A Letter to Restaurants Offering a Gluten-Free Menu

When I first started the gluten-free diet almost ten years ago, there were only a handful of restaurants offering a gluten-free menu. I dreamed of the day when it would be easier to eat out and when people wouldn’t look at me like I had two heads. However, that day has come and it isn’t anything like I imagined. The masses of people following the gluten-free diet because it is the latest “fad” has increased the number of restaurants offering a gluten-free menu, but hasn’t done much to teach these establishments the serious risks of cross-contamination. There are more people being diagnosed with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance thanks to raised awareness, and that is great!  However, I don’t feel that those are the people many restaurants have in mind when they begin to offer a gluten-free menu. Unfortunately, those are the people that may suffer the consequences of so many establishments jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon and not taking the necessary steps to educate their staff and minimize the risks of cross-contamination. 

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After another not-so-great experience this past weekend, I decided to write the letter below to all restaurants offering a gluten-free menu. 

To Whom it May Concern,

Thank you for including a gluten-free menu in your offerings. I appreciate you taking any and all precautions in your establishment to keep me and my family safe. However, if you overlook some of the following basic, common-knowledge facts concerning serving gluten-free food and how to avoid cross-contamination, please don’t bother to insult me. Educate yourself and your staff. This is not a fad diet for most people, this is our life. We don’t choose to eat like this. 

  • If you use a common fryer, your fries are not gluten-free, and neither are your tortilla, potato chips, or anything else you fry in your fryer. 
  • This also goes for common toasters, ovens, utensils, etc 
  • Picking the croutons or bread off of the salad is not acceptable
  • Change your gloves before touching any food that should be gluten-free
  • If you are using condiments with a utensil that has touched gluten, you must use new, uncontaminated condiments and clean utensils
  • If you cook gluten-free pasta in the same water as non-gluten-free pasta, it isn’t gluten-free
  • If you steam vegetables with pasta water used to cook non-gluten-free pasta, those vegetables are not gluten-free
  • If you dust the cake pan with regular flour, your cake is no longer gluten-free (I’m looking at you Cheesecake Factory)
  • If you thicken your omelettes or eggs with pancake batter, they are no longer gluten-free
  • Most soy sauce is not gluten-free, so dressings, sauces, and marinades made with soy sauce are not gluten-free
  • Gluten-free pizza cooked on the same surface as non-gluten-free pizza (many establishments do this)
  • Beer is not gluten-free, so if it is used in any dish, dessert, etc, said dish is not gluten-free

Of course accidents do happen, but an accidental cross-contamination is much different than one that results from blatantly ignoring the items listed above. I choose to accept the risks of accidental cross-contamination and do so willingly so that I can have a social life. 

Respectfully,

Kim Bouldin

Diagnosed with Celiac Disease in January 2006

Please help make gluten-free dining out safer for those with Celiac Disease or gluten-intolerance and share this letter. Feel free to copy and remove my name and sign yours…maybe if enough of us call these restaurants out, they will make the necessary changes or stop offering their gluten-free menus. I would much rather a restaurant not offer a gluten-free menu and know that upfront, so I can choose someplace that has my best interests in mind. 

Must Read: Cheerios Recall

So it begins. General Mills has issued a recall on certain Cheerios (yellow box) and Honey Nut Cheerios cereal. The cereals that are included in this recall were produced at the Lodi, California location on specific dates. Yellow Box Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios produced on different dates or in different facilities are not affected. So what happened? It seems that wheat flour was added into the gluten-free oat flour system

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Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios produced on these dates at the company’s Lodi, California facility are being recalled because an isolated incident resulted in wheat flour being inadvertently introduced into the gluten free oat flour system at its Lodi facility. As a result, the products may contain an undeclared allergen – wheat – in products labeled as gluten-free.

Perhaps this explains why some people have reported getting sick from “gluten-free” Cheerios. The recall issued by General Mills is a voluntary Class 1 recall. What does that mean?

Class I recall: a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

Check your pantries for the following “gluten-free” products:

Honey Nut Cheerios

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Yellow Box Cheerios

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If you have one of the aforementioned boxes of “gluten-free” Cheerios or Honey Nut Cheerios, please contact General Mills at 1-800-775-8370. 

Do you eat Gluten-Free Cheerios? Do you have one of the affected boxes? Will you continue to eat Gluten-Free Cheerios if you have been?

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Warning: Whining Ahead

I apologize in advance for the whining, but I need to get this out. Today I am bitching about my stomach and the foods that seem to bother it. Unfortunately, the number of food that make me feel bad seems to be increasing. Or – maybe it is the same number, but I am just at a higher frustration level? Whatever it is, I’m becoming less willing to deal with my diet limitations. 

 

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These days I truly feel like I am just eating to live. While I love food, I don’t like how a lot of it makes me feel.  I am left with minimal choices that get boring despite trying new combinations of foods that play nice with my body. It isn’t even a matter of finding foods that I like…there aren’t many foods I won’t eat (aside from papaya and oysters), but there are many that don’t agree with me:

  • Gluten – Celiac Disease
  • Dairy 
  • Eggs – ok in baked goods, upset stomach/GI with scrambled/fried/boiled
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Sesame seeds
  • Poppy seeds
  • Peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomatoes – recent…really flare up reflux
  • Carbonated beverages

 

There are times that I wonder what the hell is wrong with me? How I would love to not have to think about how to safely feed myself! I try to remind myself that at least none of my food issues result in anaphylaxis, but that doesn’t make me feel better or solve my problem. However, it does make me thankful that I haven’t been cursed with a life-threatening food allergy. 

 

So how do I pull myself out of this funk? In the past I would just focus on eating my meals and snacks and not allow myself to skip a meal. Having a history of an eating disorder makes me very aware of what my body needs to not only survive, but thrive. Perhaps eliminating dining out for the time being would be a good place to start. We don’t eat out very often, but enough to know that even while I may not be ingesting gluten or dairy, I am possibly getting some of other things I listed above in some way. Considering how restaurants prepare food, the seasonings and marinades they use, and how some of the foods come prepackaged, the odds are good that I am eating something that will bother me. Making all of my food in my own kitchen is the safest way I can think of to feed myself. I think I am going to go back and re-read my own post on Mix & Match Meal Bowls for some inspiration. 

 

Do you have to avoid any other foods in addition to gluten? If so, please share your experiences and how you cope. 

 

Gluten-Free Mix & Match Meal Bowls

After years of trying to find a solution that worked for meals on busy nights, when the family doesn’t always eat at the same time, I think I may have finally found one. I have been playing around with my meals and sharing them on Instagram and my Facebook page for the past few weeks. I have received several requests for the recipes, but that’s the thing…I haven’t been using recipes! The meals are simple, quick and healthy, cooked with limited ingredients. 

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Sliced sirloin with sautéed sweet potato and frozen green beans

I simply choose a protein, a carbohydrate and a vegetable and get to work. To help simplify things even more, I use frozen vegetables (many come in packages you can pop right in the microwave). Fresh vegetables are another great option, though prep can be time-consuming, so do all of your prep on the weekend or a day when you have the time. As far as prep for the protein, there are several different options. When steak, chicken or pork is on sale, I will buy it and either prep or freeze right away. For prepping my protein, I will trim and slice into bite-size pieces and then freeze in individual portions. This makes it very easy to pull as many servings out as I like and the meat cooks faster when it is sliced in smaller pieces. Leftover protein (pulled pork, ribs, salmon etc) also work great and only need to be heated and tossed in with the rest of the ingredients. Depending on which carbohydrate you choose, there are different ways to prep. Sweet or white potatoes can be cut up, partially cooked in microwave and then sautéed to finish off. Rice can be cooked in bulk and then refrigerated or frozen in individual portions. Pasta can be cooked in bulk and the refrigerated for up to 5ish days. 

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Brown rice, chicken breast and fresh spinach topped with avocado

As far as cooking goes, I choose the ingredient that will take the longest and start there. I use a little bit of EVOO or grapeseed oil and cook until desired doneness. Sometimes I remove the single ingredient while I am cooking another and then add back together for seasoning at the end. My basic seasonings are sea salt and fresh ground pepper. This can be tweaked per individual based on likes/dislikes. 

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Leftover BBQ ribs, coconut brown rice and green beans

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BBQ pulled pork, brown rice w/mixed veggies and green beans topped with avocado

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Coconut brown rice with black beans and green beans topped with tomato and avocado

Suggested options:

Protein

  • Salmon
  • Chicken breast
  • Pulled pork (leftover)
  • Tilapia
  • Steak
  • Tuna
  • Beans (black, pinto, kidney or a variety)

Carbohydrate

  • Potato (sweet or white)
  • Gluten-free pasta
  • Brown rice (I love to cook mine in canned lite coconut milk for extra creaminess)
  • Quinoa (again, love to cook this in canned lite coconut milk)

Vegetables (fresh or frozen)

  • Zucchini
  • Green beans
  • Roasted carrots
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Okra
  • Spinach
  • Mushrooms
  • Kale
  • Tomato
  • Corn

Toppers

  • Avocado
  • Salsa
  • Pico de gallo
  • Marinara
  • Soy sauce 

The key to success with Mix & Match Meal Bowls is to choose the ingredients that you (or your family) like and will be easy for you to prepare. There is no shame in cutting corners and using frozen, canned or pre-cut food. We have cut back significantly in the amount of take-out meals since I have been doing this. Not only is this saving us money, but it is healthier, too. Don’t get me wrong, there are still nights when everyone is eating something different and eating at different times, but there are always staples around to make a Mix & Match Meal Bowl, even if the picky kids don’t put all of their food together in one bowl. 

Resurrecting the Menu Plan

It has been a long time since I have sat down to plan out our meals for the week. Things have been busy for us between Jon finishing up his first year of college, Hannah finishing up seventh grade and our working with a trainer for our dogs. This is all in addition to our “normal” life, of course. There has been more take-out meals than I like, but what is done is done and today is a new day. I have been slowly trying to get back into the swing of meal planning and feel I have laid a good foundation for this week. Here is the plan:

Monday – Tacos and/or taco salad, refried beans, corn

Tuesday – Pulled pork (sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc), sugar snap peas

Wednesday – Leftovers or breakfast for dinner (fried eggs on toast with avocado and sea salt), fresh green beans

Thursday – Gluten-free pasta with marinara and salad

Friday – NY Strip steak, baked potato, sugar snap peas

Here is the taco salad I had this evening for dinner. It was the first one I have had since going dairy-free (started about 8 weeks ago) in addition to gluten-free. 

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I used Romaine lettuce, chopped Roma tomatoes, corn, avocado, taco meat, refried beans and tortilla chips. I drizzled a little bit of Kraft French dressing over the top before I dug in. So good! 

Hope you have a good week! 

PS…Head over to Celiac-Disease.com to enter to win a box of Qrunch Veggie Burgers

The Game

Are you all set for the big football game tomorrow? Some people are more excited about the commercials than the game itself. Some people may not care about said game or commercials. What about you? Do you watch from home? Go to a friend’s house? Head to the closest sports bar that serves gluten-free food? If you watch from home or are going to a friend’s house, there are all kinds of different gluten-free food ideas. Some people like to make chili and serve with cornbread, chips and adult beverages, while others prefer pizza, subs or a variety of appetizers. 

Crunchmaster, America’s #1 selling brand of gluten-free cracker, has some great party appetizer and snack recipes and ideas. Check out the two recipes below for some mouthwatering appetizers.

White cheddar stuffed mushrooms

White Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms

By: Amie Valpone 

Ingredients

  • ½ cup Crunchmaster White Cheddar Multi-Grain Crackers, crushed
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 28 large white button mushrooms, stemmed 

Directions

1.      Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a large baking dish with nonstick baking spray.

2.      Stir the Crunchmaster Crackers, Pecorino Romano, goat cheese, garlic, parsley, sea salt and pepper and olive oil in a large bowl; mix well to combine.

3.      Stuff the filling into the mushroom cavities and arrange on the baking sheet.

4.      Bake until the mushrooms are tender, approximately 25 minutes.

5.      Serve warm.

Chicken meatballs

Chicken Meatballs

by Carol Kicinski 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Crunchmaster Sea Salt Multi-Grain Crackers
  • 1 pound ground chicken1 one-inch piece fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
  • 2 small garlic cloves, grated or finely minced4 scallions (green onions), finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper1 large egg, lightly beaten 

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with gluten free, non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Grind the Crunchmaster crackers in a blender or food processor to fine crumbs. Pour into a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix to combine. Shape into small balls using about one tablespoon of mixture per ball. Place on the prepared baking sheets and spray the meatballs lightly with gluten free, non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes or until the meatballs are browned and feel firm to the touch. Remove the meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any extra fat. Serve with your favorite gluten-free barbecue sauce or Thai peanut sauce. Makes about 30 meatballs.

However you prefer to watch the big game (or spend your Sunday evening) and whatever snacks or meals you decide to enjoy, have fun! 

*Recipes provided courtesy of Crunchmaster. Look for Crunchmaster crackers in stores across the US

Mental Shift

When I first began exercising as an adult, I was doing so for all of the wrong reasons. Maybe I shouldn’t say, “wrong” reasons, but not for the right reason(s). We are told to exercise to lose weight, lower cholesterol, increase bone density, etc, but I feel that one of the most important reasons isn’t mentioned often enough – and that is our mental benefit. More on that later.

I have been pretty lucky most of my life in regard to weight, in that I haven’t ever really been overweight, but that didn’t mean I was healthy. I have suffered from an eating disorder (anorexia) on and off for decades and that was, at times, my motivation for exercise. My disordered thinking convinced me that the more I exercised, the more I could eat or the more weight I could lose. I didn’t see that as wrong, as I wasn’t technically starving myself. As I have journeyed through recovery, instead of using exercise as a means to lose weight, I have come to understand that it is much more about what my body is capable of doing…running marathons, lifting weights, etc. 

I would have expected that by this point in my life (personal trainer + running coach), I would recognize and understand the benefits of exercise. I do – don’t get me wrong – when it comes to the facts. But bring in the personal, emotional side of all of that and it adds a new level of complexity. During marathon training season, I follow a training plan, which basically schedules my workouts for the week. I add in a strength training session or two, plus core class, and there is really nothing for me to think about. I do the workouts, feel great, and go about life. Once marathon training season is over (usually May/June and November/December) with no training plan and no set workouts, things get complicated. My body is recovering from the training and race I just completed, and that recovery is sometimes more challenging than the training itself. I sleep in, maybe squeeze in a couple of runs and a strength training session and attend core class sporadically.This is all well and good. Until it’s not. 

The less I run and the less I work out, the worse I feel. My legs are stiff, my back aches, my brain is cloudy. I want to sleep more, but can’t figure out why I am so tired, as I am not working out nearly as much as I had been a month or two earlier. I know what will make me feel better, yet I can’t bring myself to do it. From past experience, I know that I have the best chance of getting my workout done when I exercise in the morning. When I try to sleep in and head out for my run late morning or early evening, I find every excuse in the book to not do it. I am busy. My head hurts. Homeland is on. Something has to give…I have to change something. 

I figured out that I was making a couple of critical mistakes that needed to be corrected in order for me to get myself out of this rut. First of all, I realized that I had been beating myself up for some decisions I made. If I woke up and decided not to run in the morning, I berated myself for the remainder of the day. I made a decision (with the help of my therapist) to live by and accept my choices. Move on and find something else to occupy my mind. I cannot begin to describe to you how much of a difference this has made for me! By giving myself permission to accept my choices, there was no further self-abasement or rationalization. No questions, no arguments, no berating. It is like I flipped a switch. 

Additionally, I had been of the mind that if I didn’t get in a certain number of miles or lift weights for so many minutes, it wasn’t worth the effort. I always tell my clients that something is better than nothing, so why couldn’t I follow that advice? It was high time for me to start! In an effort to keep myself accountable, I began scheduling workouts with my friend, Sue. One morning I didn’t have time to get in much of a run before we lifted weights, but I decided to take the time when I otherwise would have surfed Facebook on my phone and hopped on the treadmill. I managed to squeeze in “just” a mile, and the difference it made in my mental state was totally unexpected. It seemed as though I had run more like 4 or 5 miles, judging by the way I felt mentally. After that brief one mile run, I had a fabulous weight workout, and my whole day gained a much brighter perspective. 

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Sweaty and happy after a treadmill run and weight lifting session.

Since that day, I have applied these lessons to my workout plans. At the beginning of each week – usually on Sunday afternoons –  I schedule every workout for the entire upcoming week.  And while I used to enjoy running alone, that approach isn’t working for me right now. So I run with friends. I went back to core class on Sundays. I lift weights. I go to hot yoga. The difference in how I feel today from how I felt in December is like night and day. I wouldn’t have believed such an outcome was possible unless I had experienced it myself. With my new perspective, I took all of the pressure off and focused on just moving. If I found I didn’t have “enough” time or if I only felt like doing so much, fine. The mental benefit I have gained from even 10 minutes of exercise is priceless. I feel good. I feel strong. I am exercising to get that mental benefit more than anything else right now, and because I am focused on that, the rest of it all falls into place. 

I had to make the mental shift. Our bodies were made to move. Exercise is the best medicine. The key is finding what works for you. When in doubt, work it out.

Stayed tuned for my upcoming post on how I am fueling gluten-free for my workouts these days. I have a fun new toy that has allowed me to make some fun new post-run drinks. 

National Gluten-Free Day

Happy New Year! Enjoying any new gluten-free products I should know about? According to P.F. Chang’s, yesterday was National Gluten-Free day. Have you ever eaten at P.F. Chang’s? It is a favorite of mine, though I don’t get the chance to go often enough. 

P.F. Chang’s has 19 different gluten-free menu options ranging from Lettuce Wraps and Fried Rice to the amazing Flourless Chocolate Dome. 

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P.F. Chang’s has locations across the US with a few new locations that just opened or will be opening soon. They take reservations online or over the phone, so make those reservations to celebrate National Gluten-Free Day!

With all of this food talk, it’s a good thing I am back in the swing of running regularly. I am training for the Cap City Half Marathon that will take place on May 2, 2015. I can’t believe this will be my 16th half marathon! 

What is your favorite P.F. Chang’s gluten-free menu item?

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