In my family, we have a range of sensitivities, from none at all to Celiac’s disease. I needed to find a way to keep everyone safe, that was not only simple enough for our almost 4 year old to understand, but that also did not turn myself into the house’s food cop. I have figured out an inexpensive simple system that keeps those of us with food sensitivities safe, while letting everyone enjoy their favorite foods.
It is possible, to coexist peacefully.
When you first become gluten free, absolutely clean out your kitchen, even if you are going to put some items back.
Keep any items that you are keeping to the side, making sure to keep foods with gluten separate from gluten free foods and clean away. Wipe everything down, clean the oven and refrigerator, vacuum and mop the floor. Think of it as an excellent opportunity to Spring Clean, no matter the season.
Once your kitchen is clean, take a minute to look at it. Depending on the space in your kitchen, dividing your gluten free and gluten items might be as simple as assigning different cupboards to them.
Think carefully about cross contamination…cue the eye roll from our resident teenager. If you are storing dry goods in the same space, you need to be very careful. I have a pantry where I store my dry goods and the shelves are made of wire and I have to be careful about crumbs falling through onto groceries below. If you have items with gluten in your kitchen like wheat flour, I would put them in a large plastic bag or container before storing for extra protection.
In my home, gluten free items are stored on the top shelves, foods containing gluten are on the bottom shelves. For me, this serves two purposes. First and most important, we don’t have to worry about any gluten contamination. Secondly, having food with gluten on the lower shelves makes it easier for the youngest people in our family, who do not have gluten issues, to access their own snacks, which makes my life just a little bit easier.
Since I do the majority of the cooking and baking in my home, I cook and bake gluten free. The items that contain gluten in my pantry are mostly snack items. I do still have regular pasta, cereal and bread in my pantry that the aforementioned teenager and two smallest members of our family still like to eat.
So, now everything gluten and gluten free has their own separate spaces. Great, but what about all the other foods that don’t have gluten, but everyone wants? Like butter, jellies, condiments and peanut/almond butters?
We use squeeze bottles for condiments. They cost a little more because of the packaging, but the cost is worth it for my peace of mind, knowing that there will not be any contamination. If an item is not available in squeeze bottles, like butter and peanut/almond butters, I buy two.
This is where keeping it inexpensive comes in. Everything, and I mean everything that is gluten free, we mark with a black permanent marker – GF. That’s it. Cereal, snacks, chips, butter, peanut/almond butter and everything in between is marked GF. Everyone understands it and respects it.
Now for everything outside of the pantry. You have pots and pans, utensils, and small appliances. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming for me at first. How do you keep everything safe without creating a gluten free version of a kosher kitchen?
Color – that was my solution and for me it all started with a colander. I needed to find a colander to drain gluten free pasta and wash fruits and vegetables without worrying about cross contamination. My husband and I were wandering around a store and came across a beautiful red colander. One of us, and I am pretty sure it was my husband, said that it would be good to use for gluten free pasta because the kids would understand not to use it.
And so it began. Everyone understands that anything red in the kitchen is gluten free. And it is simple to do. Start small. Don’t immediately run out and duplicate everything all at once. If you start with a spatula or two, a pair of tongs, spoons, cutting boards, a couple of knives, and a whisk, you will be just fine. Stay away from wood if you are sharing a kitchen with gluten food. Wood is porous and may absorb gluten.
Pick your favorite color or colors. No one has ever said that being gluten free can’t be pretty.
We have a separate toaster that is designated gluten free. If your toaster has been used before being gluten free, pick up a new toaster or use toaster bags. They are reusable bags that are safe for toasters and will keep you safe from contamination. We use them when we are travelling and have never had a problem.
As far as pots and pans go, I have one pot that is used for wheat pasta and I have red silicone handle covers on my other pots and pans. In my refrigerator, the lowest shelf is designated for foods with gluten.
As you go through your home, please remember that the items that you can no longer use safely can be donated to your favorite charity to help others.
Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. I can wipe down the counters and then throw them away and not have to worry about contamination from a cloth or sponge.
When we have guests in our home for meals, I cook gluten free so I don’t have to worry. When we have overnight guests, I explain why we have separate utensils.
When we first went gluten free, it took time to teach our family how to be careful in the kitchen. The first time we had people over, I remember standing on a chair, shouting over everyone else while waving a spoon and spatula to announce that they were for gluten free food only. Yes, they all thought I was crazy, but they got the message.
With time, it has become easier for everyone. Patience, persistence and humor go a long way in educating your family and friends.