Life gets busy, and it gets harder to stay on top of cooking, and planning for meals. When you have a condition like Celiac disease, serious allergies, or other reasons to avoid certain foods, it gets more complicated. So I wanted to create a resource that will hopefully make it easier to plan ahead and have safe foods available when you need them, with the amount of time and energy that is realistically available. With a few strategic steps, it is absolutely doable!
One of the keys to success here is to plan ahead. You may want to shop based on sales and design the plan around the ingredients that were available and in season, or you may want to make a plan of the meals that you want to make, and then shop based on the ingredients needed. I try to make sure that I have a backup stashed for my most frequently used ingredients, and basic things like oil, vinegar, herbs, and spices – it helps me to reduce stress to know that I won’t run out in the middle of cooking.
Whether you want to do it on paper, or in a list making app, I find it helpful to make note of the amounts of ingredients needed for each recipe I want to make (noting it on the back of the recipe card would work as a quick cheat sheet to transfer onto your shopping list). I like to use Google Keep and organize shopping lists by store so that when I’m at Costco or whichever store, I remember to get the things that I needed that are the best price there. You could also make a master list, and organize sub-groups by recipe. I find it more helpful to tally up the amount of each ingredient that I’ll need.
Shopping Method and Frequency
Depending on the amount of time and energy you have, and when it is available, you may find it significantly easier to order groceries online and have them delivered. Many major grocery stores are providing this service now, and there are also farm produce boxes, and some specialty grocery services that even target gluten free products. If you’re in the US, Thrive Market can save you a lot of money on packaged foods and household products. You may also be able to find a service that will deliver meal kits, but it is important to research their handling methods and assess gluten safety.
Typically, I try to organize things so I go to my butcher shop once a month and stock the freezer with meat, choosing things that are on sale, and also cuts that work for the types of meals I’ll have time to cook. I freeze it all in portions that make sense for the quantities I cook in, sometimes labelling it for a specific dish. I tend to go to Costco once every 1-3 months, a health food store once a month-ish, and a market with nice (mostly local) produce roughly every two weeks. I also have a more expensive grocery store in walking distance from my home that I pick up things like fresh cilantro, or the random ingredient I forgot, at. I try to plan so I can do shopping when I’m already in that part of town for an appointment or event so as to be efficient with energy and transportation. Depending on how you like to shop, you may want to meal plan for a whole month, or just for a week at a time.
Every time I cook, I make at least one to four or more extra portions. That way I am only cooking once per day, have leftovers to bring for lunch the next day, and can freeze extras for a day when I’m too busy or too tired to cook. You may also find that it works for you to reserve one day per week to do meal preparation and cook large batches of things. I find it helpful to make more labour intensive things like tortillas, muffins, sauces, soups, curries, broth, or coconut panna cotta in this way, and stash them in the fridge or freezer depending on how soon I’ll want to eat them. It can be particularly helpful to place portions directly into containers that you would want to take your lunch to work/school in (and likewise for any other members of your household you are sharing meals with). Some folks also use this method to portion out salads for the week, though I find it best to add proteins and softer fruit or vegetables fresh on the day or the night before. And definitely keep the dressing on the side to keep things from going soggy.
It can help keep things running smoothly to also make large batches of gluten free waffles or pancakes, and freeze them separated with parchment paper. Popping them in the toaster oven typically crisps them up like they’re fresh off the grill. Waffles also make for excellent sandwich building materials if you don’t have another easy “bread” replacement. Tortillas can also be made wrap size, and frozen separated with parchment paper. Some folks may be able to find these things in the grocery store just fine, but if you find yourself needing to avoid all grains, dairy, eggs, etc, it gets to a point where it is easier and safer to make your own. You can also make things like a coconut milk based “panna cotta” to substitute where you might have previously reached for yoghurt or pudding.
Freezing and Frozen Foods
Freezing is a huge part of how I manage food on a specialized diet. I’ve been managing with a fridge freezer, but would love to expand to an upright freezer with drawers to keep things organized. Some of the things most likely to be found stashed in my freezer are: soups, broths, tortillas, baked goods, sauces, curries, or quick protein (like cut up chicken or extra burgers). The quick protein trick is a stroke of magic if things go off the rails and I need to eat in a hurry. Just add salad or wrap up a burger with lettuce and avocado and you’re in business!
You will also find a month’s worth of meat/fish, frozen fruit for smoothies, and more labour intensive things like tortillas or baked treats in my freezer. Freezing treats is part of how I keep from eating them all at once too. If you’re making them for quick grab and go breakfasts or lunches, you may want to freeze them in the container or bag you will take them to work/school in.
You may also choose to save time and energy by buying frozen pre-cut vegetables, like cubed butternut squash, broccoli florets, green beans, or mixed stir fry vegetables. It is important to confirm that these foods are handled in keeping with gluten free safety standards, but they can be a huge time saver, and also minimize wasted food when cooking for a smaller household.
Instant Pot and Sheet Pan Meals
In case you haven’t heard about it, the Instant Pot is a magical device that can be used as a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, an electric pot, a steamer, a yoghurt maker, a rice/grain cooker, and more. Using the pressure cooker function allows you to cook things in a fraction of the time, which is super handy for cooking things like spaghetti squash to pour your pasta sauce over. It’s also really great at making bone broth with less time and energy invested. Or you can set it to cook as a slow cooker, toss the ingredients in in the morning, and come home to dinner ready and waiting for you. There are countless recipes designed to be used with either one of these functions, but I have seen soups, stews, chili, ribs, and curries tend to work the best. You can also use an insert to steam vegetables over rice while it is cooking, still keeping them separate.
In cooler weather, I love roasting meat and vegetables, or making “sheet pan meals” where you toss everything on a cookie sheet and pop it in the oven. I’ve seen an entire Autoimmune Paleo cookbook dedicated to cooking in this way. This method is particularly great if you’ll be at home, but need to be able to give your focus to other things like children, pets, laundry, etc. My go-to is to get a whole roasting chicken, salt the skin and stuff it with lemon and fresh herbs like marjoram or oregano, and place it in a deep sided pan, breast down, at 400℉ for 1-2 hours, basting it halfway through with it’s own juices. In a second pan, I’ll put in cubed sweet potatoes, yams, beets, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, parsnips, squashes, cauliflower, cabbage, etc tossed with oil, salt, and herbs. It tends to work best to cut harder vegetables in smaller pieces, and softer ones a bit bigger to allow them to cook at a compatible rate. You may also want to keep things like mushrooms or asparagus on their own to be cooked separately, typically in the last 30-45 mins of chicken roasting time. If you’re batch cooking, you can also use the time while things are in the oven to make tortillas, sauces, or salads. With the whole chicken, I tend to pull off all the meat and toss the bones into the Instant Pot to make broth. Then the next day I can add the leftover chopped up chicken and some vegetables to the broth to make lovely chicken soup.
Cooking inevitably leads to dirty dishes. I’ll admit, I rely heavily on my dishwasher. Anything that can go in there usually does. But my other hack is to allow dishes to accumulate for the day, and to wash them while dinner is on the stove. This of course doesn’t work if I’m trying to cook chicken, make the butternut squash curry sauce, and tortillas at the same time – that takes all of my attention, hands, and counter space! But generally speaking, cleaning as you go keeps life much simpler, and means that your work station and tools are ready and available when you want to make your next dish.
I wrote a whole post about this nifty device, but it’s effectively an electric, insulated lunch bag that will warm your food and hold it safely at temperature, using technology similar to a slow cooker. If you’re concerned about cross contamination in a shared fridge or microwave, it’s a positively brilliant way to make warm food accessible. If you’re heating from frozen, if can take 1-3 hours, but if it’s something from the fridge, 30-45 mins is enough time to have it plugged in. They also sell battery and car adaptors for folks who work on the road.
I hope these ideas have been helpful to you! If you have a Celiac and allergen safe restaurant in your area, it is also completely legitimate to order enough food for leftovers and call that “batch cooking” at times when you’re too overwhelmed or overloaded with life to manage cooking. If you have more money than you have time, it may also be worth investigating hiring a personal chef who will cook for you (and your family) in your own kitchen (so you know things are safe and not being cross contaminated). If you have any other tips or tricks up your sleeve, I’d love to hear about them! Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.