You may have already read the post on pantry must-haves when starting to live gluten free or corn free. If you haven’t, I highly suggest it, because one of the hardest parts about beginning to eat in a new way is changing your lifestyle and relationship with food. As people, we begin our food habits as infants and toddlers. Those ways of thinking about food are deeply ingrained, and discovering as an adult that you are allergic to something you have eaten all your life – well, it can throw you off the rails a bit.
Setting up your kitchen is another one of those complete lifestyle changes that can feel daunting to start, especially if you are trying to be money-wise and not throw everything out. So let me get you started.
First, determine if you are allergic to or intolerant of particular food items (and to what). This will influence exactly how much change your kitchen will have to undergo. For those who are in the process of figuring out your dietary restrictions, assume that you are allergic. This is the safest bet, because you can always scale down the following actions. (Note: it will also ultimately be important to know how your body reacts to the allergen. No reaction is pleasant, but not all are life-threatening. Knowing which kind of reaction you have will help you understand how much margin of error you have!)
Second, sterilize, sterilize, sterilize! One of the biggest challenges with food allergies is contamination. Food you CAN eat could be contaminated by touching food you CAN’T eat, or by simply touching a countertop, cutting board, knife, or container that the allergen has touched. For some allergies, even dust in the air from the allergen is dangerous. This is why so many pre-packaged foods state things like “processed on equipment/in a facility with wheat, soy, and nuts.” They are warning about contamination factors.
To sterilize, a good first step is washing items in the hottest water you can find, with plenty of soap. (Be aware that some soaps have corn or other additives.) Dishwashers set to the hottest setting tend to be best for this, as the dishes are rinsed several times, which removes the contaminants. If you are intolerant rather than allergic, or just incredibly thorough, hand washing could suffice.
Third, honestly examine your storage containers. Whenever possible, store in less porous containers (glass is a good one) that will retain less of the previous food stored inside it within the material. Case in point: have you ever stored spaghetti sauce in a plastic container only to find that the red oils remain after washing? The pores in the plastic allowed some of the coloring to seep in. If that spaghetti sauce were contaminated with an allergen, then it might contaminate later food, depending on how sensitive the allergy is.
Fourth, invest in allergy-friendly dry good staples. This will make it easier to begin cooking and baking delicious foods that build new food habits, patterns, and favorites. Maybe sign up for a blog newsletter, or buy a cookbook.
Finally, make some hard decisions. Some households try to balance having allergy-friendly foods while also keeping wheat or gluten products (for example) for those who are not allergic. Decide if you are going to do this, and how you are going to keep allergens from contaminating food that needs to stay allergy friendly. It’s much like keeping a kosher kitchen, with foods that cannot come in contact with each other, or with dishes that aren’t sufficiently cleaned.
Begin with these five steps. If you need to replace larger appliances, pots, or pans, be strategic. You might have cooked one way before discovering your dietary restrictions and find that you prefer a different type of kitchen as you discover different recipes and techniques.