Setting Up a Gluten Free Kitchen
So you've just been diagnosed with celiac disease, and you need to make your kitchen gluten free. Should you make the whole house gluten free for one person? That is one of the biggest controversies in the celiac world!
Do you live alone? That's easier; make the whole house safe. After all, it's your home.
What if you live with other people? Are they family, friends, or basically strangers? Are they adults or children? How many of you need to be gluten free? How supportive are your housemates? Answer these basic questions and then decide whether the whole house will be gluten free, or if it will be a shared space. It's usually simpler to make the whole home gluten free, but not always possible.
Gluten at home: How much risk is too much?
As the Celiac Disease Foundation reports, ingesting even tiny amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a shared cutting board, can damage your small intestine. So unless you make the whole home gluten free, you will risk gluten exposure and intestinal damage when living in a shared space. But reality is that many of us can't go 100% gluten free at home; we have to take some risks.
Decide on the level of risk you are willing or able to take. Some celiacs don't want to take any risks, and can afford to replace every plate, pot, pan and container. They can hire someone to super-clean their kitchen and exorcise every last little crumb of that devil gluten. Others are more comfortable with a little bit of risk. Many of us can't afford to sterilize the house before making the kitchen gluten free. We make compromises. That's fine. We each do our best with what we have.
Whether converting the whole house or sharing your space with gluten-eaters, ask everyone in the house to get on board. Single parent of a young child should explain, but don't need permission. The rest of us need to have the celiac's version of 'the talk.'
Do your housemates understand the seriousness of your diagnosis? Will they commit to the new reality? If you are sharing a home with friends or roomies who won't or can't support you, I strongly suggest that you consider finding a new home if you can. Look for other people who are celiac, or have dietary restrictions, or just people who are more understanding and committed.
This post from Beyond Celiac has great tips on setting gluten-free boundaries with non-celiac family members. They come down to speaking up and standing your ground: two skills all celiacs must have.
The 100% gluten-free house
Make gluten elimination your mission! Throw out every bit of food that isn't safe: that old half-eaten box of animal crackers, the last little bit of panko, the end of the cookies and cream ice cream. Toss them, and the sickness they will cause, out of your life! Make sure everyone knows what NOT to reintroduce. Try the BROWN reminder: Barley, Rye, Oats (unless GF certified) or Wheat? NO!
Wash every pot and pan, dish and glass in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher. Get into all the nooks and crannies. Wash dishtowels, linen napkins and tablecloths with your regular detergent.
If you can, toss and replace porous materials like plastic containers. Otherwise use the dishwasher or hot water and soap routine. If I borrow one of these while visiting a friend, I wash them twice, with the hottest water I can stand and a lot of soap. Better safe than...you know.
Throw out your old sponges (it's probably time to do that anyway) and wipe down your shelves with a cleaner. Get out all the little crumbs stuck in the corners. Clean the toaster tray, the refrigerator shelves, the oven (probably time to do that anyway too), and the microwave. Vanquish every one of those little gluten monsters that you can find.
The hybrid home
If your gluten-free life includes sharing space with gluten eaters, communication is key. Set clear parameters that everyone agrees to. This is no time to be coy: tell them what you need and expect, and make sure everyone knows what they are getting into. They will need to wipe down surfaces, use their stuff and not yours, and clean shared items thoroughly.
Families manage this in different ways. My dad let me take over the kitchen in his house as long as he still had his package of Mallomars. I double-cleaned everything before using it, replaced sponges and dishwashing gloves, washed the dishtowels in the hot water cycle, and lined the oven and toaster with aluminium foil. It worked pretty well for me.
Agree with your housemates on some safe spaces for your food. Set aside your own shelves in cupboards and the refrigerator and freezer. I recommend reserving the top shelf for gluten-free items. A stretch is better than a reaction from crumbs that have inadvertently dropped into your food.
Keep your own sponge and your own porous items. I recommend a separate cutting board and even a separate toaster if you use one often, though the data on toasters is not 100% clear.
Expect transition time
Assume that there will be accidents. Assume that is all they are - not that your housemates are deliberately poisoning you. (If they are intentionally glutening you, get new housemates. Your health comes first).
Let the transition have the time it needs. It's hard for you to switch, and you feel the consequences. Imagine what it's like for someone else without that motivator. Switching to a gluten-free home can be hard for people who love you but don't have celiac disease. Acquaintances like new roommates might need even longer. After all, you are asking them for a huge life change - who knows that better than you?
Check in again after about 2 weeks and see how it's going. Do you need to make adjustments? Be ready for honest discussions about what is and is not working. Some of these might be hard conversations, but hang in there. It's not an attack on you; it's a problem that can be solved.
Rest assured, you will get on top of this. There are as many ways to successfully handle the gluten-free diet as there are celiacs. If you have questions, reach out for help.
Talk to your doctor or a knowledgeable nutritionist. Ask your fellow support group members, or one of the major celiac associations. I'm not a celiac professional, but I have been living with this since the mid-1990's. Drop me an email or message me on Instagram and I will do my best to help.
After you get the house sorted, reward yourself with a delicious cake or cookie from Easy, Tasty Gluten Free. You've earned it!