Your kitchen is the one place where you should be able to safely prepare and eat gluten-free meals. But how can you make that happen? By following a step-by-step process, you and your family can live and cook in a gluten-free zone free from cross-contamination.
Before you convert your pantry and refrigerator to accommodate gluten-free groceries, you’ll need a well-constructed plan. The first question to ask should be whether or not the kitchen can become 100% dedicated gluten-free, which will be determined by how many family members are switching to the new diet plan.
Many people across the country are doing the same thing, so you won’t be alone in your decision. Karen and I know of households where only one or two members are no longer eating gluten and have made their kitchens very safe.
Already Kicked Gluten Out of Your House?
As I previously mentioned, when my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease my wife and I decided our family would become gluten-free. Switching was difficult at times, but watching her grow into a healthy young girl has been worth all the effort.
Once you transition to a gluten-free diet you won’t have to worry about cross-contamination, labeling, or storing food in special bins. But you have to make sure your home truly is free of gluten.
If you have already turned your house gluten-free, it is still worth skimming the rest of this Lesson to make sure you have everything covered. And occasionally, you end up cooking in a kitchen that is not yours – like when you are on vacation. Reading through this information will help you be prepared for those situations.
How to Protect Food in a Shared Kitchen
Although it’s possible to share gluten-free with non-gluten items, you’ll need to take extra precautions to make sure your gluten-free food stays safe. Find designated shelf space in the pantry and fridge that you can use for non-gluten items.
Keeping gluten-free items in sealed containers helps in a couple of ways. First, it ensures your gluten-free food won’t become contaminated by any sneaky food particles. And second, the container is portable so it’s easy to transport food from place to place.
When the dedicated space is ready to go, you can stock your shelves with items like gluten-free cereals, crackers, and flour. Then label them on all sides as such with a permanent marker, or big, legible labels so there’s no question about what’s in the container.
In some cases, you will have both gluten and non-gluten items. Using a utensil (i.e., spreading a condiment on a sandwich with a knife) exposed to food containing gluten risks causing cross-contamination. So it’s safer to have two sets of more commonly used items in a shared kitchen. For example, plan to have two of things like mustard, butter, jam and peanut butter — making sure to label the correct ones as gluten-free.
Salad dressing, condiments, and perishable food can be stored on the shelves you’ve chosen to be gluten-free. It is a good idea to put a big label on the shelves stating “Gluten-Free” so that others in the household know to leave the food alone.
If you have a shared kitchen you should also have dedicated cookware (i.e., a pasta strainer, cutting board, cookie sheets, pots and pans, etc.). Keep them on the designated shelf in the pantry.
If several people cook in the kitchen an idea is to buy brightly colored utensils and cookware. Or use bright labels. Then everyone in your house knows that all the cookware with red on it is your gluten-free cookware. It’s just one more way to help prevent accidental cross-contamination.
Now that you have an idea of how to make your kitchen safely gluten-free, it’s time to finish your plan and share it with your household.
Sharing Your Plan
Have you already thought of ways to make room for gluten-free food in your kitchen? If you share your kitchen with others it is a good idea to think out your gluten-free kitchen strategy first and share it with the people you live with.
By making a plan and sharing it with everyone in your house, you will be educating them on your strategy. When those you live with know your plan, they will be less likely to accidentally cause cross contamination or eat your expensive cookies.
Write a simple but comprehensive outline in your journal using topics such as:
- How foods will be labeled and stored.
- Where the food will be stored.
- Where you will keep gluten-free cookware, appliances and utensils.
- How you plan to prepare the meals.
Anything else specific to your situation can be added as you become more familiar with your new lifestyle.
Once your plan is complete, convene a meeting with all members of your household. Discuss the steps in detail, and be open to receiving feedback as you might get some good suggestions. Going gluten-free can seem daunting at first.
By the way, I talk mostly about family because that’s the lifestyle I have. But this guide also works for roommates and guests – anyone who will be eating in your home who needs to know about your situation.
Now you’re ready to put your plan into action, but where do you begin? Next I’ll give you checklists to help you get your kitchen safely gluten-free.
Checklist for Shared Kitchens
If you are sharing your kitchen with gluten food (and presumably the people who eat that food) then follow this list to make sure you have a safe place to prepare and eat your meals. The recommendations for finding space in your kitchen are pretty conservative. If you have room in your kitchen, claim as much space as you can!
- Pick a shelf or drawer in the refrigerator that will be yours. Find a new spot for the foods that are there now. Get a towel and thoroughly clean the shelf or drawer. Now label this space gluten-free.
- Pick a shelf in the pantry or cupboard that will be yours. Find a new home for the stuff presently in that space. Clean it well. Now label this space gluten-free.
- Clean out your utensil holder and plan to start doing this on a regular basis if the utensil drawer is near a place where others prepare food with gluten in it.
- Clean out your cooking utensils drawer (if you have one) and plan to clean it out periodically if it attracts crumbs.
- Pick out a food storage container set that you can use for leftovers.
- Buy a couple of cooking utensils like spoons and spatulas
- It is not mandatory to buy a separate muffin pan, cookie sheet, or cutting board, but it is the safest way to go if you can afford it. If you plan to share these items with gluten foods, make sure they are extra super clean before you use them for gluten-free cooking.
- Get a toaster or toaster oven eventually. You can get by with sharing a toaster with everyone else if you buy some Toastabags – which are Teflon envelopes that protect your bread or bagel from touching any crumbs in the toaster. They are inexpensive to buy on Amazon.com.
- Start buying gluten-free foods!
Checklist for Making Your Kitchen Dedicated Gluten-Free
If you live alone or everyone you live with is going gluten-free, I recommend following these steps to make your kitchen safe from cross-contamination.
- Eliminate all food containing wheat, barley, rye, or oats as an ingredient.
- Eliminate any food items that might be cross-contaminated. For example, condiments (like ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise), spreads (like peanut butter), and jars of jam might be contaminated with gluten crumbs.
- Give away plastic food storage containers that have held gluten food.
- Give away strainers, the toaster, and any utensils and cookware that might be contaminated (but hold on to your toaster oven if you have one because you can clean it out and cook your foods on aluminum foil)
- Clean, clean, clean! Sanitize the utensil drawer, and scrub pots and pans and baking sheets. Sanitize the refrigerator, pantry, and cupboards to make sure there are no loose crumbs floating around. Scrub cutting boards – especially plastic and wood ones because their surfaces are absorbent and can contain residue from earlier use. White vinegar and water works great as you’re not using toxic chemicals, and it smells so clean. Also after you’ve cleaned the refrigerator, it wouldn’t hurt to wash the walls with water and baking soda as it organically deodorizes and sanitizes.
Now you can start fresh with new utensils, cookie sheets, a new toaster, new food storage containers, and a new strainer — one of everything will suffice. And if buying new isn’t possible on your budget, you can get by with sanitizing existing cookie sheets, utensils, and storage containers really, really well. However, the toaster still has to go, as there’s no way to get it 100% gluten-free from prior use.
Then start filling your cabinets with gluten-free food, and you’re on your way!
- Step one in converting the kitchen is to decide whether you’ll have both gluten and non-gluten food in the kitchen or if you can make your kitchen completely gluten-free.
- If you have to share your kitchen with both gluten and non-gluten (depending on who will be using the new meal plan), share your plans with the entire household.
- Make sure the food, cookware, pantry, refrigerator and eating space are free of gluten.
- Thoroughly sanitize the kitchen, including the pantry and refrigerator.
- Designate clearly labeled storage spaces and containers as gluten-free to prevent cross-contamination.
Taking these precautions to make sure the food you eat and cookware you use are safe from gluten cross-contamination will give your body a chance to heal completely. Best of all you will start to feel so good you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this sooner!