How to cut the cardboard, cut the sugar, and cut the crap while living on a gluten free diet


By Ava Hansen

This article is for those who are confined to a glutenless diet, and are finding it hard to keep up healthy habits. While “going gluten free” has been a fad diet in North America for many years, replacing gluten-laden foods with their wheat-wanting alternatives, can often lead to consuming lots of foods that taste like cardboard, have empty starch calories with no nutrition which convert directly to sugar, and can cause stress and angst about eating out.

To clarify, I am not a nutritionist or dietician, but have been living with celiac disease for over ten years.

For anyone following a gluten free diet for health or necessity, here is a list of tricks of the taste buds to make a gluten free diet healthy, and as stress free as possible (for yourself and dinner part hosts!).

“Grabbing a quick bite” or the Coffee Shop Conundrum: Do the phrases “let’s get breakfast on the go”, “want to hit the drive-through”, or “let’s just grab something cheap and easy” make you antsy? You’re not alone. It can be pretty hard to “grab a quick bite” with a friend and actually fine an option that is cheap, tasty, or hassle free.

Here’s my coffee shop tips: I usually have some gluten free oatmeal packages (better yet, cups) stashed in my purse. Coffee shops are often pretty understanding if you say you can’t order any food there, but ask for some hot water to add to your humble oatmeal. Be sure to make some other purchase of course. I also keep a few of these at the office, which comes in handy on all sorts of occasions.

Don’t like oatmeal? Starbucks has egg cups which are quite tasty and filling. Another way to cobble a complete breakfast is to buy a milky coffee, piece of fruit, and package of nuts.

Unfortunately most coffee shops that do offer a gluten free baked good offer a selection of sweets, which can sabotage your healthy diet pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the nuts and fruit option is my only suggestion for this dilemma.

As a final word on the topic, you’ll probably have more luck stopping in at places that serve vegan or vegetarian dishes.

Lunches; a quest for a mess-free lunch: Obviously, sandwiches are a no-go or are not generally as tasty as glutenous sandwiches. Below I’ve suggested three options for three styles of lunch preparation.

If you’re okay with packing a Tupperware, my favourite lunches are rice, steamed vegetables, and beans. To offset the cost of expensive gluten-free products, try soaking and then cooking dried beans in large batches.

If you want a utensils-free lunch, try nori wraps. Basically, make a sushi roll, but don’t bother cutting up the rolls, just keep them whole. The same style of wrap can be done with rice paper. Quesadillas are also a nice treat if you can reheat them. No fussy rice flour wraps!

If you’re really just looking for a no-fuss no-muss option, but can’t justify spending oodles of cash on bread that tastes like cardboard, try making a sandwich or pizza with socca. Chickpea/garbanzo bread is eaten in a few different cultures, including Italy…. It’s a savoury flatbread that you can turn into a focaccia bread, pizza base, or cut in half to make a sandwich.

  1. Mix chickpea flower, water, oil, and salt in a bowl and set overnight.

  2. Put cast-iron skillet in a 400 degree over to heat.

  3. Stir up the batter.

  4. Toss some olive oil in the pan and put in a layer of batter (no more than ½ cm thick).

  5. Toss it back in the over for about 5 minutes, checking frequently after that.

Low waste and low sugar snacks: It can be challenging to find snack options that aren’t sugary granola bars that might as well be cookies or “ye old trail mix”. It can also be challenging to find snacks with minimal packaging.  

Some of my favourites are snap peas, roasted soy beans, fruit, and plantain chips (maybe not super healthy, but hey). To reduce packaging, buy in bulk and store in glass containers.

If you are a meat eater there’s of course jerky. And if you’re in the United States, there are of course a variety of savoury snack-bars. (Challenging to avoid waste here.)

An easy snack to whip together for the week is energy balls.  

Be the best dinner guest:

If you’ve just begun to try eating gluten free you’re probably noticing a period of adjustment with your friends. It’s optimal to ease them in to it slowly, don’t frighten them in to resorting to making you a salad every time you come over for dinner (I mean, salads are great but…maybe not allll the time). My go-to with friends is to suggest a potluck style dinner. That way, no matter what anyone else is bringing, you can make a dish that you know you’ll eat. It can even sometimes be a relief for the hosts if there are other gluten intolerant guests invited – you can offer to make the gluten free dish.

Other strategies are suggesting dishes or cuisine themes that many people are familiar with, so your friends can just pull recipes form their existing repertoire. Suggest having stir fry (bring your own GF soy sauce), quinoa salad, Indian food, Mexican food or, the “Alberta Staple” – meat, potatoes, and steamed veg.

North American (travel version coming soon) brands and blogs I dig:

Qia oatmeal

Mediterranean Snack Bars

Luna Bars


Gluten Free on a Shoetring (blog)

Minimalist Baker (blog)

Keep up with Ava!