There are a lot of different reasons that people decide to switch to a grain-free diet, and I know it can be really helpful for a lot of people. Some hardly have a choice– their own health or that of their child is suffering, and things have got to change, now.
I get it. I also understand that it can be pretty challenging.When we made the switch to a grain-free diet, we had just moved to Germany, and I was already cooking around multiple allergies. Having to avoid corn, soy, gluten and dairy had already kept me on my toes, so simply eliminating grains as a food group felt like simplifying our lives, in many ways.
We’ve been doing this for over four years now, and I promise you that it does get better. Much better.
I know that a lot of people are met with, “But what can you eat?!” when they first tell someone that they are no longer eating grains. It’s kind of a silly question, because there are tons of things to eat.
Delicious things. Easy things. Awesome things.
The main challenge is simply replacing grain-rich foods you are used to relying on. Here are some of my best tips for making the transition smoothly.
10 Tips for Going Grain-Free
1. Know that you are making your diet more nutritious. I think it’s important to start by pointing out that omitting grains will not cause any nutritional deficiencies. In fact, it will really increase your overall nutrition. I know people talk a lot about “healthy whole grains” but what you’ll actually be eating more of now is vegetables. And we all know vegetables are very nutrient rich. Moreover, most of the foods you’ll be eating (meats, nuts, eggs, etc.) have even more of the nutrients you would get from grains.
2. Vegetables are where it’s at. If you are wondering how to make a satisfying, well-rounded meal, think veggies. They can be prepared so many different ways, and are an awesome starch substitute in many cases. Here are some of my favorite ways to use them in place of other grains or starches:
- Cauliflower rice in place of regular rice
- Zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) instead of regular pasta (seriously tasty, I promise!) I use one of these to make them quickly
- Baked spaghetti squash in place of angel hair pasta
- Cabbage ribbons in brothy Asian soups and curries
- Lettuce cups for serving tuna salad and chicken salad
- Blanched whole cabbage leaves as wraps for tacos
- Sliced and grilled eggplant as a pita bread substitute
- Root vegetable or cauliflower purees in place of mashed potatoes, for those of you cutting down on starches, and sweet potato puree for a perfect, sweet comfort food
- If you are not trying to cut out starch, then potatoes have unlimited potential for you. Try Turmeric Roasted Potatoes (total comfort food, I promise!) or make your own awesome fries at home using beef tallow.
3. Change your meal framework. Instead of thinking of having a protein, a vegetable and a starch, just opt for more vegetables, and different textures and colors on your plate. Sometimes we have a flank steak and just a salad, or sometimes we do flank steak, steamed and buttered veggies, and roasted sweet potatoes. Don’t get stuck on meals needing to fit a certain format.
4. International foods are your new best friend. A lot of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods are naturally grain-free. Choosing an authentic ethnic restaurant is one of the best choices when eating out, and we even find that we have very little problem with avoiding grains when we’re in places like France and Belgium– it helps that we love potatoes!
5. Don’t get hung up on replacements. I think that switching to a different diet gets more frustrating if you are constantly trying to recreate old meals from your grain-loving days. It’s so much easier to pick great meals that don’t have grains in them to begin with.
I do get a craving for pizza now and then, but making a paleo crust has been more trouble than it’s worth, most of the time. Go ahead and put in the work if you are really craving a favorite food that you miss, but don’t plan your menus around it.
In terms of desserts, why not just make a good flourless chocolate cake, rather than worrying about a substitute for a traditional chocolate cake? Or do a good flan or creme brulee or ice cream, etc. (You may want to try these: Affogato, Persian Love Ice Cream, Black Cherry Creme Fraiche Ice Cream.) These Tahini Molasses Cookies are based on a traditional Armenian recipe that doesn’t include flour. There are so many great foods out there that simply don’t include grains!
6. That said, there are great recipes out there for just about anything you could possibly crave, including biscuits, hamburger buns, and sandwich bread. And cake. (For example, my Parsnip & Carrot Cake!) So while building your menus around substitute foods is not the easiest way to go, know that you can probably scratch that itch when you really need to– the internet is a beautiful thing!
7. Eggs, nuts, and coconut are your friends. Keep your cupboards and fridge stocked with staples like plenty of eggs, almond flour, coconut flour, grated coconut and coconut milk. You can make all sorts of comfort foods with these. If I am ever feeling tired of the typical savory morning fare, I love to whip up a Grain-Free Almond Dutch Baby. All of these things are nourishing and filling, and you can make some great, quick snacks with them.
8. Become friends with good fat. A big issue for a lot of people who are cutting out grains is sugar/ starch cravings. The best way to work with this is to increase your fat intake. It’s satiating and will really help with those cravings, I promise. Personally, I like to treat myself to dark chocolate, with a spoonful of almond butter and a little sea salt.
9. Cook extra. Whenever you can, make more. This will save you so much time and energy. Even if you aren’t making enough for an entire meal the next day, just having extra food on hand will be helpful. I try to have extra proteins available, as that can be the trickiest thing to find when I need a good snack: extra Chelo Kebabs, roasted chicken slices, hard-boiled eggs, cans of tuna, etc. All of these things also make lunches much easier.
10. Shop & prep. One thing you can do to make life easier when you are cooking from scratch is to shop weekly, and then wash and prep your produce all at once. Saturday is our marketing day, and we also visit our butcher. Then we get home and wash all of our produce and put it away. If I can, I take some cauliflower and prep it for cauliflower rice. Do anything you can think of, ahead of time, and it will save you so much time and energy through the week!
Bonus Tip: Use a meal planning service. So many people swear by planning meals ahead, and Real Plans is an awesome service that lets you create customized menus, and then does your shopping list for you– so you can shop once, prep, and then enjoy your delicious meals all week without stressing over what to make.
I know any big changes can be daunting. But I am here to let you know that you can totally do this. It’s really not too hard at all, and making some strategic switches, finding some favorite staple recipes, and being just a little organized will go a long way toward helping you transition to grain-free with relative ease.
For more delicious grain-free ideas, definitely check out my new cookbook, And Here We Are at The Table: Grain-free meals from around the world.
This cookbook is about good food and eating well, that happens to be grain-free– so it’s for everyone, not just people on a grain-free diet.
• 183 high quality print pages featuring 80 mouthwatering recipes complimented by beautiful photographs.
• Clear and detailed instructions that anyone can follow, regardless of experience.
• A delicious escape from mundane mealtimes. Vibrant flavors from all over the world.
• The complete spectrum of meals including exciting ideas for breakfast, dinner, sides, salads, condiments, desserts, drinks.
• Cooking basics that every cook should know
May your mealtimes be a source of nourishment, connection, and joy!