Thursday, March 11, 2010

My conversation with the guy at Kraft....

Me: Hi, I was just looking at the ingredients on the cheese sauce mix in your original Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and I just wanted to confirm that it is gluten free.
Customer Service Guy: Yes, ma'am, it is.
Me: Well, hey, have I got an idea for you! If your cheese sauce is gluten free, get some rice macaroni and throw it in a blue box, and you've got Gluten-Free Kraft Macaroni and Cheese!
Customer Service Guy: Well, thank you for that idea, I'll pass it along to our product development people. Just so you know, ma'am, Kraft has an unsolicited ideas policy. We do not pay for unsolicited ideas, even if they lead to new products.
Me: Yeah, yeah. Don't worry, I'd be happy to buy GF Mac and Cheese from you.

(Seriously! They have got to make so much of that cheese sauce powder that I bet it is on equipment that makes nothing but cheese sauce. How hard could it be? Well, a girl can dream about gluten-free yellow death that doesn't cost $4 a box.)

How gluten free are we?

I decided to write this post sooner than I meant to after Jenna's first comment on my last post. She's right, making two meals is crazy! But while we are pretty gluten free, we are not completely gluten free.

The only celiac in our house is the monkey, the rest of us (mom, dad, and two younger brothers) are not. My big main pantry is gluten free, but I have a small cupboard where I keep: Quaker oatmeal instant packets, generic cheerios and graham crackers for my 18-month-old, a box of goldfish if they are lucky, some pancake mix, and regular spaghetti. I have a shelf where I keep the wheat bread, and I keep the gf bread in the fridge. (We also have two toasters, one exclusively for GF bread. They are on separate counters and the GF one is covered with a cozy in an effort to keep it GF.) My fridge and freezer are mostly gluten free, but if I put anything in there that is not gluten free, I make sure it is well labeled with a permanent marker and wrapped so that it will not crumb all over the place. I also have separate butter, peanut butter, jam, honey, and mayonaisse containers, all well-labeled with a permanent marker.

I always make a gluten-free dinner; the only thing close to an exception is spaghetti, where I make gluten free sauce and meatballs, but both kinds of spaghetti noodles. I'm just careful to dish the monkey up first, and then scoop and plop, so that my serving spoon doesn't contaminate the sauce.

My husband makes his own Quaker oatmeal or wheat toast for breakfast, and packs his lunch before any of the rest of us are even out of bed. (I love him even more for being able to feed himself!) Breakfast for me and the kids is usually simple, fast, and made to order (haha) for each person: bowls of gf or Quaker oatmeal, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, or frozen and reheated oatmeal bars, muffins, or pancakes. I like to make a big batch of GF pancakes, pack them up, make a big batch of regular pancakes, and freeze everything, well-labeled, of course.

I pack the monkey a GF lunch the night before school days. So that leaves the rest of us to eat sandwiches or whatever. If everyone is home, I might make something gluten free for lunch or serve leftovers. Or just make separate sandwiches for everyone.

I have pretty much given up baking anything that is not gluten free (just those dang rolls at Thanksgiving!) and I make our treats gluten free. If for some reason I have a non-gluten free treat for the little boys, I make sure I have a GF treat for the monkey that is as good or better.

As for contamination, I try to keep a clean kitchen and to make sure I prepare his food on clean surfaces. It's been a long time since he's acted like I "glutened" him. And I don't worry about him cheating; he did it once and it made him sick and he's never tried again. So far his doctor has said his blood tests have come back showing that he isn't being exposed to gluten.

When he was diagnosed and we were trying to decide whether or not to go completely gluten free I read Danna Korn's book about raising celiac kids. In her discussion of the issue, she says the world is not gluten free; but the safest and most controlled environment to learn how to deal with a non-gluten free world is at home. I tend to agree with her. The monkey has had diabetes for years, celiac for about a year and a half, and I feel strongly that not only do I have a responsibility to keep him healthy, but a responsibility to teach him how to keep himself healthy. I have no idea what he will do in life, I doubt he wants to take me to college with him, and I don't know if or who he will marry and if she can deal with his dietary issues, so my best option for dealing with those unknowns is to teach and train him to be capable of taking care of himself. (Shopping, cooking, baking GF, counting carbs, reading labels, figuring insulin doses, getting exercise, running his insulin pump, etc. etc. etc.)

How gluten free is your house? Is it for convenience, economics, or to prevent contamination?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gluten Free and Frugal?

Eating gluten free can be expensive. But when you have to eat gluten free, you have to eat gluten free, and not sticking to the diet can have its own costs. So what's a gluten free cook to do in this lousy economy? Here are some ideas.

Bake it yourself. Yes, it takes time. Yes, not all GF recipes are reliable. Yes, those little bags of gluten-free flour and xanthum gum are expensive. BUT, in the end it is almost always cheaper to make your own gluten-free baked goods than it is to buy them. For example, I figure it costs me $2.71 (actually more like $2.40 lately, because I got an extra discount on my last case of millet) to bake a 1-lb loaf of gluten free bread. The cheapest (and yuckiest -- those tasteless white, vacuum-packed bricks with a 1-year shelf life) loaves of GF bread start at $4 a loaf. When I looked them up on the Internet, Bob's Red Mill bread mix is $5.19, Pamela's bread mix runs $5.89, and Gluten-Free Pantry mix is $5.99 a loaf, but you probably add at least another 50 cents to each in eggs and oil. So find yourself a dependable, yummy recipe and start baking. I recommend Annalise Robert's "Gluten Free Baking Classics." Check out her introduction section for ideas on making more time to bake and streamlining the process.

You don't have to buy all your groceries at the natural foods store. My point is that you can buy plenty of gluten free items from any old grocery store. There's no reason to pay the "boutique grocery" mark-up on items that you can get at Walmart or Smiths. I'm sure there are lots of groceries with GF products, but I buy most of my groceries at Walmart, Smiths and Sam's Club, and then I fill in the GF products I can't buy at those stores from Sunflower Farmer's Market, a great and economical grocery/natural foods store. (I feel fortunate to live close to Sunflower, many natural foods stores are much pricier.) So buy your dairy products, your fruits and vegetables, your meats, and any mainstream product that is labeled gluten free or has a clear label from the cheapest source. (Not to mention that I keep finding more and more gluten-free products at Walmart, and Smith's has a pretty nice little gluten-free section.)

Buy in bulk if it is cheaper. Sunflower Farmer's Market does not carry millet flour, the main ingredient in my preferred flour mix. But they will order it by the case for me. And when I do buy a case they give me a 10 percent discount. (Actually, sometimes they have given me more than 10 percent off.) If you buy in bulk make sure you store your flours properly so they don't go bad before you get them used up.

If you buy on the Internet, don't forget to figure the shipping into your cost. I have not been able to find gluten-free oats in the store, so I order them online from After fiddling with their shipping calculator, I realized that the shipping price was the same for 3 large bags, as it was for 1 bag. I regularly order 3 bags per order to cut my shipping costs. I also took advantage of a free shipping offer they had before Christmas, because even though I wasn't low on oats, I knew I'd be able to use up a second order before they went bad.

Try house brand or generic products. Walmart does a pretty good job labeling their Great Value brand for allergens and gluten. Sam's Club is adding more and more Member's Mark products that are labeled gluten free. Many generic products are as good or better than name brands, and can cost much less than what the name brands cost. (For example, a gallon of 2 percent milk from the local dairy cost $4.28 the last time I checked, while the 2 percent Great Value milk cost $2.18.) If a generic comes labeled gluten-free, or has a clear label, and tastes just as good, why pay more? (I don't always chose generic; if the generic does not have a clear label, or a name brand product is labeled gluten free, or simply tastes better, I'll buy the name brand.)And frankly, part of the price difference on a name brand is because you are paying for them to advertise to you!

Buy produce in season. For heaven's sakes, when oranges are cheap, don't buy grapes that are $3.99 a pound!

Frozen or canned produce might be a better buy. I used to buy fresh broccoli, until I finally realized that it'd been trucked from somewhere, sat on the shelf at the grocery store, sat in my fridge for a few days until I found the enthusiasm to wash it and cut it up, and while it might not have gone bad, it certainly had been sitting around losing vitamins for quite a while. Once I realized this I started buying bulk frozen broccoli from Sam's Club. It's always handy, it's frozen shortly after it's picked and retains its nutritional value and I only cook what I need so I don't waste it. Plus, I DON'T have to wash it and cut it up! That said ...

Think before you pay for convenience
It's cheaper to wash and chop your own lettuce, peel your own carrots, make your own mixes, and portion out serving-sized portions, than it is to pay someone else to do it.

If you can find coupons for gluten-free products or a sale on gluten-free products stock up. I've never been super enthusiastic about coupons, mostly because they are usually for processed foods that are full of gluten or sugar, but my friend Britt recently introduced me to a web site called Grocery Smarts. They match up what's on sale at your store with the coupons from your Sunday paper, and printable coupons on the web. It's magic. The other day I noticed that Smith's had Progresso soup on sale 10 for $10, so I checked, and sure enough there was a printable manufacturers coupon. With multiple coupons (I was able to print two off of each computer) I ended up buying 12 cans of their GF soups for 67 cents each, I normally pay $1.50 a can. Here's a link to, but there are other sites that have this same service.

Eat lots of meals based on carbs that are naturally gluten free. At our house we eat lots of rice, lots of potatoes, and lots of corn tortillas and beans. They are cheap and naturally gluten free.

Drink water. It good for you and the cheapest drink around.

Watch your portion control. Eating a proper portion of meat or protein (usually 6 oz. per day for an adult) means that you probably don't need to buy a giant chicken breast or a whole steak for each person. While you are at it watch your milk consumption, three 1-cup servings of lean dairy are what is usually recommended. But most milk drinkers I know drink big glasses (more than a 1 cup serving). If you drink more than a 8 oz. of milk at each meal, you are already getting more than 3 servings of dairy, even before you count cheese, yogurt, or ice cream. Bringing your dairy consumption in line with recommendations is healthy and can save you money in the milk aisle. For more information on proper portion size and a healthy diet check here And of course, eat more vegetables, fruits and gluten-free whole grains!

The whole family might not need to be gluten free. I know this is controversial and it is certainly a decision that each family will have to make for itself. But in the end the fact is that GF food is usually pricier than regular food and the more people you feed GF, the more it will cost you. Yes, you do have to be careful about contamination, but it's doable. (I'll address how and why my family deals with this issue in another post.)

How do you keep costs down?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gluten-free German Pancakes

OK, so I was the Beakfast Queen this morning. Every once in a while I get a hankering for German Pancakes. So this morning I tried making it gluten-free, and it actually turned out pretty good. It didn't puff up the way wheat German Pancakes do. But wheat German Pancakes fall almost immediately and the taste and texture of the GF version was very close to post-fall wheat German Pancakes. My boys gobbled it down; we demolished a 13x9x2 pan between the four of us. (My 18-month-old ate a quarter of the pan!)

German Pancakes
6 eggs
1 c. milk
1 c. Brown Rice flour mix (see below)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. xanthum gum
3 T. butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter in a 13x9x2 pan and stick it in the oven to melt. Combine eggs, milk, brown rice flour mix, salt, and xanthum gum in a blender and mix on high until no lumps remain and it is light and lemon yellow. Pour batter into the pan and place in oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot with pancake syrup, powdered sugar, or whipped cream and fruit.

The flour I used is Annalise Roberts' Brown Rice Flour mix from her book "Gluten-free Baking Classics." It is brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour. For the Brown Rice Flour Mix recipe you can visit her website.

Note for diabetics: I figured 32g of carbohydrates for 1/4 of the pan, plus carbs for your toppings.