The Healthy Gluten Free Pantry What does it look like?
By Jill Motew, President and Founder Zema’s Madhouse Foods, inc.
When is the last time you really looked through your pantry? What did you find? A bunch of boxes with processed crackers, cookies, cereals and bars? How about some pancake mix in a plastic bottle ready to pour? Any canned fruit? Mixed nuts in a canister filled with unhealthy oils? Yeah, me too, as a child. It’s very easy to stock up those shelves with sugar laden, processed foods that really have nothing to do with real food when you read the labels. Whether you live in a gluten free or gluten full house, the pantries should be similar. We all should be eating healthier and that means cutting out the junk. The good news is that your pantry can be stocked with delicious real food products that kids and adults will enjoy together.
First, I will talk about products that all of us at-home bakers, and even new bakers, should have readily available. I recently wrote another article called “No Sugar Blues” for the Thriving with Celiac blog, so I am not going to go through all sugars here. What every home baker needs is a healthy dry sweetener and a healthy liquid sweetener. These sweeteners should be low on the glycemic index, meaning that they enter our bloodstream at a slower rate, thus not spiking our blood sugar levels too quickly, and they should be unrefined, meaning as minimally processed as possible while still containing some beneficial nutrients for our bodies to breakdown and use. My go to dry sweetener is coconut palm sugar. It looks like a cross between brown sugar and raw sugar, has a mild caramel flavor, and is made from the sap of the palm tree. It is a wonderful sweetener to use in baked goods at a 1:1 ratio, dissolves well in tea and coffee and I also use it on top of sweet potatoes, instead of brown sugar. My go to liquid sweeteners are pure maple syrup and agave nectar. Depending on the type of flavor I am going for, I use these easily in baked goods, soups and sauces, smoothies, tea and coffee and in my yogurt. All three of these sweeteners take care of any job you need them for and offer an array of natural vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc. It took a while to commit to never buying refined white table sugar, or organic white sugar, but all 5 of my kids are over the anger and could care less now.
When you have kids, you need to take baby steps with some of these changes. Don’t pull the plug all at once on wiping out everything because they will try to break you down and beg for their favorites back. It can be very challenging, so work at this slowly and talk about why you are making these changes and how fun it will be to try all these new products. When my kids were very young, I had taste tests for them and made a game out of it. The results were very interesting.
Next on the pantry list is the processed cookies and crackers. These days we are lucky to have many choices on the shelves at the grocery store, but be smart about making those choices. There are many hidden fillers and unhealthy fats and ingredients in products labeled “natural”, “organic” and especially “gluten free”. If the list is long, chances are there’s some fillers in there, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, chances are it’s not natural and if sugar is listed early on the ingredients list, chances are it’s almost all sugar. Eventually, I just stopped buying boxes and bags of junk. Try to go old school and bake your own. I save some time on the weekend and bake a few dozen cookies with my kids and freeze them in 8 packs. Use up those old bananas for mini banana bread loaves and freeze them in slices. I now have jars of raw nuts and seeds that my kids now love to munch on. I change up the selection so they don’t get bored and add some dried cherries, cranberries and unsweetened coconut flakes for a pop. My kids love cereal, but know sugar cereals are not an option. By buying healthier cereal sweetened with fruit juice or you sweeten it up using the coconut palm sugar. Brown rice crispies with coconut palm sugar sprinkled on top tastes just like the real thing!
Crackers are a huge staple in the home. Finding the right texture, the perfect crunch and harmonious seasonings are tough even if you aren’t gluten free. My choice is brown rice and ancient grain based products that have minimal ingredients. When you get into cheesy flavors, you open up the door for food colorings and preservatives. If you want a cheesy flavor, add a slice of real cheese! Look for superseeds mixed into the cracker. Products like San-J brown rice crackers, Orgran crispbread, Sesmarck ancient grain crackers, Lundberg’s Brown Rice crackers and Mary’s Gone Crackers offer nice options. One warning on flaxseeds, when eating whole they will pass right through you, but for some reason cracker companies insist on using them whole. So, just understand you are paying for something that isn’t really offering you anything but an additional crunch. Who has Peter Pan peanut butter in their pantry? Let’s hope not. There are so many amazing nut and seed butters out there now that your pantry shouldn’t be lacking here. Look for varieties that don’t use added oil and sugar to flavor them. Yes, sometimes mixing in the natural oil sitting on top is a pain and messy, but the nutritional rewards are great. For kids who are picky protein eaters, these spreads are magic. I stock peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter and cashew butter that I use daily in our smoothies, on brown rice crackers and just off a plain old spoon. It is tempting to buy the ones mixed with chocolate and honey, but again, you then lose that control over the type of sugar and the quantity that’s really in there. Use that pure maple syrup or agave nectar to mix your own. For a cocoa punch, add in some cacao nibs for more crunch or 100% cocoa powder with a little agave. Some brands I like are Justins, Barneys, Arrowhead Mills, MaraNatha, Futters and then there are some really interesting raw versions by smaller companies. You may be lucky to find no-stir ones, too.
Cacao nibs are a great pantry staple. They are little pieces of cocoa beans minus the shell. It’s what chocolate is made from, is very high in antioxidants and essential minerals and fats. They are a superfood. On their own, a little bitter. Mixed in with nut/seed butters, yogurt or granola and trail mix, they pack a mean nutritional punch. They come in little bags at health food stores and store easily.
Healthy fats are another pantry stable. We use oils on our salads, in baking and cooking. My go to oils include a good olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil and grapeseed oils. Fat is our friend when it’s the right fat. Coconut oil is my favorite to use. It lends a tropical flair in my baked goods, adds a sweetness to my homemade popped corn and livens up sautéed veggies and pan fried fish and chicken. It will come in a jar, solid white. You must melt it down when using. It also has a high smoke point which is important when sautéing.
White rice is an American staple. But why? It lacks the nutrients we need. Are we conditioned to eating white grains? I say if it’s white, don’t eat it. Stock up on brown rice, quinoa and amaranth. These grains give us protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and much more flavor. Earthy and nutty flavors cooked in broth or made into sweet hot cereals will also increase your energy levels, keep you fuller longer and maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Now you can find rice and ancient grain blends with seasonings to make it easier for you to cook. Just read those labels to see what’s in that flavor packet. I recently started buying microwaveable little packets of brown, wild and black rice from various companies. Great to pack for my husband’s lunch or a quick snack for me with some steamed veggies and protein. Super easy.
So next time you shop for those pantry staples, add in a few new items to try out. Go through your pantry and see what you and your family are overdosing on and swap it for a healthier option. Pretty soon, you will see that your pantry won’t be as packed, and your fridge will of fresh foods.
For more information on stocking your healthy gluten free pantry, please click here:
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sign up for our weekly enewsletter featuring new recipes using our GF ancient grain baking mixes, promotions and guest blogger health news. Happy baking, Jill Motew President and Founder of Zema’s Here’s a simple recipe using my Zema’s Madhouse Foods, inc. Dedicated GF Cinnamon-Oatmeal baking mix in a granola bar. Bars are another huge space taker in the pantry filled with so many empty calories if you don’t read the labels. Granola bars are easy and quick to make and you can come up with so many versions, your kids will never get bored. Here’s my favorite version: Zema’s GF/DF Cinnamon-Oatmeal Goji Berry-Cacao Nib Granola Bar Yields: 1- 12×17 jellyroll pan/cookie sheet or 2-12x8x1 jellyroll pans/cookie sheets Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Put into a mixing bowl: 1 package Zema’s GF Cinnamon Oatmeal Mix In another mixing bowl, whisk together the following: ¼ cup olive oil(or grapeseed oil or coconut oil) ½ cup brown rice syrup ½ cup coconut palm sugar ½ cup pure organic maple syrup(or agave nectar) 2 large organic eggs(or egg replacer) 2 t. pure vanilla extract Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add in, using a wooden spoon: 1 ½ cups dedicated gluten free rolled oats 1 ½ cups quinoa flakes 1 cup dried goji berries ½ cup sunflower seeds ½ cup pumpkin seeds 1/3 cup cacao nibs 2 T. orange zest Once the mixture has come together, dump it out onto your lined jellyroll pan. Using slightly wet fingertips press the mixture into the pan until it is spread evenly throughout. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Allow the bars to cool, then cut into squares. Store any extra bars in a freezer bag or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for up to 2 weeks; when you want to eat them, let them sit out at room temperature and thaw. These bars a full of anti-inflammatory agents, and antioxidants….exactly what an athlete needs!
©2011 Zema’s Madhouse Foods. All rights reserved. Photos and images are copyrighted Jill Motew ©2011. All rights reserved
About the Contributor:
Jill Motew is the President/creator of Zema’s Madhouse Foods, inc., a manufacturer of 5 gluten-free ancient grain baking mixes. Jill has over 25 years experience as a self-taught nutritional cook and baker, develops GF/DF recipes using her mixes and speaks to groups about the importance of using food as fuel for the whole family. She has 5 kids, 4 of whom have ADHD and are athletic, which is why she fuels her kids with a gluten free/dairy free based diet, free of preservatives, additives, dyes and refined sugars. Her hobbies include swimming, weight lifting and is learning yoga. Jill has established a Therapy Dogs International Chapter in Highland Park, a pet therapy group, focusing on visiting centers, camps and programs for disabled kids and young adults with her two Leonbergers, Gertie and Nellie, and her newly adopted mutt, Zeke, is currently learning the trade. Learn more about Jill at www.zemasfoods.com
Thoughts from Nancy Olson:
I love the thought of a well stocked pantry, to know that you can go an make just about anything when you open the pantry doors excite me! Thanks for all your helpful healthy tips on stocking a gluten free and healthy pantry. I feel that when the pantry is stocked well that we eat healthier and don’t eat out as much!