A Recipe for Organizing with Food Sensitivities

Working with the Challenges of Meal Planning vs. Dietary Restrictions
How do you simplify and organize your kitchen and meal planning in light of food sensitivities? Below are a few steps to make the process more palatable for you and others in your household to alleviate some of the stress.

If you have any dietary limitations, it probably didn't take any profound revelations to discover the complexities of meal planning and preparation.  Add to the recipe a mixed bag of restrictions or lack thereof and tastes among others in your household and hectic schedules, and you might be scratching your head wondering how to simplify.  Oftentimes when a food allergy exists in one family member, it is not uncommon to find an olio of allergies and/or intolerances among the others in the family.  Perhaps you have resorted to a rubric for deciphering which recipes are acceptable or alterable for persons A & B or B & C or relying on a rotation of tried and true favorites that satisfy all concerned.  Yes, this can get a bit dull, but when pressed for time and inspiration, resorting to convenience is key.  In your spare time if you have any, there are lots of great recipes online for alternative diets such as http://www.eatingwithfoodallergies.com/allergyfreerecipes.html and http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/page/recipes-diet.aspx.  I particularly like the latter one since the site allows you to filter by allergen.  Many of the non-allergen recipes that I use are tasty enough that I don't have to make multiple meals to accommodate the non-sufferers.

The Gross-ery List

No surprise your grocery list is a hodgepodge of gluten free, vegan, dairy free, nut-free, organic ingredients.  Fortunately the range and quality of available choices has improved immensely over the past decade.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find products such as organic that are priced equitably with their non-organic counterparts.  Sadly for now most specialty items drive up grocery bills.  Elimination as opposed to substitution might help to offset the sticker shock.  I know you are probably thinking if I have to eliminate one more thing, I am going to scream.  I hear you.

Your Kitchen Needs to Work for You
Kitchens might need alternate organization arrangements to avoid cross-contamination among food products and preparations.  Halal and Kosher kitchens also need to be suitably arranged to honor those dietary traditions such as keeping any dairy products separate from meats.  Think about your goals, then get to work with the steps below.

Organizing Your Kitchen for Sensitivities
If allergies are severe such as nut allergies, chances are you probably don't have any of those in your kitchen since airborne remnants can be dangerous.  For those households with family members suffering from Celiac (an autoimmune disease) or gluten allergies avoiding gluten is paramount.   This means having no gluten containing grains (wheat, wheat grass, wheat germ, barley, spelt, rye, bulgur, semolina, couscous, farina, graham flour and even some oat flours).  We will call these "unsafe" or "trigger" foods.  While I often refer my clients to the bulk aisle of the grocery store which can be more economical and result in less packaging waste, be extra mindful that bulk bins could easily become contaminated.  There are other food sensitivities that could benefit from organizational techniques such as allergies to dairy, legumes, nightshades, etc.  Depending upon severity, use your discretion as to whether avoidance is best or if keeping these foods separated in the refrigerator or pantry from other foods to prevent cross-contamination is workable.

Remove, Cleanse, Sort, Purge or Separate

  • Go through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and pull out everything.  Purge the obvious gluten grains and read the labels carefully to find unsafe ingredients.  There are a host of foods such as soups and broths, sauces, many processed foods such as cookies, cakes, cereals, lunch meats, bacon bits, soy sauce, and many food additives and flavorings that are suspect.  Also keep an eye out for hidden ingredients in vitamins & medicines, soaps, toothpaste, shampoos, etc.   This will likely take some additional research on your part to ensure that you dispose of any offending ingredients.  Check out sites such as this https://celiac.org/live-gluten-free/glutenfreediet/sources-of-gluten/ for a more comprehensive lists of gluten sources.
  • Now is a prime opportunity to thoroughly cleanse your kitchen especially your fridge, pantry, baking/spice cabinets, oven, and countertops to wipe out any traces that might remain.
  • If your household is going completely gluten-free, then giveaway, donate, or compost the foods you can no longer keep.
  • If you have family members who are not sensitive and do not wish to eliminate foods from their diets, separate the safe vs. the trigger foods.

Labeling and Storage

  • Now that all of your foods have been removed from their original locations, begin to sort them by GF vs. non-GF (same for other allergens).
  • Label the safe foods.  For young children, be creative.  Make fun labels with pictures to help them learn what is safe and what is not.
  • Select storage areas to keep the safe and GF items apart as much as possible.
  • If your storage space is limited, consider storing safe items above non-safe items in case of spills.
  • Keep safe foods low if you have children so they can easily access them and avoid grabbing something that is not safe.
  • Store gluten containing groceries in non-porous containers to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Color code containers, utensils, and bakeware for easy safe and non-safe identification.  Pinterest and other websites have nifty ideas for labeling and color coding such as using dog tags, rubber bands, water-proof labels, etc.
  • Condiments, nut butters, jams, etc. could become contaminated from double-dipping if utensils come in contact with unsafe foods., so you might wish to consider investing in "safe" jars for the GF storage section. 
  • Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, author of "Gluten-Free, Hassle-Free" and "Easy, Gluten-Free" suggests households buy just one GF version of stocks, broths, salad dressings, soy sauce, and other cooking staples that often contain gluten. The taste difference, she says, is often negligible and is not worth the risk of cross-contamination that comes from having two of everything.

Appliances

  • Thoroughly clean appliances and be mindful about deep cleaning small appliances after using for unsafe foods.  If your appliance has rubber gaskets, those should probably be replaced or you may choose to switch back and forth if you clean them well.  Big hassle but better to play it safe.
  • For small appliances that are too costly to have duplicates, consider only using them for GF safe preparations.
  • Use a dedicated toaster for GF breads or toaster oven for easier decontamination or place the bread on a baking stone and use the oven.

Cookery

  • Bake and cook with non-porous materials (glass, Pyrex, Corning Ware, metal).  Avoid plastics, rubber, wood and vinyl since trace amounts could be lodged within the pores.
  • Note scratched non-stick pots and pans could also be harboring offenders.  Beware of other health hazards from scratched non-stick cookware.
  • Beware that contaminants could be lurking in scratched cutting boards.  If using a wood cutting board, use it solely for non-allergen prep.   Try to do as much prep on your special cutting board and not the countertop which could accumulate unsafe residue.

For inspiration regarding prepping and cooking gluten-free, there are many articles, books, etc. available on-line.  Check out http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/050311p24.shtml for the article: Rising to the Challenge — Help Celiac Clients Get Cookin’ With These Gluten-Free Tips, By Juliann Schaeffer, Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 13 No. 5 P. 24.  Juliann shares some useful tips for learning to cook and bake GF, recommended substitutions, recipes and resources.

Other Allergies and Intolerance

I realize there are a host of other allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities that I failed to touch upon.  Keep in mind the basic principles are the same.  Purge what is not tolerated, sort and separate what you choose to keep, clean as much as possible, think about accessibility, and label, label, label.

Making the Most of the Cards You've Been Dealt
Organizing your kitchen ahead of time to be as accommodating as possible will aid in facilitating prepping and cooking.  As someone who has dealt with food allergies and intolerances most of my life, I know first hand the extra steps and the inherent inconveniences.  Fortunately my allergies have had minimal impact on my kitchen.  Dining out, traveling, grocery shopping and the higher price bills, meal planning, and frequently making multiple dishes are my significant millstones.  Trips to specialized stores and extra meal preparations also involve extra cogs in the time management wheel.  But that means I need to be on top of my organizational game.  There is not much I can do about the costs of foodstuffs acceptable to my body although I keep my eye out for sale items as much as possible.  I have made inroads in managing time, ingredients, and kitchen layout to make the process go as smoothly as possible although there is always room for improvement. 

My next blog will highlight a few tips for eating out with dietary restrictions.  Watch for it soon.

Need additional assistance organizing your kitchen?

Contact The Practical Sort at www.thepracticalsort.com and we will get you sorted.