My No. 1 Tip for Navigating a New Gluten-Free Lifestyle

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Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Last month I shared here on Healthy Eats that we discovered my daughter is gluten intolerant, and so for nearly a year I have been navigating the new waters of gluten-free living in our house. Since then I have been asked many questions by gluten-free folks wondering everything from whether going gluten-free has made a difference in my daughter’s life (answer is yes, like night and day) to wanting tips on going gluten-free or accommodating gluten-free guests.

I'll back up and tell you that my initial response to gluten-free cooking was to head straight into my arsenal of recipes (and luckily, I have a lot of them) and start the swapping — corn starch for dredging, gluten-free flour blends for baking flour, tamari instead of soy sauce. While this wasn't a bad start, it was ignoring an obvious solution, which is my number No. 1 tip for gluten-free neophytes: Start out making foods that are just naturally gluten-free.

If you focus on whole foods that you are in charge of cooking, this is surprisingly easy: think fresh vegetables, fresh fish and meats, herbs, fruit, quinoa and brown rice. Stick with foods you already know how to make (don't get me started on how many batches of gluten-free pasta I've botched — a tutorial for another day). If you need to read a label, maybe just skip the ingredient altogether until you get your gluten-free sea legs, because gluten is hidden in so many non-suspicious-sounding ingredients (malt, yeasts) and foods (rice cereal — who would guess it has gluten?). Keep it simple. You don't need to re-create your famous angel food cake recipe in a gluten-free version today. Serve an easy gluten-free dessert instead, like poached pears and chocolate.

To get you started, here are meal and dessert ideas for your debut gluten-free meal.

In the comments below, let me know if there are any new gluten-free folks out there. What are your favorite "starter" dishes?
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