30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living: Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Diane over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang is hosting an incredible series during the month of May called 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living. This series came about during a conversation among several of the gluten-free food bloggers. We decided that we were tired of hearing the same old complaints about the gluten-free lifestyle – that it’s really complicated, the food is horrible, it’s expensive, etc. (In fact, I even once had a gastroenterologist tell me that the gluten-free diet is expensive!) These are gripes that are heard over and over among those people that must eat a gluten-free diet. The thing is, none of these complaints are absolute truths, and that’s what this series is all about – to help you learn how to live gluten-free easily (and frugally).

Today, I’m sharing some easy gluten-free solutions to those old standbys in the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) – convenience foods. Convenience foods can include everything from fast food and take-out, to frozen dinners, to packaged, pre-processed, or otherwise frankenfoods that fill up many a pantry and refrigerator throughout our country. Theses foods are not only commonly filled with gluten (which we said “goodbye” to on our gluten-free diets!), but also many times are loaded with sugar, corn syrup, refined flours, hydrogenated fats, and unpronounceable mystery ingredients, such as preservatives, artificial dyes, flavors, and other unnatural substances. These aren’t good for anyone’s body, but for someone that is healing a sensitive digestive system or other adverse effects from gluten, they can definitely slow the healing process.

 But even those with the best of intentions know that the reason we reach for these foods is that they’re so gosh darn CONVENIENT! When we’re busier than ever with our lives, running from one task to the next, going to school, work, then homework, taking kids to 5,000 different places, and of course, trying to keep our home in some type of order, we all wish for meals to be as convenient as possible. How do you meet this goal and incorporate gluten-free living at the same time?

Make your own “convenience” foods!

Sounds counterproductive? It doesn’t have to be. With a few key tools at your arsenal, you can make some convenience foods for you and your family that can be available when you need them most – during those times when you literally have just a few minutes to prepare your meals. With a bit of planning, and the use of some of these ideas, you can transition those old convenience foods out of your pantry for better-tasting, better-for-you homemade “convenience” foods.

Cook In BulkMake large quantities of dishes, and freeze individual portions. Then you can have your own homemade “frozen” dinners available for convenience. Many soups reheat particularly well, and make great lunches. I do this on the weekends, when I have more time to cook, but I also tend to use my slow cooker to cook large portions both on weekends and weekdays.

If you don’t have a ton of freezer space, you can also cook in bulk for just the coming week or a few days. For instance, you can hard-boil eggs for breakfasts, lunches or snacks for the coming week. Make beef jerky for snacks, either in a dehydrator or the oven. Cut up carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or any other raw veggie and divide into individual containers or ziploc bags for snacks or lunches for the week. (While you’re at it, if you have fresh vegetables on the menu for various other nights of the week, wash, peel, and prepare those vegetables for your recipes too, to save yourself time later!) Bake a batch of muffins, and individually wrap them for the week (muffins tend to freeze well too!). Make a batch of gluten-free oats, cream of buckwheat, quinoa flakes, or whatever porridge your heart desires, and store it in individual containers for the week. The more batch cooking  and preparation you can do, the more time you’ll save when you’re having a hectic day. Just an hour or two in the kitchen on a Sunday can save your sanity on a busy Wednesday night.

Some recipe ideas that make great “frozen” dinners:

Adzuki Beans and Rice

Ham and Red Bean Soup

Vegetarian Bean and Pumpkin Chili

Tomato Soup

Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes (FYI, sloppy joes taste great on a baked potato – a delicious gluten-free meal!)

Sweet Potato Coconut Soup

Chicken Meatballs (freeze meatballs, cooked or uncooked, by spreading on a baking sheet and freezing, then place in ziploc bag)

Make your own condiments and “base” ingredients – Many condiments aren’t gluten-free, their gluten-free status is dubious, or they’re otherwise filled with corn syrup, sugar, or other processed ingredients. Does this mean we should do without? Of course not! Try your hand at making your own! I’ve fallen in love with making my own salad dressings, ketchup, pumpkin puree, nut butters, and even jams, jellies, and salsas. You’ll find when you start making your own that they taste better, fresher, and many times are cheaper to make. For example, I can find whole almonds for $5 a pound on sale, sometimes less. Try finding a 16 oz. jar of almond butter for the same price. Besides, when you make it yourself, you can customize the amount of sweetener and/or salt added, and can experiment with all sorts of nuts. Cinnamon walnut butter, anyone?

Some recipes for homemade condiments and “base” ingredients:

Slow Cooker Ketchup

Almond Butter

Pumpkin Puree

Peach Thyme Jam

Salsa

Honey Mustard Dressing

More Gluten-Free Salad Dressings

Homemade Stock

Gluten-Free Convenience Foods that are Relatively Free of Processed Ingredients - Generally, whole, fresh, unprocessed foods are best, and most of the time, that is what we eat in our home. It makes gluten-free living so much easier and less expensive. But there are a few “boxed” ingredients that are relatively free of preservatives and processed ingredients, and these ingredients can help streamline the meal-making process. I often keep these kinds of things on hand in my pantry, as “emergency” items, in case plans fall through.

Instant Mashed Potatoes (Idahoan and Potato Buds have varieties that are gluten-free)

Minute Brown Rice

Frozen Vegetables (make sure you’re buying the plain variety, and not the variety with sauce)

Canned Tuna (again, make sure you’re buying the plain variety, and not the flavored varieties)

Canned Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce, Tomato Paste

Canned Beans (check labels – plain varieties are generally gluten-free)

Gluten-Free Pasta (I love Tinkyada)

Come to think of it, if you combined a few of these above items, (for example, top minute brown rice with a bag of mixed steamed frozen vegetables, and drained and rinsed beans, warmed and seasoned to taste) you could have a gluten-free meal in a few minutes. How’s that for convenient? Of course, with a little creativity, your options for convenient meals can be endless.

Shirley over at Gluten-Free Easily has come up with an even more comprehensive list of convenient foods that are gluten-free, called 50 Gluten-Free Foods You Can Eat Today

There you have it. Gluten-free can be more convenient than the masses would lead you to believe, and at a fraction of the price of those packaged, less-than-tasty gluten-free cookies, cakes, crackers, and other treats at the grocery. Making your own convenience foods can be healthier too!

Don’t forget to check back throughout the month for other great tips for Easy Gluten-Free Living! Here is the schedule:

 

Monday May 2nd    Diane from  The WHOLE Gang sharing Easy Gluten Free Grocery Shopping Tips

Tuesday May 3rd  Iris from The Daily Dietribe sharing on How to Start a Gluten Free Diet.

Wednesday May 4th  Heather from Gluten-Free Cat sharing Smoothing the GF Transition with Smoothies

Thursday May 5th  Alta from Tasty Eats at Home sharing Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Friday May 6th  Elana from Elana’s Pantry sharing Quick and Easy Gluten Free Cherry Vanilla Power Bars

Saturday May 7th  Cheryl from Gluten Free Goodness sharing Easy Meals GF Style

Sunday May 8th  Megan from Food Sensitivity Journal sharing Gluten Free Baking Undone:  Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Monday May 9th  Amy from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free sharing Magic Cookie Power Bars.

Tuesday May 10th  Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs sharing Gluten Free Baking Tips

Wednesday May 11th      Ellen from Gluten-Free Diva sharing Gluten Free Travel Tips

Thursday May 12th     Kim from Cook It Allergy Free sharing Eating from your Garden for Easy Gluten-Free Living

Friday May 13th     Melissa from Gluten Free For Good sharing Gluten-Free Food Rules (recipes included)

Saturday May 14th  Brittany from Real Sustenance sharing Healthy Allergy-Free Quick Bread with easy flavor variations.

Sunday May 15th  Nicola from g-free Mom sharing Kids Lunch Boxes

Monday May 16th     Wendy from Celiacs in the House sharing Fast Food for Gluten Free Teens

Tuesday May 17th     Shirley from gluten free easily sharing Your Pantry is the Key to Living gfe

Wednesday May 18th     Nancy from  The Sensitive Pantry sharing Tips for BBQ and Picnics

Thursday May 19th    Heidi from Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom sharing Tips for Getting Kids to Embrace Whole Foods

Friday May 20th  Silvana from Silvana’s Kitchen sharing Everything I’ve Learned So Far about Gluten-Free plus my Dairy-Free Nutella Knockoff recipe!

Saturday May 21st  Maggie from She Let Them Eat Cake sharing Easy Gluten-Free Living With Preschoolers and a Vanilla Cupcake recipe!

Sunday May 22nd  Sea from Book of Yum sharing Easy Gluten Free Vegetarian Soy Free Breakfast Burritos

Monday May 23rd     Tia from Glugle Gluten-Free sharing The Value of Support

Tuesday May 24th    Alisa from Alisa Cooks and Go Dairy Free sharing Wrap it Up-Thinking Outside the Bun

Wednesday May 25th  Hallie from Daily Bites sharing Cooking by Color

Thursday May 26th     Carol from Simply…Gluten-Free sharing tips on Entertaining

Friday May 27th   AndreaAnna from Life as a Plate sharing Tips on Traveling on Day Trips with Kids

Saturday May 28th  Zoe from Z’s Cup of Tea sharing Feasting With Their Eyes:  Food Packaging and Presentation For Kids

Sunday May 29th  Kelly from The Spunky Coconut sharing Buying in bulk to save money, Cooking in bulk to save time.

Monday May 30th  Rella from Penny Pinching Epicure sharing Gluten Free on a Budget.

Tuesday May 31st  Naomi from Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried sharing how to prepare grains so they are more nutritious & digestible and create fluffier wholegrain baked goods!

Comments

  1. says

    I echo everything you’ve said, Alta! At first the rumors of how hard GF can be is frightening but, once you get into the swing of cooking for yourself it becomes a non-issue. And, the health benefits alone are worth the little bit of extra time you spend in the kitchen. I’m also a big fan of freezing foods so that I have easy dinners and lunches a few days each week. Great article!

  2. says

    Fantastic and beautifully illustrated post, Alta! Thanks for the link love, too. I say that this approach is really all a shift in thinking and once we start actually “doing” it, all becomes pretty easy. :-) Love this series!

    Shirley

  3. says

    Excellent ideas Alta! I agree with Shirley, it’s all a matter of shifting your thinking and getting into a certain “groove.” One of may favorite things to make ahead of time are “eventually instant mashed potatoes.” Cook up a big batch, use a large ice cream scooper to make little mounds on a cookie sheet, stick in the freezer until solid then bag ‘em up! When I need mashed potatoes in a jiffy, I just grab a few individual portions and nuke for a few minutes in the microwave, easy peasy!

  4. says

    What great ideas, Alta! I agree with everyone, you just have to shift your way of thinking of what “convenience” means… I know that the things that I think are so simple now are some of the things that my friends, who do not eat the way I do, think are a pain. But slowly, one by one, I have been converting them to my side (insert evil laugh here)!
    Great post, my friend.

  5. says

    This is something that I really, really need to do. Especially for lunches. I’m thinking chicken strips after trying those great ones from AllergyFree Foods at GFAF.

  6. Barb says

    When you make pancakes, muffins, etc. measure dry ingredients into ziploc bags to use in the future. Take your home made mix out of the pantry, add the wet ingredients, and cook! I took pancake ingredients to Arizona and gluten free muffin ingredients to San Francisco and wowed my hosts! It takes a few more minutes and saves you many minutes in the future.

  7. says

    As you already know, I’m in LOVE with your Adzuki Beans and Rice recipe! I love your tip to prep ahead. Sunday is my cooking day. I make a few meals and freeze them in individual portions for quick grab and go for lunch boxes. The fridge also becomes a salad bar. If the veggies are pre-cleaned I’m much more apt to make a salad than if I have to wash everything after work. (That’s on a non-lazy Sunday…)

  8. says

    Great post Alta. So many great recipes here too – I am in love with your salsa pic! Please send me a jar! I personally think we’re better off being gluten-free, it is all about shifting your thinking!

  9. says

    Great post! I need to learn how to make my own jam and other condiments…I’m tired of paying $8 for sunflower butter…or $15 for pumpkin seed butter as I did last month!

  10. says

    Being prepared is the key to success with changing eating habits no matter what you’re trying to accomplish (gluten-free, no sugar, weight loss – whatever). Doing the work ahead to make it easy later (so you don’t blow it) is so important and this post of yours is a gold mine of information. Hard boiled eggs are perfect snacks and so easy. Great reminder! And the beef jerky you mention is a good one as well. I make it in the summer for backpacking, but it’s perfect for having on hand at any time of the year. This is such a GOOD post, Alta! Convenience makes for success!
    Melissa

  11. says

    What great ideas! I am totally trying the beef jerky. We LOVE beef jerky, but can’t stand all of the sugar they put into it. Yours sounds great. I’ll have to use the over method, though. No dehydrator.

    And… you are a fabulous photographer. Great pictures. Totally jealous of your talent.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Cut up carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or any other raw veggie and divide into individual containers or ziploc bags for snacks or lunches for the week. (While you’re at it, if you have fresh vegetables on the menu for various other nights of the week, wash, peel, and prepare those vegetables for your recipes too, to save yourself time later!) Bake a batch of muffins , and individually wrap them for the week (muffins tend to freeze well too!). Make a batch of gluten-free oats, cream of buckwheat, quinoa flakes, or whatever porridge your heart desires, and store it in individual containers for the week. The more batch cooking and preparation you can do, the more time you’ll save when you’re having a hectic day. Just an hour or two in the kitchen on a Sunday can save your sanity on a busy Wednesday night. Tasty Eats at Home » 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living: Make Your Own Convenience Foods […]

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