Friday 4 June 2010

Advice for Gluten Free beginners and kids

Some time back I had a comment from a reader called Sarah who asked about advice for friends of hers who had just found our that their little girl had coeliacs disease. She asked, not because I am gluten free (and I am not for those who are wondering) but because I have a niece and a sister who are.

My advice is not comprehensive as I am no expert and there are other websites with such information (see list below). Below I will share some of my family's experiences in accommodating those with GF diets. I have thought it over, talked with my family, and written some suggestions for Sarah's friend here. I hope it might also be useful for other GF beginners or those like me who are cooking for friends and family who are GF.

It will get easier
When you start out eating gluten free or even cooking gluten free for friends and family, it seems like a huge task. Just remember this too shall pass. It will not always be this hard. When my sister first started a GF diet, she found GF bread inedible. After looking around she found a bread that she liked and she has started to appreciate the taste. Looking around the web, you will see everyone cooking GF has different preferences so you need to find your own way - what foods are you most comfortable with.

Be vigilant
Gluten is sneaky and gets into all manner of foods. It lurks where you would leak expect - baking powder, icing sugar, soy sauce, spice mixes. Familiarising yourself with what is and is not GF and then reading labels vigilantly is important in the beginning. We have found that some regular ingredients are GF but only in some brands so it is a matter of getting to know which ones. After a while, you will feel more confident and not need to read labels quite as much.

Embrace the range of grains available to you:
People I know who have gone gluten free will mourn the foods they can't have but learn to embrace many new foods. When life revolves around wheat, it is hard to believe just how many grain, legume and nut flours are available to us. I personally am intimidated by the huge range of flours that some of the experienced GF bloggers use but I have gradually started using some of these (see below photo of my stash that is taking over the fridge).

I prefer using a few tried and trusted GF flours such as besan, soy, buckwheat and cornflour. For example Ilva kindly shared her discovery that besan flour (also known as chickpea flour) can be used as a substitute for wheat flour in brownies. Almost as good are the Awesomely Delicious GF Pumpkin Brownies which are also vegan and use only cornflour and rice flour.

I love the diversity of flours and that they all taste different. I found the Gluten Free Goddess most helpful in getting to know the different sort of flours and being able to balance heavy, rich and light flours (and have recently discovered Gluten Free Girl's guide to GF flours). This knowledge has helped me substitute the flours I have for those in recipes rather than running out to buy new flours for every new recipe. It doesn't always work but GF baking is still a bit of trial and error for me. More recently I love the idea of Ricki's mix and match GF flours (grains, starches and beans) in her pancake recipe.

I have also seen bloggers using nut flours. I have yet to come across nut flours but what what I have read, it seems they are different to ground nuts because the oil is taken our to dry them out more.

Get to know your GF flour mixes
I know some like my sister prefer using just a commercial GF flour mix. A word of advice about GF flour mixes. Wheat flour has one type of flour. GF flour mixes are all different because there are so many flours to choose from. I suggest you read the labels so you know what flours you are eating if you buy a commercial mix. You may need to try different commercial mixes (or even mixes at home) to find what you prefer. My sister's favourite is Orgran.

Get to know what you are missing in Gluten flours
I was told by someone (I don't know who so it could be just an urban myth) that wheat flour is far richer than many gluten flours. So you might want to think about extra flavouring (such as vanilla or cinnamon) or some rich flour (such as soy) to make sure that your baking still has this richness.  Or check your GF flour mix has a comparable nutritional profile to wheat flour.

Or are you missing the binding powers of gluten strands and need to think about some xanthum gum like Kim found. Dan Lepard adds the psyllium husk to his GF White Bread. Or you may just accept that your gluten free bread will be dense as Breadchick did when making a GF no-knead hearty sandwich loaf.

Identify GF friendly cuisines
If you live in Australia like me, or a Western country, you might find that wheat bread is the staff of life. Fortunately it is not so in every part of the world and you will find some cuisines are very GF friendly. Japan has a lot of rice and soba noodles (made of buckwheat - but beware soba noodles with wheat). India has lots of rice dishes. Mexican dishes have a lot of corn based tortillas and tacos. South East Asian dishes often have rice, rice paper rolls and rice noodles. Even in our Western cuisine - many soups and salads are GF and potatoes can often give the substance that wheat provides.

Think about eating out strategies
Friends of mine on a GF diet will suggest which sort of restaurant is better for them if we are eating out (see Identify Different Cuisines section above). But they also often have risotto in an Italian restaurant and flourless chocolate or flourless orange cake off the cake display. They might get a little tired of the same old thing but at least they know they can order something substantial. This is particularly important when there are still many restaurant staff with a poor knowledge of GF foods. I have even had friends who are quite bold in suggesting dishes to the waiters. Ringing ahead and finding 'safe' places to eat out is advisable but not always practical.

Take food to social gatherings
When going to a social gathering, remind the host the you are GF and ask if you can bring some food. Be selfish and suggest taking along something you want to eat. Eg if you are tired of never having a dessert at a dinner party, suggest you bring a dessert.

Educate your family and friends
You might find that those around you have good intentions but that gluten gets in under the radar. Always check if you are unsure and be gracious when others get it wrong. Warn people in advance and let them know some common pitfalls. (eg see Kristy's advice to those coming to a gluten free potluck.) It gets tiring reminding people that you are GF but those close to you will get better at it.

Some of the foods that are helpful to us
It sounds obvious, but we have found there are foods we eat regularly that are already GF or need very little alteration to be so. Here are some foods that appear in our family a lot.

  • Made at home: My mum often does roast meat and roast vegies. Susie makes a cauliflower cheese with GF flour in the cheese sauce. Barbecues with salads are also quite regular and easy to make GF and substantial with a good potato salad. Dips with corn chips or rice crackers and vegetable sticks. Tacos. Pavlova, sponge cake, flourless chocolate cakes, fruit salads.
  • Prepackaged: orgran little cakes packet mix, basco vanilla cupcakes mix, chocolate cake packet mix, Arnotts rice cookies, rice crackers, baked beans. (NB Check the labels!)
More tips and experiences from my family:
  • My sister lets my niece have lollies which have glucose syrup in them - the doctor has told her that, although this is a wheat product, the amount of gluten in these is negligible and it is one childhood treat that Grace doesn't have to miss out on. Of course, some children are more sensitive to gluten than others so this doesn't suit everyone.
  • Birthday cakes: my mum often makes sponge cakes that are mostly egg and sugar with a little cornflour but no flour. If I make a kids novelty birthday cake I usually take a bit of cake mixture out before adding the flour. I add a little GF flour to this mixture and make a little cake that I decorate with lots of sprinkle and lollies and have as a cake for the candle to sit in. (I have also found this GF chocolate cake works well for novelty cakes)
  • Kinder and school: My mum has made GF bread from a packet mix to take to the kindergarten when there is a special bread baking day.
  • Special occasions: My mum found a recipe for GF hot cross buns this Easter so that Susie and Grace could eat them.
  • Keeping meals simple helps to avoid gluten. The less processed food is, the less chance of gluten sneaking in. For example plain salted potato crisps or corn chips can be GF but when they have flavourings often these will have some gluten in them.
  • My mum has found that recipes which have very little flour in them are good for substituting GF flour mix for wheat flour. For example pancakes are excellent with GF flour - probably even better because they are meant to be light and a lot of GF flours are quite light.
  • Both my mum and I have found that following a tried and true recipe that calls for GF flour mix usually works better than just substituting GF flour mix in any recipe. (eg my favourite GF Apricot and Cranberry Cake that is pictured above)
  • It is good to find ways to make a fuss of a GF child who can feel she is missing out (eg such a decorating the GF cakes with lots of fancy colours and sprinkles, or giving a special role in party games).
  • I've never seen GF oats in Australia but you can buy them over the internet.
  • My mum often goes to a GF cafe/bakery in Northcote Melbourne called SACS Gluten Free for the Silly Yaks Bread - the cafe is at 105 High St, Northcote, 3070. Ph: (03) 9482-3999. If you are interested in the cafe or the baked goods, check out Silly Yaks website which includes the history of the cafe.  Black Ruby in Rathdowne Street Carlton also sells v good GF bread.
  • My mum has a gluten free pastry recipe with mashed potato in it. I have tried them in gf vegetarian sausage rolls and it tasted great but was quite delicate to work with. My sister now says she loves the Pastry Pantry gf puff pastry that you can find in the local supermarekts.
Despite all this, my little GF niece Grace eats and eats and is often hungry, she still has days where she wants to be like everyone else, and my sister finds herself spending more on GF foods that Grace refuses to eat. From my observations, it is hard at times but as Susie and Grace have gotten used to it, it has become more of a lifestyle and less of a burden.

So to Sarah's friends, I say give it time, it will be hard sometimes but the more you find (or fight) your way in the maze of GF foods, the easier it will become.

I am not listing my gf recipes but if you look in my index you will see that I have marked those that are GF and/or GF friendly with (gf) and I have a list of favourite GF recipes in my index of favourites. Here are a few other blogs with good info and good recipes:
GF Flour Mixes:


      1. How kind of you to put all of this together. I have a friend who is GF and she made the transition look so easy, but then I have another friend who needed to do it and it was practically devastating for him. So I guess it affects everyone differently. It's nice to have some guidance, though.

      2. This is an incredibly informative post and fantastic resource for newly (and existing) GF folks! I'm bookmarking so I can refer people to you when I get questions! :)

      3. What a lovely, thoughtful and helpful post Johanna. My mum's friend is coeliac and I've baked for her a couple of times, but don't live very close, so don't often get a chance. It's also complicated by the fact that she doesn't really like chocolate and is allergic to citrus, so most of the naturally GF cakes are out!

        I think your idea of taking a little of the cake mix out before adding flour and then making a smaller GF cake/cupcake is great - saves the time and effort of making a second cake entirely from scratch and makes the GF person/people feel included too!

      4. Very useful advice Johanna! I don't eat GF but I was recently sent a sample of GF bread mix to try and it was actually really nice. So things are definitely improving :)

      5. this is a great primer. I have a girlfriend in law and friend who are GF and i liked reading this.

      6. What a great post! I am wheat-intolerant (I can tolerate oats and spelt etc) and have had so much fun experimenting with new grains :)

      7. Great post, yes both glucose syrup and caramel even if derived from wheat is in fact gluten free according to the coeliac society.

      8. Thanks Jaime - you are right that starting a GF diet affects people in different ways - I think it makes a difference what experience people have had of cooking and knowing others with dietary restrictions

        Thanks Ricki - hope it might help a few people

        thanks C - I tried doing the taking a little flour out of a cake mix and adding besan flour instead of GF flour and it didn't work - and U have been caught out once or twice when I use wheat SR flour and plain Gf flour and forget the baking powder - still lots for me to learn!

        Thanks Lorraine - it is amazing how much GF products are about these days - it must have been really dire being GF ten or twenty years ago

        Thanks Maybelle's mom - I wrote this post with people like you in mind as I cook for others on a GF diet rather than because I eat a GF diet

        Thanks Lisa - it is such an eye opener when wheat is no longer the main grain in your baking (or life as in your case) but exciting as well as challenging

        Thanks Kristy - that's helpful info - I confess I haven't looked at the list given by the coeliac society for some time now - should revisit for a refresher (I did when my niece was first diagnosed)

      9. Great post, so informative! Check out my site for a range of reviews on gluten free restaurants and cafes in Melbourne,

      10. Thank you so much for this! I've passed it on to my friend. Rowen (the little girl with coeliacs) is a great lover of pancakes, so it is reassuring to hear that she won't have to give up completely on her favourite things.
        Thanks also to everyone who has added in comments; Rowen's mum has been anxious about making it work.

        ~Sarah B (using another handle since we Sarahs are legion :)

      11. Thanks - this is an interesting and informative post.

      12. Hi, I'm Sarah's friend! That was sweet of you to put this together.

        Our gf lifestyle has been put on hold for a bit, as our pediatrician wants to confirm the celiac diagnosis first. Waiting is hard when she gets such bad tummy aches, but her levels were borderline, so waiting it is.

        We have found a bread so far that she likes, and we're lucky that I do a lot of baking as is, and don't eat a lot of processed food. It's unlucky that she's my "picky" eater (she likes white food, so mashed potatoes are still in, which is a good thing!). We know we'll get there, if we need to and she'll adjust. It's just that she's a kid, and sometimes kids just want to eat cake. I'll definitely be using your special little cake idea. Rowen <3' sprinkles very much!

        Thanks so much! Lynn

      13. Thanks gluten schmooten - I have added the link to the post as it looks very useful for locals

        Thanks scarabee - best wishes to little rowen - hope this is helpful for her

        Thanks Cakelaw

      14. Thanks Lynn - I have known a few people with a borderline diagnosis which is frustrating so hope things start to make more sense (medicine is such an inexact science!) I know what you mean about kids wanting cake - though I sometimes think my niece grace wants to know there is cake there for her rather than to actually eat it. It is important to be part of the pack when you are a kid! A friend of mine who is gluten intolerant now makes her own gf bread regularly with a breadmaker and that works really well for her too. Good luck - sounds like you are on the right track to discovering what works best for rowan!

      15. I actually just popped by to repost my comment; blogger said it didn't work the first time, and yet here it is! Thanks again, for the post, and your response.

        Rowen's pediatrician has asked us to come in on June 21 to discuss the results of the genetic screen for celiacs. It's not all that reliable, but at least if it's negative, we know she doesn't have it. Too bad he won't just tell us over the phone, though.



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