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Special diets don’t have to be complicated – Making a gluten free or other allergy restricted diet work for you

When I took on my first gluten free client (who also happens to be dairy free, soy free and wine free), I’ll admit I was a little nervous.  I knew it could be done, but also that it meant checking labels for terms I didn’t know, using unfamiliar products and probably building a new recipe repertoire.  What I didn’t know and came to discover, was that it’s actually pretty easy and not that big of a deal once I started exploring.  With that in mind, I thought I’d share some gluten free diet tips and suggestions that can actually be applied to most special diets.   Here goes…

Stick with clean, unprocessed foods

By cooking with the basics – fresh veggies, fruits, meats, fish, etc., you’ll avoid most of the allergens included in processed foods and will know exactly what you’re getting without having to learn an entirely new vocabulary or rely on often confusing labels to give you the details you’re looking for.

You don’t have to use funky, expensive products

If you’re on a gluten free diet, take the opportunity to try new recipes that omit ingredients you can’t tolerate.  The menu’s I create for my gluten free client include all kinds of interesting recipes – stews, Indian, Thai, Asian, Mediterranean, Italian and more, but they don’t include pastas or other bread ingredients that would need to be replaced by the gluten free variety.

If a recipe calls for an ingredient you can’t have, use a reasonable substitute or skip it

Dairy free means no butter, but you can use olive oil instead.  If the flavor of butter is something you’re not used to having in your food, you won’t miss it.  Same goes for wine.  Just leave it out.  That said, steer clear of recipes that are focused on ingredients that you can’t have.  For example, Fettuccine Alfredo is what it is and there’s really no substitute for cheese and cream in that recipe that will make for a reasonable alternative.

Rely on the experts at stores like Whole Foods in Johns Creek to help if you get confused

How do I make Asian food for a soy free client if I can’t use soy sauce?  The Whole Foods expert led me to a coconut based alternative that I’ve also used to create Worchester sauce, which also traditionally includes soy.  And, if they don’t know the answer, they have computers with online access ready and waiting to find the solutions you need.

With special diets in mind, here’s a fantastic recipe from Bon Appétit that’s gluten free, soy free, dairy free, has no wine and fits into the easy weeknight dinner category…

Chicken with Ginger-Cilantro Pesto

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup salted roasted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
7 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 boneless chicken breast halves with skin


Combine first 5 ingredients in processor. Blend until nuts are finely chopped. Add 6 tablespoons oil and process until well blended. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until brown and cooked through, about 6 minutes per side.

Transfer chicken breasts to plates. Top each with some pesto and serve.

I really only hit the high points here and will add more thoughts another time.  If you’ve got gluten free or other food allergy recipe suggestions send em to and I may include it in a future post.


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