Three years ago, I couldn’t cook a thing. Not a single thing. My brother always used to tease that I didn’t know how to boil water. Truth be told, he wasn’t that far off.
I’ll admit, I was a little spoiled. During the time I was transitioning to a gluten-and-dairy free diet, I still lived at home. I stayed local for college and law school, so my mom made me dinner every night. And with all the changes going on in my diet, it was great. If I had to learn the basics of cooking on top of adjusting to the gluten-and-dairy free diet, I would’ve been eating scrambled eggs for dinner every night.
Once I had to start preparing meals for myself and my husband, I learned really quickly that even though macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets are easy, eating them for dinner every night isn’t a very sustainable (or healthy) habit. It was time to learn how to do more than boil water!
But cooking healthy can be a challenge for anyone. Now, add a pretty restrictive diet into the mix, and it seems downright grim. What could I make that my husband and me (both picky eaters by nature) would like? What didn’t require tons of ingredients (most of which I couldn’t eat) and a huge devotion of time (that I didn’t have)?
I realized it was about getting back to basics. If I focused on natural foods that were innately gluten-and-dairy free, it would solve the bulk of my problems.
In the beginning, this was a bit tricky; not because vegetables usually require gluten or dairy, but because I married a man that had not eaten a real vegetable in years. Seriously. No salad, nothing green of any kind other than some canned peas (::shudders::). What the heck could I make? Well, with a little bit of open mindedness on his part, we realized that we really enjoyed roasted vegetables. Plain broccoli still wasn’t a winner, but if I tossed some florets with a bit of olive oil, garlic, and pepper and roasted them in the oven, they were a great side! Seriously, roast your veggies, they’ll be so much tastier.
Gluten-and-dairy free proteins were really the easiest. I’ve never been a big meat eater, but for our little family, we decided to focus on lean sources to get all the nutrients we needed. The key was to dress ‘em up. Instead of plain, baked chicken breasts, I’d top the breasts with salsa and dairy free cheese to give it a southwestern flair. Or I’d bake the breasts in tomato sauce and dairy free mozzarella for a healthier chicken parmesan. Discovering ready-made gluten free breadcrumbs to bake up on some chicken tenders also helped satisfy the chicken nugget craving.
Ay, there’s the rub! Carbs were the hardest transition to make by far. No more regular pasta, breads, you know the drill. The benefit for today’s gluten free eaters is that, nowadays, it’s so easy to find gluten free pastas and breads. Trust me, that makes the transition a lot easier. More often that not, you don’t even need to visit a specialty store anymore! Your every day grocery store has gluten free pastas, soups, crackers, you name it.
But remember: gluten free is not always good for you. I wanted to clean up my diet and get away from processed foods. If I could swap out straight up gluten free versions of store-bought foods for the kind of stuff our moms and grandmas used to make, I found I could make my carbs healthier. I started roasting and mashing more potatoes. Through that, I discovered the awesomeness of a roasted sweet potato wedge (coat with olive oil, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and paprika!) I tried mung and black bean based pastas (which my mom and I liked, the husband and dad, not so much. Not everything’s a winner!) I also started making more beans and corn. Chilis, fajitas, and quesadillas (made with brown rice tortillas) are all really easy, satisfying gluten-and-dairy free meals that will win over the pickiest of eaters.
So, yes. It will take a little bit of an open mind from your significant other, your parents, or your children. And I know it may test your patience. But with this strategy, I was able to feel like I had options at dinner again, and my family got the benefit of cleaner, healthier foods. My husband is now self-proclaimed 99% gluten free, and he doesn’t even feel like he’s missing out on his favorite meals. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with a full-time convert on your hands like I did.
How do you handle cooking for a significant other or a family? Any picky eaters out there?