handling foods for your celiac.
- In mixed-meal situations, always serve your celiac first. (They’ll love the premier service!)
P.P.S. Look below for other great articles to get you started.
How to set up a shared kitchen
Hidden Sources of Gluten