Going gluten-free is a major step, involving a big diet overhaul—fortunately, the rewards are great, starting with the ease of preparing a gluten-free lunch box.
Gluten is a protein found in grains, like barley, wheat, and rye. People with celiac disease (which causes inflammation in the small intestine) are extremely sensitive to gluten, and must avoid it to control symptoms and avoid complications. Some people without celiac disease are also sensitive to gluten—this is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In addition to intestinal inflammation, people sensitive to gluten may experience fatigue after eating the protein, as a result of the digestive system working overtime.
Going gluten-free: it’s not as bad as it sounds
At first, it can be challenging to adopt a gluten-free diet; people often find it initially restrictive. Luckily, there are a lot of substitutes for foods that contain gluten, including gluten-free bread, pasta, and beer (most beer is made with barley). If grocery stores in your area don’t carry many gluten free products, consult a celiac support group or search online for alternatives.
Starting out, following a gluten-free diet may be frustrating—you may miss white flour products. But with time, patience and creativity, you'll find there are many foods that you already eat that are gluten-free and you’ll find substitutes for gluten-containing foods that you can enjoy.
Here are just a few foods that are naturally gluten-free: seeds, nuts, beans, fresh eggs, fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated), fruits and vegetables, the majority of dairy products (including most ice creams), and a slew of other grains (amaranth, buckwheat, flax, hominy, millet, quinoa, soy, tapioca).
Beware of certain foods (unless they’re labeled “gluten-free” or made with corn, rice, soy, or other non-gluten grain): cakes, pies, cereals, cookies, crackers, croutons, French fries, pastas, soups, most sauces, and seasoned snack foods—gluten grains are frequently used as binding agents in bagged snacks, food additives, and sauces).
Packing a gluten-free lunch box may seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, but fear not: sandwiches can be made with flax bread, which is delicious and a friend to the circulatory system. And there are other lunch options besides sandwiches: salads, creative casseroles, almond milk smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, buckwheat cakes, and many other possibilities. Read on for a gluten-free recipe for your lunch box.
Yes, pasta salad can be gluten-free
This dish is both gluten-free and vegan (and delicious); it hails from mindbodygreen.com. The whole thing takes about a half an hour to prepare and serves four people. The ingredients are:
4 medium red potatoes
2 cups frozen peas
1/4 pound gluten-free elbow pasta, cooked and drained
1/2 cup Soy-Free Veganaise
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh dill leaves, torn into pieces
¼ cup cashews
½ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes in a small stockpot; cover with cold salted water, then cook over high heat. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to medium heat, and cook until tender under a fork, about 8-9 minutes. Remove the potatoes from heat; drain in a colander and set aside to cool (gardening tip: let the starchy water cool, then pour it into your compost pile to feed its microorganisms). Cut the cooked potatoes into 3/4-inch cubes. Fill a small saucepan with salted water, and bring this to a boil. Add the frozen peas, cook according to their package, then drain. In a large bowl, combine cooked peas, potatoes and elbow pasta—set aside.
In a separate medium-size mixing bowl combine Vegenaise, balsamic vinegar and olive oil; mix these well. Fold the balsamic mixture into potato and pasta salad, then add red bell pepper, fresh dill, cashews, sea salt and pepper; lightly toss to combine. Transfer the pasta salad a serving bowl and serve immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to take to work or school in your lunch box. This dish is best served chilled or at room temperature—an excellent first recipe for a gluten free lunch box. Pasta salads fare very well in the leak-proof, compartmentalized Bento Slimline Lunch Box.