Grab & Go

How can I grab & go if I must avoid gluten, histamine, FODMAPS, and dairy? It’s a great question! And a pertinent one if your family gets hangry like mine.

While it may seem be easier than ever to avoid gluten, the task becomes more difficult as restrictions compound. Some restaurants offer a salad base to turn a sandwich into a salad. That’s great unless the salad contains a significant amount of mushrooms, spinach, or finely chopped tomatoes that are high in histamine. And you’ll probably have to ask them to hold the cheese to avoid dairy and problematic plant-based cheeses. Then there’s the matter of fruit in salads – some are high in histamine and some are full of short-chain carbohydrates known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols or FODMAPs.

Of course you can eat at home, but grab & go can be complicated there too. Canned tuna & chicken, deli meat, sausage, polish sausage, ham, and hot dogs are typically high in histamine. Pickles are out. Packaged salad toppers with candied nuts and dried fruit are out.

Although it requires a bit of effort, there are ways to mitigate the inconvenience and have grab & go options at the ready when mealtime slips up on you.

Here are some ideas:

Gluten-free instant oatmeal is shelf-stable, filling and easy to carry. Keep some in the pantry to fill in gaps when someone gets too hungry.

Imagine® shelf-stable chicken, bone, or vegetable (contains a small amount of tomato) broth can be heated in the microwave and served in a mug as a satisfying drink to take the edge off of hunger.

Keep some gluten free bread or bagels on hand or in the freezer and nut butters in the pantry. If you haven’t tried peanut butter on warm toast, give it a try. It’s surprisingly good!

Replace sandwich meat with pre-grilled or blackened thinly sliced chicken breasts or steak. Trim away any fat, season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Bake or grill the chicken just until done. Sear the steak in a skillet and finish in the oven. Cook two or three times as much as you normally would. Freeze in daily portions. Thaw a day or two before you run out of easy-to-grab foods.

Chicken can be eaten on a sandwich with lettuce, fresh cucumber slices, and fresh basil leaves. It can be sliced or shredded and served inside a wrap with hummus (if tolerated), and fresh red bell pepper slices.

The fastest, easiest way to have these proteins available is to buy and prepare larger than normal quantities when you’re cooking the items anyway. The same is true of beef or pork roast which can be sliced and then frozen for later use on salads, sandwiches, and in wraps. Purchase an additional pound of roast to prepare when you’re making roast for dinner.

Keep a supply of low histamine vegetables that can be enjoyed raw – carrots, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, green onions as well as low histamine/low FODMAP fresh fruit – blueberries, kiwi, and raw nuts (if well tolerated).

Purchase an extra half-dozen or dozen eggs along with your regular purchase. Boil the extras and keep them in the refrigerator. You can even pre-peel them once they’re cool so that they’re truly grab & go. They can also be used in egg salad or a green salad.

Bake and freeze a dozen muffins. Thaw in the microwave as needed or take a weekly portion out of the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator for everyday use.

You can also make and freeze pancakes fitting your needs that can be used as a wrap for breakfast sandwiches.

As long as you keep it simple, staying ahead of the game doesn’t require too much time and effort. Tack a few tasks onto things you already have planned. Keep a few strategic items in the freezer and pantry. Before you know it, dietary compliant grab & go will seem like a piece of cake.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pretend You’re Helping Someone Else

Overcome obstacles when you pretend you’re helping someone else. I need to cook. I have vegetables that will soon spoil. I even want to eat vegetables. But I don’t want to cook. Just don’t want to do it.

Maybe it’s because I’m craving pizza. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to do the dishes afterward. I’m not sure but I bet you know the feeling. If not, dining out would be way less frequent and packaged prepared food would not appeal.

I could order in and put off the cooking for one more meal. That’s a great option if one meal doesn’t turn into three. Another option is to give away the veggies. That could be good for my neighbors. Another possibility would be to pretend I’m someone else.

When I’m helping a friend, I never mind doing the dishes. I feel no dread or hesitation. I don’t worry about drying out my hands. I just get in there and get it done.

Cooking for a sick friend is the same way. I don’t hesitate. I quickly figure out what I can pull together and prepare it.

Missing ingredient? I come up with a substitute.

Chopping needed? I chop, dice, and mince like a pro.

Why is it so much easier to get started in someone else’s kitchen?

Don’t answer that. There’s not really a need to analyze. Like many things, it’s only important to understand that this is my pattern. I can use that information to get past an unnamed, unanalyzed obstacle.

That realization makes my day easier right off the bat. There won’t be a chance to lament over my momentary laziness or feel anxious that I may waste more food.

I can simply get started and work from the point of knowing a way past procrastination. All I need to do is pretend I’m in a friend’s kitchen.

How do I know this will work? I’m practiced at using my foibles to my advantage. Or you could just say, I’m good at managing myself.

I’ll soon be sautéing green beans, roasting butternut squash, creaming spinach, and cooking onion, red pepper, and yellow squash. By dinner time, I’ll have a smorgasbord from which to choose. The bonus is that my refrigerator will be cleaned out as well.

I mention all of this to say, there’s nothing bad about flipping a weakness into a strength. In fact, it’s a great way to exceed our own expectations.

When I feel inclined to slack, I have many self-management tools at my disposal. These allow me to function efficiently and with much less angst. And they make chores feel more like an adventure.

If you’ve never considered harnessing your hesitation as an asset, go for it! My dinner tonight will be proof that it works.

Wrap Yourself in Warmth

As 2022 begins looking much like 2020-2, a resolution to wrap yourself in warmth may be more realistic than anything you may have chosen in 2019. When stress is ongoing, there’s nothing wrong with choosing an extra dose of warm, fuzzy comfort!

While that may sound indulgent, it can also be good for your mental health. And reducing stress is good for your physical health as well.

Most of the US experienced the anxiety that comes with a sudden inability to purchase basic supplies like toilet paper in 2020. Supply chain issues persist, and increasing numbers of sick employees are already causing staff shortages. It may be worth stocking up on a few items to keep yourself feeling warm and cozy as you face winter.

For me, warm and cozy takes many forms. My Tempur-Pedic® mattress cradles me while I sleep. Hot, black, French-pressed coffee warms me when I wake up. In between, I like to be armed with the following:

Soft scarves.

I live in a historic home with high ceilings and drafty windows. Even when one side of the house is warm, the other is not. Having a stash of soft scarves to wrap around my neck makes me feel more secure.

Microwavable heating pad.

These small pillows are usually filled with rice or corn. They come in a variety of sizes and prints. My current one has a removable cover that can be thrown in the washer. Not only are these great for sore muscles, the combination of heat and weight is calming. I use mine often to relax sore muscles or place over my solar plexus at night.

Peppermint tea bags.

For someone with a persnickety tummy, peppermint tea may be the relaxing relief you need. I like it both hot and iced.

Bath salts.

I love rosemary peppermint bath salts. While I’m not a big bath taker, there are times when nothing is more soothing than to soak in super-hot water that’s filling the air with a lovely aroma. It can feel like time is standing still. I usually turn off the lights and float.

Gluten-free treats.

Even if I don’t think about them often, I like having some kind of gluten-free treat available in the pantry or refrigerator. It’s more about feeling like what I want is available than it is about consuming a particular food. As some retailers stock fewer gluten-free options, I find myself feeling anxious that I may not be able to order my usual preferences.

Not having snacks would not be the end of the world. And I can always bake. But there’s a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing there’s something waiting for me in the pantry.

For you, warm comfort may come in the form of chicken soup, hot cinnamon rolls, or chili. It could come from binge-watching under a stack of fleece blankets. Or it could emerge from reading a gripping novel, a lyrical poem, or listening to a particular song.

It looks like we’re headed for more uncertainty as 2022 unfolds. Whatever you need to wrap yourself in warmth is worth stocking up on now!

Culinary Adventures

As we prepare for a new year, it’s a great time to formulate a plan for culinary adventures. Flight cancellations, staff shortages, and everchanging risk assessments may keep many of us home off-and-on in 2022. Culinary adventures are a great way to counter the monotony that comes with isolation.

For me, exploring new tastes seems like a natural progression of adapting to the past two years. I’m already experiencing changes in what appeals. The clothes I bought just prior to the pandemic suddenly feel wrong. They haven’t changed. Styles haven’t changed that much. But I have changed. That sometimes means changes in meal choices too.

Not only have my preferences shifted, much has changed: the flow of my workday, the price of takeout, and the availability of food favorites. Together these create the perfect environment for exploring something new.

What does a culinary adventure look like?

It will be different for everyone. And that’s the great part! It can be whatever you want it to be. Here are a few possibilities:

A Trip Around the World – Prepare favorite dishes from many countries.

  • This can be a great family activity. Decide how often you’ll prepare one of these meals (once a week, once a month…) and put it on everyone’s calendar.
  • Get a laminated world map and a dry erase marker. Draw a path across the continents, choosing specific countries along the way. Pick enough for 6 months or a year at your chosen interval.
  • Have the kids research the chosen locations. Use this research to determine what dish or dishes you’d like to prepare.
  • Locate recipes and gather the ingredients.
  • Prepare and serve the dish(es).
  • Include the history you’ve learned about your chosen meal in dinnertime conversation.
  • Have a scoring system so you can compare favorites later.

One Pot or Pan Meals – Challenge yourself, or your household, to use leftovers to create a one pot meal each week.

If you are already in the habit of doing this, change things up by buying new spice blends and trying unusual combinations. The Flavor Bible can be a great tool to guide your choices.

You can make this a more specific challenge by creating only soups, only salads, or only sandwiches.

Pasta Pairing – Prepare pasta with many different sauces and toppings.

  • Change up the pasta itself by making it yourself or choose some made from unusual ingredients or in interesting shapes.
  • Explore no sauce, red sauce, cream sauce, cheese sauce, mushroom sauce, etc.
  • Use a variety of meat and/or vegetables in combination with each of the sauces. Try combos you’ve never tried before. A search of restaurant menus or online recipes can help spark ideas.

Featured Ingredient – Choose a specific ingredient and build a dish or menu around it.

This can be something simple that you always eat made or served in new, creative ways. We get in such a habit of cooking things in the same manner, a few simple changes can brighten up the menu.

  • Consider turning peanuts into Pad Thai or peanut butter into Satay Sauce.
  • Stuff red bell peppers with spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Serve cheese all day in ways you don’t normally serve it – baked into a pastry for breakfast, as soup for lunch, in cheesy baked rice for dinner, and in a blintz for dessert.
  • Use chocolate for something other than dessert. Make it part of your appetizers by dipping strawberries in it or adding it to bacon wrapped dates. Make it part of your entrée by making a mole sauce or dusting your steak with cocoa.

Change Your Environment.

Perhaps you don’t even need to change the food to change its impact. Experiment with the environment instead.

  • Serve the very same dish but change the background music. Next time, change the tablecloth or the china. Serve it again outside on paper plates. Add fresh flowers. Change the lighting. Make the room hotter or colder. Then try different combinations of all of these.
  • Make notes after each meal to determine the environmental factors that create the best experience for each person in the family. Ambiance will affect some more than others. This can be a fun experiment for learning about each other.

Any culinary adventure can be tailored to fit your family and the choices are limitless.

Creating culinary adventures can be fun. It can be a great focus for family time. And it can help break the monotony when staying at home.