Diane over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang is hosting an incredible series during the month of May called 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living. This series came about during a conversation among several of the gluten-free food bloggers. We decided that we were tired of hearing the same old complaints about the gluten-free lifestyle – that it’s really complicated, the food is horrible, it’s expensive, etc. (In fact, I even once had a gastroenterologist tell me that the gluten-free diet is expensive!) These are gripes that are heard over and over among those people that must eat a gluten-free diet. The thing is, none of these complaints are absolute truths, and that’s what this series is all about – to help you learn how to live gluten-free easily (and frugally).
Today, I’m sharing some easy gluten-free solutions to those old standbys in the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) – convenience foods. Convenience foods can include everything from fast food and take-out, to frozen dinners, to packaged, pre-processed, or otherwise frankenfoods that fill up many a pantry and refrigerator throughout our country. Theses foods are not only commonly filled with gluten (which we said “goodbye” to on our gluten-free diets!), but also many times are loaded with sugar, corn syrup, refined flours, hydrogenated fats, and unpronounceable mystery ingredients, such as preservatives, artificial dyes, flavors, and other unnatural substances. These aren’t good for anyone’s body, but for someone that is healing a sensitive digestive system or other adverse effects from gluten, they can definitely slow the healing process.
But even those with the best of intentions know that the reason we reach for these foods is that they’re so gosh darn CONVENIENT! When we’re busier than ever with our lives, running from one task to the next, going to school, work, then homework, taking kids to 5,000 different places, and of course, trying to keep our home in some type of order, we all wish for meals to be as convenient as possible. How do you meet this goal and incorporate gluten-free living at the same time?
Make your own “convenience” foods!
Sounds counterproductive? It doesn’t have to be. With a few key tools at your arsenal, you can make some convenience foods for you and your family that can be available when you need them most – during those times when you literally have just a few minutes to prepare your meals. With a bit of planning, and the use of some of these ideas, you can transition those old convenience foods out of your pantry for better-tasting, better-for-you homemade “convenience” foods.
Cook In Bulk – Make large quantities of dishes, and freeze individual portions. Then you can have your own homemade “frozen” dinners available for convenience. Many soups reheat particularly well, and make great lunches. I do this on the weekends, when I have more time to cook, but I also tend to use my slow cooker to cook large portions both on weekends and weekdays.
If you don’t have a ton of freezer space, you can also cook in bulk for just the coming week or a few days. For instance, you can hard-boil eggs for breakfasts, lunches or snacks for the coming week. Make beef jerky for snacks, either in a dehydrator or the oven. Cut up carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or any other raw veggie and divide into individual containers or ziploc bags for snacks or lunches for the week. (While you’re at it, if you have fresh vegetables on the menu for various other nights of the week, wash, peel, and prepare those vegetables for your recipes too, to save yourself time later!) Bake a batch of muffins, and individually wrap them for the week (muffins tend to freeze well too!). Make a batch of gluten-free oats, cream of buckwheat, quinoa flakes, or whatever porridge your heart desires, and store it in individual containers for the week. The more batch cooking and preparation you can do, the more time you’ll save when you’re having a hectic day. Just an hour or two in the kitchen on a Sunday can save your sanity on a busy Wednesday night.
Some recipe ideas that make great “frozen” dinners:
Adzuki Beans and Rice
Ham and Red Bean Soup
Vegetarian Bean and Pumpkin Chili
Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes (FYI, sloppy joes taste great on a baked potato – a delicious gluten-free meal!)
Sweet Potato Coconut Soup
Chicken Meatballs (freeze meatballs, cooked or uncooked, by spreading on a baking sheet and freezing, then place in ziploc bag)
Make your own condiments and “base” ingredients – Many condiments aren’t gluten-free, their gluten-free status is dubious, or they’re otherwise filled with corn syrup, sugar, or other processed ingredients. Does this mean we should do without? Of course not! Try your hand at making your own! I’ve fallen in love with making my own salad dressings, ketchup, pumpkin puree, nut butters, and even jams, jellies, and salsas. You’ll find when you start making your own that they taste better, fresher, and many times are cheaper to make. For example, I can find whole almonds for $5 a pound on sale, sometimes less. Try finding a 16 oz. jar of almond butter for the same price. Besides, when you make it yourself, you can customize the amount of sweetener and/or salt added, and can experiment with all sorts of nuts. Cinnamon walnut butter, anyone?
Some recipes for homemade condiments and “base” ingredients:
Slow Cooker Ketchup
Peach Thyme Jam
Honey Mustard Dressing
More Gluten-Free Salad Dressings
Gluten-Free Convenience Foods that are Relatively Free of Processed Ingredients - Generally, whole, fresh, unprocessed foods are best, and most of the time, that is what we eat in our home. It makes gluten-free living so much easier and less expensive. But there are a few “boxed” ingredients that are relatively free of preservatives and processed ingredients, and these ingredients can help streamline the meal-making process. I often keep these kinds of things on hand in my pantry, as “emergency” items, in case plans fall through.
Instant Mashed Potatoes (Idahoan and Potato Buds have varieties that are gluten-free)
Minute Brown Rice
Frozen Vegetables (make sure you’re buying the plain variety, and not the variety with sauce)
Canned Tuna (again, make sure you’re buying the plain variety, and not the flavored varieties)
Canned Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce, Tomato Paste
Canned Beans (check labels – plain varieties are generally gluten-free)
Gluten-Free Pasta (I love Tinkyada)
Come to think of it, if you combined a few of these above items, (for example, top minute brown rice with a bag of mixed steamed frozen vegetables, and drained and rinsed beans, warmed and seasoned to taste) you could have a gluten-free meal in a few minutes. How’s that for convenient? Of course, with a little creativity, your options for convenient meals can be endless.
Shirley over at Gluten-Free Easily has come up with an even more comprehensive list of convenient foods that are gluten-free, called 50 Gluten-Free Foods You Can Eat Today.
There you have it. Gluten-free can be more convenient than the masses would lead you to believe, and at a fraction of the price of those packaged, less-than-tasty gluten-free cookies, cakes, crackers, and other treats at the grocery. Making your own convenience foods can be healthier too!
Don’t forget to check back throughout the month for other great tips for Easy Gluten-Free Living! Here is the schedule: