Sunday, September 22, 2013

Going Gluten & Dairy Free (with a 4 year old)

Cashew Orange Date Balls

I have to admit that the thought of cutting out gluten seemed difficult to me at first. I was familiar with going dairy free, as I have had to cut out all dairy while breastfeeding my babies because all of them have had milk protein sensitivities. But this dutch girl likes her bread, and I couldn't imagine feeding my family without this staple that I was so accustomed to! Even though gluten was only affecting Eva (aged 4), I decided to try to involve our whole family in order to make her more compliant. I realized that it would be easier for her if we were all eating "her way" until she got used to this new way of eating.

I started out by making bread using Pamela's gluten free bread mix in my bread machine. I ordered this in bulk from Amazon at the recommendation of several friends. The taste and texture weren't bad, but I was disappointed at the size of my loaves as they often resembled hockey pucks (possibly due to my bread machine). Even if a loaf came out nice, it would cave in as it cooled. Thankfully Eva didn't seem to mind and she quickly owned this bread as her own. After going through all of the mixes, I switched to Udi's bread, available at most health food stores, as well as Trader Joe's (much cheaper). It came to about the same price as the bread mix by the time I added the oil and eggs to the mix. Because the bread was only for one family member, I decided this was the easiest course. I know if we all had to eat this bread, I would have to make my own from scratch due to the cost.

I also stocked my pantry with tapioca starch, potato flour, arrowroot starch and different kinds of rice flours. I put together different gluten free flours (some I found online and others recommended by friends). But I have to tell you, I hated how my baked goods turned out. They looked inferior and even worse, they tasted "off." I also felt like they sat like a brick in my stomach; I didn't like how I felt after I ate my new gluten free recipes. All that starch wasn't agreeing with us. My family was complaining and I felt discouraged.

And then I discovered a different way of baking. A friend told me about a website called Detoxinista, and I love making recipes from this site. I now make cookies and cakes using almond flour, almond meal or almond butter, farm fresh eggs, coconut oil and natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. Another website I really like is The Spunky Coconut, another gluten free, dairy free site that also uses only natural sweeteners. Although I don't agree with all of their food philosophies per se, there are great recipes for smoothies, homemade ice cream, cookies, bars, raw cheesecake and lots of other desserts. And they all use whole food, healthy and readily available ingredients. Many of these recipes are super easy as well and require only one bowl or a food processor. For years I have struggled on how to feed my family healthy snacks and desserts, and many of my attempts have been flops. Now I can make healthy raw and baked goods which are good enough to eat any time of the day because they supply protein, nutrients and healthy fats.

My favorite gluten free, dairy free cookbook is  Nourishing Meals by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre, MS, CN. 

Some of our new family favorites are almond butter pancakes, coconut raisin cookies, cashew date balls, grain free pumpkin bars and coconut banana cake. I continue to experiment and learn new recipes weekly. I have found that these baked goods freeze well. In fact, I usually put them in the freezer on the day I bake since they tend to be moist and get softer if left out. They can be eaten right from the freezer, and that is the way my kids prefer to eat them.

With these recipes breakfast and snacks are easy to take care of. Breakfast for Eva can even be a few coconut raisin cookies and a smoothie made from canned coconut milk and berries. Lunch is usually Udi's bread or a wrap with turkey and some fruit, or a nut butter sandwich with banana; rice crackers with hummus or egg salad and some veggie sticks or even an apple spread with almond butter and raisins. Dinner is not too much different when it comes to going gluten free. The only switch is regular pasta to brown rice or corn pasta. It was harder to cut out dairy with dinner- Eva likes cheese and sour cream on things like spaghetti and Mexican dishes.But over time she has gotten used to the idea that she cannot have these things. (Even dairy free versions contain casein, which she cannot have).

Although changing our diet seemed like a big hurdle in the beginning, I can honestly say that the change has been good for our whole family. I feel like I am more careful than ever before about what I feed my family, and I love knowing my family is eating wholesome foods. I am so thankful for the resources available to us (many free of charge) to help us learn to better nourish our family.

Below is one of our new favorite snacks. This is my version of a recipe found in Nourishing Meals, mentioned above... Cashews are high in protein, full of nutrients including good amounts of magnesium and copper, high in fiber, and a good source of phytochemicals and anti-oxidants.

Cashew Orange Date Balls

1 1/2 cups raw cashew pieces
1 cup pitted whole dates
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
unsweetened shredded coconut

Place cashews into a food processor  and process until finely ground. Add dates, coconut oil, salt and orange extract. Continue processing until dates are finely ground and mixture resembles a ball.

Form mixture into small balls and roll into shredded coconut. Transfer to a container and store in refrigerator. Let cool for several hours before eating. Will keep for 2 weeks (if they last that long!)

makes approximately 18 balls

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