What Are the Best Tips for Making Gluten-Free Dinners?

T. Briseno
T. Briseno
Most breads contain gluten.
Most breads contain gluten.

Making gluten-free dinners is often easier and safer when ingredients are kept simple. Many advocates of eating healthy food recommend shopping the outside aisles of a grocery store, which tend to offer fresh produce, dairy, and meat and fish, instead of the inner, packaged food rows. This same advice applies to gluten-free shoppers, who may become sick from eating gluten, which is found in wheat and products made from wheat. Keeping the gluten out and the flavor in dinners means centering meals on more wholesome ingredients like vegetables, fruits, and rice and proteins like meat without any wheat-based fillers. Buying prepackaged or specialty gluten-free products can help round out meals, but many non-specialty foods are safe and often more affordable.

Fresh vegetables are gluten-free.
Fresh vegetables are gluten-free.

One place to start when planning gluten-free dinners is at the information desk of a local grocery chain for information on gluten-free or GF products. Some large stores publish shopping guides and exhaustive lists for people who are gluten-intolerant or who have Celiac disease, a condition that makes it difficult or impossible for the body to break down gluten into nutrients. Store lists often include name-brand as well as in-house label foods and drinks, and a number of stores also label shelves with "GF" below gluten-free products.

Rice noodles may be substituted for traditional pasta in a gluten-free dinner.
Rice noodles may be substituted for traditional pasta in a gluten-free dinner.

Planning a menu either for a week of gluten-free dinners or just one night can save a lot of time. Having to stop and sort out the ingredients, making sure they don’t contain any wheat fillers, colorings, or other additives, is a necessary and time-consuming part of a gluten-free diet, but knowing what meals are planned and which brands of foods are safe can keep label-reading to a minimum. Many gluten-free meals feature rice and vegetables, and cooking a lot of rice at the beginning of a week and dividing it for use in multiple meals is a time-saver. It also provides cold rice for stir-frying.

A stew is easily made gluten-free.
A stew is easily made gluten-free.

Fresh ingredients are more of a staple in gluten-free cooking because other staples like bread and pasta — unless they are specifically gluten-free and made with rice or other flours — can't be included. Building gluten-free dinners around a protein, a starch, and veggies and fruit, for example, can simply involve replacing a serving of bread or pasta with an additional vegetable or even a gluten-free corn tortilla or wrap. Spaghetti squash might replace angel hair pasta, and oven-roasted, seasoned potatoes can replace packaged scalloped or wheat-containing side dishes. Beans can round out a casserole or replace pasta in cold salads.

For a simple gluten-free dinner, roast a whole chicken with herbs and potatoes.
For a simple gluten-free dinner, roast a whole chicken with herbs and potatoes.

Stocking a kitchen with rices, corn tortillas, gluten-free seasonings and bouillon and then filling the fridge with plenty of vegetables and fresh tofu, meat, poultry or chicken can lead to countless variations. Preparing gluten-free dinners isn’t typically as easy as tearing open a box with a packet and microwaving, but it can be a lot more healthful. Sticking mainly to foods from the outer aisles, a few gluten-free specialty foods, and lists of safe packaged foods can make meal prep simply a matter of chopping and combining and keeping it fresh.

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    • Most breads contain gluten.
      Most breads contain gluten.
    • Fresh vegetables are gluten-free.
      Fresh vegetables are gluten-free.
    • Rice noodles may be substituted for traditional pasta in a gluten-free dinner.
      Rice noodles may be substituted for traditional pasta in a gluten-free dinner.
    • A stew is easily made gluten-free.
      A stew is easily made gluten-free.
    • For a simple gluten-free dinner, roast a whole chicken with herbs and potatoes.
      For a simple gluten-free dinner, roast a whole chicken with herbs and potatoes.
    • It is possible to make bread without wheat or gluten.
      It is possible to make bread without wheat or gluten.
    • It's often helpful to print a guide to gluten-free foods and refer to it while grocery shopping.
      It's often helpful to print a guide to gluten-free foods and refer to it while grocery shopping.
    • Fruit salad is gluten free.
      Fruit salad is gluten free.