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It's Not All About Pasta: Natural Gluten-Free Meal Replacers

Emily Mae Czachor |
September 14, 2014 | 11:58 a.m. PDT

Senior Culture Editor

A quick caprese mix rolls up a variety of flavors into one (Creative Commons/Google Images).
A quick caprese mix rolls up a variety of flavors into one (Creative Commons/Google Images).

"Want some?"

As a person with food allergies, this question is often the catalyst for a prolonged sequence of events.  First, I examine the offering - unless an overt combination of fruits and vegetables is being shoved in my direction, I often politely shake my head "no." Perhaps it's valuable at this point to note that, frequently, when a person between the ages of 18 and 21 is sharing food, it's usually some variation of bagel, pizza, or pasta dish (understandably - they're quick to consume and easy on the wallet).

At this point in the interaction, the generous benefactor tilts his or her head to the side, eyebrows twisted together, as in, Um, I'm offering you this delicious and completely free bagel/pizza/pasta dish, and you're choosing to casually decline? Did you forget you're on a college student's budget? Were you born without tastebuds?

While their reaction is very much valid, I will then offhandedly explain that I have celiac disease, which many people now quickly recognize as an intolerance to all foods that contain gluten (i.e. bagels, pizza, and pasta dishes).  Coincidentally, many foods that fall into the "gluten-containing" category are conveniently shared by the "cheap-and-easy-for-lazy-college-kids-to-make" category.

Knowing all of this, the person usually stops munching on their gluten goodness to express serious concern and confusion about my eating habits: How do you deal with that? What can you even eat? Do you starve?

Admittedly, it is a daunting set of questions, upon first thought.  However, when truly considered, a gluten-free diet can actually place you on the fast track to a healthy lifestyle. Excluding all processed gluten-free food "replacers," such as rice breads and crackers (which are highly caloric), many gluten-free options are surprisingly satisfying.  Once you get an idea of what to look for, eating gluten-free is as simple as heating up a box of Easy Mac (almost).

READ ALSO: The Gluten-Free Trend: Healthy or Harmful?

Here are five tasty and totally natural gluten free meals that will make you wonder why bread was ever an option:

1. Appetizers Galore

This first category doubles as a PSA to college students on a time crunch with minimal kitchen skills.  You can prepare a meal's worth of food solely out of a series of gluten-free appetizers.  Slice and dice two or three tomatoes and toss them amidst mozzarella crumbles. Shake some salt and pepper over the dish and add a dab of vinaigrette. This italian caprese look-alike is sweet chased with a tang. Make good use of the leftover vinaigrette by slicing half an avocado with a balsamic and black pepper dressing.  Add some parmesan flakes if your cheese fix hasn't been met.

Throw in any combination of zesty ingredients like onions and peppers in a quinoa salad (Creative Commons/Google Images).
Throw in any combination of zesty ingredients like onions and peppers in a quinoa salad (Creative Commons/Google Images).

If you're looking to travel even further back to basics, chop up some cold peppers, pull out a handful of baby carrots, and break off a bit of cold broccoli.  Dip in a dollop of hummus or ranch dressing - a little condiment can go a long way.

2. Pamper Your Taste Buds

A gluten-free diet doesn't necessarily amount to a perpetual health kick.  Maybe you can't bury your fork in a heap of spaghetti, but that doesn't mean you can't splurge a little. The gluten free title carries an assumption of healthiness, and subsequently, lack of colorful taste. But consider all of the comfort food combinations you can throw together comprised naturally of gluten free foods.

If you're looking to satisfy a sweep across the food groups, grill a steak, bake some oven-made french fries (double check that they're fried in gluten-free oil; sometimes labels can be tricky), and sauté a vegetable skillet.  Slather your steak in gluten-free barbecue sauce, pile on those fries, and chomp on some crispy veggies.  You still thinking about that spaghetti?

3. Keep It Nutritious

Because gluten free options eliminate a host of grains, many recipes focus on easy to prepare, but equally nutrient-packed dishes. Dress up a chilled, quinoa salad with chopped kalamata olives, crumbled feta, and chopped peppers.  Toss together and sprinkle some garlic to add zest to your texture.  Squeeze a hint of lemon throughout or add balsamic vinaigrette for a finished taste.  Add chopped scallions if you're palate is feeling particularly chic. 

4. Easy & Enjoyable

Add extra flavor to a cup of tomato soup. (Creative Commons/Google Images)
Add extra flavor to a cup of tomato soup. (Creative Commons/Google Images)
Why not stick with what you know?  Keep your gluten free diet clean, classic, and low-cal by adhering to traditional healthy choices, such as green salads and soups. Add vibrance to your lettuce leaves with some punchy craisins and crumbled goat cheese.  Add a squeeze of dijon mustard to a few tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette (Are you sensing a trend? It's a multi-purposeful option to avoid dealing with possible gluten-including dressings, which tend to be on the thicker side of the caloric ad fat scale.) and sprinkle salt and pepper into the concoction.  Add grilled chicken to the mix for a protein boost.

Soups may be the most convenient because they only require a microwave - or, worst case scenario, a small, stovetop pot.  Heat up a bowl of tomato soup and lay a slice of swiss cheese on the surface so that it melts into a warm conglomerate reminiscent of a pizza topping - but without all that bread. Bean soups are usually also a safe bet when you're looking for the gluten free variety. Beans are packed with protein (for those vegetarians), and if you serve them over a thin layer of brown rice, it transforms into a filling meal.  Squeeze lime juice on top for those who enjoy some exotic flavor.

If you're going gluten free, don't allow the stereotypes to dissuade you - just because it's healthy, does not mean it's tasteless. Just because it's not Ramen or Easy Mac doesn't mean it's out of your realm of feasible preparation.

Learn more about celiac disease and healthy gluten free diets here.

Reach Senior Culture Editor Emily Mae Czachor here.



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