How to Prepare to Make Gluten-Free Meals

There are lots of details to manage when living gluten-free, but when you get down to it, it’s all about the food: shopping, cooking, and eating! Knowing what to buy and how to cook it is the key to a happy gluten-free experience.

Not only will you improve your health by cooking your own food, but you’ll likely enjoy a wide range of additional perks, including finding new foods to love, developing cooking skills, and being able to serve friends and dates delicious homemade food.

Shop smart for gluten-free products

Smart gluten-free shopping is a bit of an art. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping:

  • Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with gluten-free staples to make mealtime quick and to avoid emergency trips to the grocery store.

  • Check labels and ingredients for obvious and not-so-obvious gluten.

  • Buy at a discount.

Naturally gluten-free foods are most often found along the edges of the grocery store. Start in the produce section to gather fruits and veggies. Enjoy all you want of these items. Even starches such as potatoes and corn are safe on a gluten-free diet.

The back or side wall of many grocery stores contains seafood, meat, and poultry. In their natural forms, these foods are gluten-free, but you need to watch out for these potentially gluten-containing additives:

  • Flavorings

  • Spice mixes

  • Breading, coating

  • Marinades

  • Injected broth

Continuing around the store, you find dairy and eggs. Milk, yogurt, sour cream, butter, and eggs are all gluten-free. Just watch for gluten on the labels of flavored yogurts and flavored coffee creamers. Most are fine, but a few brands contain gluten.

The bakery and deli areas are also on the perimeter of most grocery stores. Run, don’t walk past the bakery. All those breads and desserts likely contain gluten, unless your store has a little gluten-free section. In the deli, almost all cheese is fine, but sometimes wheat is used as an anti-caking agent in shredded, packaged cheese. Blue cheese sometimes contains gluten as well.

If your gluten-free deli meat is sliced on the same cutter as the gluten-containing stuff, then it’s no longer safe for you. It’s often safest to go with prepackaged deli meat that’s marked gluten-free to avoid cross-contamination.

Set up your kitchen

Student living is filled with more time and space challenges than almost any other time of life. Living with gluten-loving roommates who share your kitchen is another challenge — and that’s if you even have the luxury of a kitchen.

Get cooking!

After you stock up on gluten-free ingredients and have your kitchen in some semblance of order, you’re ready to get cooking! Here are some general cooking tips:

  • Start simple. If you’re cooking a main dish, keep the sides simple — a lettuce salad, veggie sticks, fresh fruit, or a microwaved potato is perfect.

  • Do some planning. Think about what you’d like to make before you head to the store, and think about what you want to eat before you’re hungry. Thaw meat overnight in the fridge, and get the butter and eggs out a couple of hours before you bake so they can warm to room temp.

  • Get organized. Read through the entire recipe of the dish you hope to prepare — before you start cooking. Make sure that you have enough of each ingredient, that you have the right tools (or a way to improvise), and that you understand the directions. Chop and measure ingredients so they’re ready to go. Keep your space clean.

  • Use your senses, not just the clock, to tell when food is ready. Cooking equipment varies, and stoves, ovens, and pans don’t always heat the same way. Pay attention to the food’s appearance, texture, flavor, and so on when deciding whether to adjust the heat and when to move to the next recipe step.

  • Measure carefully when baking. For some dishes, you can eyeball the measurements and adjust ingredients to taste. If you’re baking, however, measurements should be precise. You can experiment with add-ins like chocolate chips, nuts, and flavorings, but in general, keep the recipe’s ratios of dry ingredients, wet ingredients, and fats intact.

  • Be patient. Give ovens and skillets time to heat up, and let water come to a full boil. Skillet temperature can mean the difference between steaming meat and giving it a tasty brown crust. Don’t try to rush things by turning up the heat — you may burn the food instead of making it cook faster.

  • Relax, have fun, and expect mistakes. Having recipes not turn out is a sign that you’ve tried cooking, not a sign that you’re a bad cook. You gain skills with experience. Enjoy the process, learn from your mistakes, and regale your friends with your best kitchen disaster stories.

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