“I found out yesterday that I have celiac disease. Can I get contaminated from a towel? What about the toaster? What if I have kids who eat gluten? HEEEEEELP!”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the sound of a Gluten Free Newbie, or GFN for short. And trust us when we say that being a GFN can be really, really…confusing. And scary. And depressing. It’s like coming up to a big brick wall with no obvious way over or around.
And, that’s OK.
We’ve been there. After a lifetime of eating gluten, it’s frightening to find out that it’s slowly killing your gut. The first few days are full of questions, on everything from whether you can still eat your favorite ice cream to whether your nonstick pans are safe.
The good news is that this is a great time to have celiac disease! It’s a known factor: you’ve been diagnosed, and you can learn what to avoid. Now, more than ever, companies are starting to market to gluten-free lifestyles.
Not that this makes the first 72 hours of being a GFN any easier. What to do? Answer: start here.
THE FIRST 72 HOURS: GFN ACTION PLAN
OK, you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease (or perhaps you’ve discovered that you are gluten intolerant and are sensitive to even trace amounts), and you understand that gluten likes to hide everywhere. Now, you have to make a safe place for your GFN lifestyle. Here are some simple, immediate actions you can take in the first 72 hours.
- Stop using your toaster. If your toaster is anything like ours, it’s the underbelly of the crumb world. No amount of cleaning can make a used toaster completely gluten free. If you’re dying to make toast, use the broil setting on the oven for a couple of days. We quickly decided to purchase a toaster oven (much easier to clean in case of accidental contamination), and we have loved it! You can find the new model of ours here; a decent one shouldn’t cost more than $30 or so. Of course, no gluten can go into your new device: if you catch someone sneaking it in,
slap them upside the headcalmly explain to them that gluten is hurting you. When they understand the reason, most family members will be more than willing to accommodate your kitchen needs.
- Stop using wooden utensils (or any other wooden kitchen items, such as cutting boards or rolling pins) that were previously used for gluten. Wood is a very porous material. Many materials can absorb small food particles, but wood is definitely the worst offender in most kitchens. Eventually, you’ll probably choose to replace some kitchen items or buy dedicated gluten-free duplicates, but for now, giving up wood is an easy imporovement. Stainless steel and ceramic are pretty safe choices. Pyrex is our best friend now (we buy it when it goes on sale), but pretty much any glass in your kitchen should be safe to continue using. 🙂 Used plastics and non-stick surfaces fall into the gray zone; over time, we’ve replaced most of ours. Used pizza stones are also good to avoid, and colanders should be washed very thoroughly before gluten-free use (this is an item that’s smart to replace eventually). If you need new utensils immediately, grabbing some cheap ones from the dollar store is a good temporary fix.
- Open your own jars of peanut butter, jelly, mayo, etc. (any condiments that are scooped out) and label them GF. If you’ve ever loved decorating with sharpie, this is your finest hour. Go to town! Any “glutened” utensils must NOT go into these containers!
- Either get your own hand towel, or make and enforce a strict policy that no one touches the kitchen towel without washing immediately before. It seems like common sense, but it doesn’t seem to be common practice. 🙂 No wiping off crumby hands! Some people love paper towels in gluten-sharing kitchens for this very reason. (If you have guests in your home, you don’t have to lecture them about towel use. It’s simple to replace the towel after they’ve left, if needed, or use paper towels while they’re there.)
- Have a GF kitchen sponge. Especially if you’re hand washing dishes, having a dedicated GF sponge can be helpful to get dishes clean and completely gluten free. Rinsing dishes well before loading the dishwasher can also be helpful.
- Create a “safe place” for food prep. Lots of celiacs in shared kitchens like to create “zones”—counter space that is only used for GF food prep, and counter space dedicated to gluten food (aka, where the gluten toaster now lives). This can give everyone peace of mind. Post a friendly reminder note by each space if you need to—it takes time for everyone, including you, to always remember these new rules.
- Create a “safe place” for food storage. If possible, make yourself a shelf or box in the pantry and another in the fridge where GF foods are consolidated (preferably above gluten foods to reduce contamination risks from all crumbs). This step is really to protect you from yourself. We all have moments of blind hunger when we walk into the kitchen and devour anything and everything in our path (OK, maybe that’s just us…). If it’s hard to find something safe, it’s super easy to cave and consume that Krispy Kreme donut left on the counter. It’s not worth it!
- Start telling everyone you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease (or gluten intolerance) and are eating 100% GF. (More on this one later.) It’s easier to stick to your new diet when you’ve got family and friends backing you up (or at least not trying to talk you into eating just one bite of French toast).
From our limited (but growing) experience, always eating 100% gluten free is a challenge, especially as a GFN. But it gets easier! And we’ll keep walking you through this. Baby steps.
You’ve got this.
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