Gluten-Free 101: Your Kitchen and the Initial Overhaul

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Imagine going from one way of life to another in the blink of an eye.  The day I was told from this moment forward I had to follow a strict gluten-free diet, I suddenly realized I had a lot of work to do. I think it can be overwhelming, as it isn’t just the diet itself, but the entire food prep area of your home that has to be assessed.  If you are anything like me, you will have to seriously overhaul the area, and I was lucky I had a beloved little sis that was moving into her first apartment, so she got a LOT of my old appliances and cookware! I was glad to be able to give some of my beloved appliances to a good home.

Today I wanted to get into the aspects of gluten-free living by first examining the kitchen and workspace. There are some things that likely need to be replaced, as they are likely contaminated with gluten beyond the point of return, even when they seem clean at first glance.  But never fear, many things are quite usable and safe with a little work!  My kitchen is almost 100% gluten-free, and you will see what I mean below when I say “almost 100%”.

Please note these are the steps I personally took after carefully researching how to make one’s kitchen a safe haven from gluten, some people may be more or less extreme. But these steps all worked for me:

  • The toaster and toaster oven: I have a shameful confession:  two years later, I still have my original toaster oven, gluten and all. I still use my toaster oven. But I also may as well own stock in a company that manufactures  aluminum foil. Every time I use it, I make sure that none of the food I am prepping ever touches the surface of the oven rack. Long gone are the days of just placing a frozen waffle on the toaster oven surface, or even a scrubbed potato for baking.  Everything has to be placed in a designated pan or on tin foil first.  As for my toaster, my mom immediately shipped me an adorable Hello Kitty toaster that has never touched gluten, and is used quite often. While it’s supposed to toast Hello Kitty’s  face on the surface of the bread, it doesn’t work well in that respect, but I still give it props for the cuteness factor.
  •  The oven: As with the toaster oven, I make sure nothing is laid directly on the oven rack. Long gone are the days of putting a frozen pizza directly on the oven rack! If you have a pizza stone, it’s best to donate it, as the porous surface would be difficult to keep clean. Anything that accidentally touches the oven rack or falls through the rack, even for an instant, is disposed. Sad, I know.  No five second rules here.
  • The refrigerator:  I got rid of any soy sauce and replaced it with gluten-free tamari (I like San-J, they even make convenient travel sized packets), and examined the labels of all of my condiments. Most, fortunately, were deemed safe, but some contained wheat or barley malt extract, so any of those bottles were rinsed out, recycled and replaced with safe, gluten free condiments. If you are missing out on your stir fry sauces, Wegman’s makes lots of good sauces, as well as La Choy. A few of the La Choy sauces do contain “natural flavoring”, which in parentheses state barley malt extract, so be advised that natural flavoring might fall under the unsafe category. To be safe, consult the company website or call their customer service to inquire. When in doubt, don’t consume it.Also, any condiments that had been used to dress gluten-filled foods that may have had contact with it, such as cream cheese, jelly, hummus, mayonnaise or butter, were disposed. They are likely filled with cross contamination risks, for even a small crumb is enough to do the job!  But bottled condiments  like ketchup, mustard, etc. were kept.

    Obviously any foods containing wheat or breading were sadly disposed, and I really miss the days of my Trader Joe’s breaded calamari like you wouldn’t believe. Things like veggie burgers, meatballs, vegetarian meat substitutes were all donated or disposed. While you can easily be a vegetarian while gluten-free, a good majority of the meat substitutes contain wheat, so you will have to rely on more natural (and healthy) fare. Don’t forget things like ice cream: cookies and cream and cookie dough were my favorite flavors, and they went the way of the dodo. I’ve even found that beloved childhood favorites like Dixie cups can contain wheat, so ALWAYS check the labeling.

  • Cabinets: I removed all flours, cereals, pretzels, crackers, oatmeal (while there is a lot of back and forth on the status of oats as being gluten free, I don’t risk it, but I do eat certified gluten free oats), energy bars (even ones containing oats), candy containing wheat or malt (no more Milky Ways or Kit Kats!), pastas and couscous. Anything opened was disposed, anything sealed was donated. As with the refrigerated condiments, any jars of condiments like peanut butter or Nutella that may have been cross contaminated should be disposed.  We love to snack on almonds and nuts, so I checked the labels to make sure they weren’t processed in a facility that also processed or shared machinery with wheat or gluten.  This is a standard practice that needs to be implemented right away, always check the label for possible cross contamination risks due to manufacturing. I avoid them always, and it can definitely cause me to miss out on lots of foods that are considered gluten-free at first glance.Most cereals are not gluten-free, even corn or rice based cereals like corn flakes or rice crispies, due to the fact they contain barley malt. I will get into that at another time!  Also, lots of canned soups contain gluten or traces of gluten, and mine were donated. I now make my own soup with gluten-free broths and bases, which in the end is healthier, more wholesome and less sodium-laden!
  • The liquor cabinet: This is an easy one. Beer is the one thing that I actually still keep; since I am not a beer drinker and it’s bottled, it’s a nice thing to have on hand for guests who like to imbibe.  But beer, unless labeled as gluten-free, is most definitely NOT gluten-free. Wine or spirits are usually fine, even wheat or rye- based spirits. The distilling process removes any trace of gluten, which sounds bizarre to me, but many celiac organizations are in agreement that spirits are almost always gluten-free.  So basically, beer – no, everything else – most likely yes. When in doubt, do some checking.
  • Wooden spoons, spatulas, knives, silverware, etc.:  I ran all of my cutlery through the dishwasher many times to ensure they were fully clean, but the wooden spoons and their porous surfaces seemed suspect, so they were donated. The same went for any wooden cutting boards, as I know I had cut bread and pizza on them in the past. They were all promptly donated with no looking back.
  • Colanders, stainless steel skillets, saucepans and heavy pots for pasta were scrubbed by hand with scouring pads and run through the dishwasher several times. I have never had an issue with them. The same went for cookie sheets, muffin tins and pizza pans. Because they are metal and non-porous, a few good scrubbings and dishwasher cycles did the job.
  • The Ultimate Sadness: my coveted Panini press, crepe pans, bread maker, pasta maker, waffle maker and hand mixer were all donated. There was absolutely no question of keeping these. I replaced my bread machine with an awesome new bread maker, my waffle maker was replaced, and my Panini press? Well, a George Forman Grill would do, and certainly does its job just as well at a lesser cost!
  • Things I didn’t even consider: my blender, food processor, rice cooker, crock pot, coffee maker and grinder were safe havens from gluten!

As you can see, this is a lot of work, and I didn’t do this overnight. It took a LONG time to overhaul my kitchen before it was finally a safe place for a celiac to prepare meals.  Good luck to you if you decide to make this transition in your life. And a DOUBLE-GOOD LUCK if you HAVE to make this transition in your life!

Please feel free to ask questions or send suggestions in the Comments section, as I would hate to have missed anything! I assure you, it’s much easier to have a gluten-free home than it is to try having both gluten and non-gluten diet participants under one roof.  I tried it for a time, and it’s very easy to make mistakes, which  I will address at another time.

Trust me, in the end, it’s not something you miss after a while, even for those who don’t have to follow the diet. My husband Chris is a stellar example of this: it doesn’t bother him in the least and it makes him happy to know I’m safe by keeping it out of the house. That’s dedication for you!

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