Posts filed under ‘Cheryl’

Easy Gluten-Free Recipes for a Summer Block Party

I have three criteria for the perfect block party food:

1)      It has to be handheld.

2)      It has to be tasty.

3)      It has to get people talking.

With those stipulations in mind, I embarked on creating two recipes – one savory, one sweet – for NFCA’s Virtual Summer Block Party. The only requirements were that I use Blue Diamond’s new Artisan Nut Thins and one of the many gluten-free products from Go Veggie! (I chose the dairy-free cream cheese alternative because it seemed the most versatile.)

Gluten-Free Summer Block Party: Blue Diamond and Go Veggie Recipe Ingredients

Just a few simple ingredients made for delicious gluten-free block party snacks!

Products in hand, I proceeded to take a “Chopped!” approach and made my dishes using only the ingredients I could find in my kitchen. Since the whole point of the Summer Block Party is to help everyone feel more confident and included at food-centric social events, I decided to make my recipes not only gluten-free, but also vegetarian.

First up, I created a spin on stuffed tomatoes. I have looked at a number of stuffed tomato recipes online, but never have tried them myself. Some call for baking the tomato, but for this batch, I left the oven off. Instead, I crumbled up the Artisan Nut Thins and toasted them in a pan, which added a nutty flavor and crunch to each bite.

I’m not one for exact measures when creating recipes, so you’ll have to bear with me when I say just wing it on the amounts. Everyone has their preferred veggies-to-cream cheese ratio, and I tend to use more pepper than salt in my seasoning. So, customize it to your liking.

For the sweet dish, I first tried blending strawberries with the Go Veggie! Cream Cheese Alternative. What I didn’t anticipate was that the water in the strawberries would thin the cream cheese out too much. It was delicious, but didn’t have the heft that I was looking for in a cracker topping. My guess is that it would make a fantastic pie filling, especially if mixed with a gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla pudding. Chilling the mixture in the fridge also helps it set up.

In my second attempt, I opted for a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake. I mixed the cream cheese alternative with agave nectar, spread it on Artisan Nut Thins, and then topped it with balsamic glazed strawberries. This recipe earned a verbal declaration: “Winner!” For an even sweeter bite, I would recommend dusting the Artisan Nut Thins with some cinnamon and sugar and giving them a quick bake in the oven before adding the toppings. (Make sure they are completely cool so the cream cheese spread doesn’t get runny.)

If you ask me, these recipes offer more interest than the standard chips, salsa and fruit salad, but I’m eager to hear what you think. Invite the neighbors over, give these recipes a whirl, and let us know how it goes!

Stuffed Tomatoes with Gluten-Free Cracker Topping

Stuffed Tomatoes with Cracker Topping

Easy & delicious!

Gluten-Free Strawberry Cheesecake Bites

Gluten-Free Summer Block Party Recipes: gluten-free strawberry cheesecake bites

A simple, bite-sized dessert.

- Cheryl

July 25, 2013 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

Has a Special Someone Cooked Gluten-Free for You?

When I first started working at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), I was terrified to cook for the team. I was still learning about the gluten-free diet, and there were two things I knew for sure: 1) There is a serious need to keep gluten-free food from getting contaminated; and 2) Avoiding that contamination can be challenging, especially when you have three gluten-eating roommates at home. So, I avoided making any offers to bring in homemade snacks for the group.

Then the team decided to have a potluck. I easily could have contributed some gluten-free products from the grocery store, but I felt this was an opportunity to get in the kitchen and make something from scratch for my co-workers.

Knowing that I wasn’t quite ready to dive into gluten-free baking, I opted for a simple, crowd-pleasing dish – what I call my Festive Fall Bake. It’s a combination of sweet potatoes, butternut squash and apples, splashed with some orange juice and baked until fork tender. Before preparing any food, I cleaned all the surfaces in my kitchen and thoroughly washed any bowls or utensils that I planned to use. I washed the baking dish and lined it with aluminum foil, just to make sure there would be no risk of gluten residue. As soon as it was done, I covered the dish with aluminum foil and stashed it on the top shelf of our fridge.

The next day, the staff raved about my Festive Fall Bake. Best of all, I was confident that I had made the food safely. Everyone enjoyed, and no one got sick.

Vegetable Spring Rolls - One of the gluten-free recipes in our Cook for Your Love campaign

Vegetable Spring Rolls – One of the gluten-free recipes in our “Cook for Your Love” campaign

My gluten-free cooking skills have become more and more helpful over the years, and it now hits even closer to home. Recently, one of my soon-to-be in-laws learned he has to avoid gluten for health reasons. When he came to dinner at our home, we served cheese and gluten-free crackers for appetizers; pork with mole sauce, roasted asparagus and homemade gluten-free cornbread for the main course; and ice cream with a gluten-free crumble for dessert. It was important to me that he got to enjoy the same complete meal as everyone else – no exclusions.

This month at NFCA, we’ve been hosting the “Cook for Your Love” campaign. It stems from our belief that everyone deserves a home-cooked meal, no matter what their dietary restrictions may be. You’re probably used to cooking your own gluten-free food each night, but every now and then you should be able to have someone else cook for you. So, this Valentine’s Day (or any day, really), take the opportunity to cook with a special someone and teach the ins and outs of gluten-free safety. It could be your mom, or your kids, or your best friend. Chances are, they’ll be eager to learn, and it could give them the confidence to cook gluten-free meals more often.

The gluten-free recipes on our “Cook for Your Love” campaign should be enticing enough to get your special someone in the kitchen, but if you need extra encouragement, sign up for the weekly giveaway. Nothing says “try me” like free products, right?

Has a special someone cooked a delicious gluten-free meal for you? Tell us about it (and include recipe links if you have them)!

- Cheryl

February 13, 2013 at 11:23 am 2 comments

Why This Gluten-Free Entrepreneur Caught Our Eye

Last week, I received an email from Benny Solomon, the founder of celiac and gluten-free resource website called OnTrackCeliac. The website is still in its infancy, but the goal is to include restaurant listings, product recommendations and other tools for living gluten-free. Nothing out of the ordinary, but here’s what caught my attention: Benny is only 14 years old.

After reading Benny’s email, I just had to find out how a teenager decided to shelve some of his social time and spend it developing a gluten-free resource.

NFCA: What inspired you to start OnTrackCeliac?

Benny Solomon: I was diagnosed with celiac disease in late 2009, and immediately switched to a completely gluten-free diet.  Within days, I noticed that many people knew what eating gluten-free was, but had no knowledge of cross-contamination.  I did not feel comfortable eating out and not knowing what was happening in the restaurant’s kitchen.  I realized that most places did not fully understand celiac disease.

For about a year and a half, I refused to go to more than about four different restaurants that I felt comfortable in, simply because I didn’t know which ones I could trust.  It was at this time that I realized that those with celiac needed a place to go to be sure that there was no need to worry.

Many websites have huge, outdated lists of restaurants with gluten-free menus.  If you were to go to about half of the restaurants on those lists, you would find that most of the staff has no familiarity with celiac.  People with celiac disease needed a place to find gluten-free options that were reliable and where they did not have to worry about cross-contamination.  In February of 2011, I started OnTrackCeliac to satisfy this need.

NFCA: Why did you decide to do a restaurant and food finder?

BS: I wanted to work with restaurants and foods since they are the base of starting a gluten-free diet.  My plan was to develop more resources around these two categories over time.

This was not my first time making a website or app, but it was the first time that I seriously took on a technology-related task.  For a few years I worked on a few iPhone games, and later I ran a small website that featured “the best videos on YouTube.”  OnTrackCeliac truly felt like an idea where I could apply my computer experience to something I am passionate about.

NFCA: How do you choose the restaurants that you feature?

BS: My policy is that any restaurant that is safe for people with celiac disease should be listed on OnTrackCeliac.  I don’t exclude any restaurants for quality of the food, or any other reasons.  I try to provide as many options for restaurants as possible, as there are very few that have a strong knowledge of celiac.  Although the main focus is on gluten-free safety, I will be starting a new star system, so that restaurants that have exceptional food and go above and beyond expectations will be recognized.

NFCA: How do you create your list of gluten-free foods on the website?

BS: When creating a list of gluten-free foods, I generally start by exploring the company’s website.  I try and ask myself if the company looks reliable, and if they are promoting gluten-free foods.  If they actively publish a list of gluten-free foods, that becomes a strong indicator of the company’s reliability.  If not, I generally call companies to find out if they have a list of gluten-free foods, but do not publish it online.

The company must show significant knowledge to pass the test and make it onto the site, and if they do not have any apparent efforts for showing which products have gluten and which do not, they do not make the cut.

NFCA: How do you juggle this project with school and other activities?

BS: Working OnTrackCeliac development into my schedule is certainly difficult.  I generally don’t work on the site every day (after homework is done); instead, I find that I work best when a large chunk of time is available.  On a break from school, for example, I sometimes sit down and work on the website for 3-4 hours a day.  I do give OnTrackCeliac a quick check every day though, just to make sure nothing has gone wrong, and that everything is working smoothly.

NFCA: Some people get discouraged about having to live gluten-free. You seem to have a passion for it. How do you stay so positive?

BS: I have mixed feelings towards having celiac disease.  At times, I like having it, because it gives me something that I feel is unique to me in the way that I deal with it. At other times, I do experience frustration, such as on trips and when I go to a restaurant at a last minute’s notice.  The way that I stay so positive is by knowing that OnTrackCeliac helps other people.  By encouraging people to stay informed about celiac, we can only encourage progress for the future.

For the first year I worried about having celiac, but realized that worrying wasn’t getting me anywhere.  By educating others, I hope that someday celiac will not be a burden at all on my lifestyle, and I am motivated to teach others to have the same outlook on eating gluten-free.

NFCA: What advice do you have for teens who feel tempted to cheat on their gluten-free diet?

BS: To any teens with celiac that want to cheat, I would say it’s simply not worth it.  After having spent the first part of my life eating gluten without knowledge of celiac, I can assure anyone that the best substitutes for gluten-free are just as good as regular food.  The trick is you have to find the best (I cannot stress that enough) brands. For example, there are hundreds of gluten-free breads out there, but in my opinion, only about two of the brands taste like “normal.”

Cheating might not initially seem like a big deal, but the long-term consequences are extremely serious.  There is nothing to gain from eating gluten.  Set a goal for yourself to not eat gluten, and reward yourself when you reach points along the timeline (but not with eating gluten!).  If you ever need advice on the best foods, check out OnTrackCeliac’s food page!

NFCA: Is OnTrackCeliac something you’d like to turn into a career?

BS: At this point in development, I hope for OnTrackCeliac to become even more of a resource for people with celiac disease.  I would like my career to be somewhere along the lines of what my website strives to accomplish, but I just can’t predict what lies ahead.  I hope that OnTrackCeliac has a long future, and I want people to have the mindset that it encourages:  To embrace celiac, find reliable ways to live your gluten-free life, and educate others.

October 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm 1 comment

National School Lunch Week: School Nutrition Consultant Talks Gluten-Free

Last August, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) hosted a back-to-school webinar with Gabriela Pacheco, RD, LD, SNS, a school nutrition consultant with expertise in specialty diet accommodations. In honor of National School Lunch Week, we decided to circle back with Gabriela and get some more tips on how parents and schools can work together to provide gluten-free school lunches to celiac and gluten sensitive students.

Gabriela Pacheco, RD, LD, SNSNFCA:  What is the biggest challenge schools face in offering gluten-free options? Is it the cost? Not enough demand? Staff training?

Gabriela Pacheco (GP):  All of those challenges happen and are different in every district.

Staff training is certainly the biggest challenge.  With or without a diet prescription, the foodservice staff must understand proper label reading and handling of all foods.  This is especially challenging when a reaction to cross-contamination can have serious effects on the student.

Cost can be a challenge in some districts because the school cannot pass on the extra expense to the student.  In other words, if a student gets free, reduced, or pays full price for school meals, the school cannot charge them for the extra expense to make the special meal.

The demand “should” not be an issue. One child or 100 students should be treated the same.  However, some districts may push back if there is only one student or a few students needing the special meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that if a student has a food intolerance or allergy, the school can – but does not have to – modify meals, unless it is a life-threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis.  It all lies on the diet prescription from a certified medical authority; if the diet prescription states that meals must be modified, then the district has no choice.

With or without a diet prescription, if the school nutrition staff works with parents of students with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, they demonstrate support of a segment of the community by helping them improve their quality of life and concentrate on school – not stress about food.

NFCA: What are some schools meals that meet the new USDA nutrition guidelines and are gluten-free?

GP: USDA – The National School Breakfast and Lunch Program ensures that your child eats a healthy meal, including meals for children with special dietary needs.  Although a gluten-free diet limits some food options, schools can put together kid-friendly school meals. Having a diet different from that of his/her friends may cause your child to feel singled out.  Get him/her and yourself involved with cafeteria staff to go over food preferences to make him/her feel more comfortable about school meals.

School meals must meet new meal pattern requirements, which include fruits and vegetables at every meal, as well as a meat/meat alternate (protein source), legumes, fluid milk and whole grains.  Gluten-free foods include fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, beef, nuts, eggs and more. Schools already have these onsite; however, preparation is the key. Purchasing gluten-free bread, for example, can be the only substitution the student requires to have a lunch which looks the same as his friends.  Along with a side salad, a fruit and milk, the meal is complete!

Most schools now have salad bars that contain a wide variety of items such as kidney beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, cottage cheese, and some even have the protein available there to make a complete meal.  Add milk and again, a complete meal.  The student just has to make sure to watch the salad dressings or anything else which may have been cross-contaminated.  If the student is old enough, they learn what to choose.  If still young, a teacher or cafeteria staff can help with the salad selection.

There are several manufacturers who make gluten-free items specifically for schools.  One good resource is Rich Products.  They make pizza dough and other items that will fit into the school meals and meet guidelines.

NFCA: How can schools be more welcoming to special dietary needs? Should they post the information on their website? Ask the foodservice director to speak at parents’ night?

GP: Both of those options are a great start.  The first step is to consider the needs of the student.  Second, it really takes a lot of teamwork.  The school nutrition department, the parents and the student should all be involved. Forming partnerships is key. Many districts already post carbohydrate counts/exchanges, PKU diets, etc. – why not add gluten-free options?

Keep in mind that they are not required to post gluten-free options, which is why communication is important. Asking for the menus so parents can go over it with their child and circle meals they like also helps.  The cafeteria staff can then work with the student on proper gluten-free exchanges.  This way, the meal is not so “special” and different from other students.

NFCA: What advice do you have for parents who are reluctant to contact the school about their child’s gluten-free needs? How can they approach the conversation with confidence?

GP:  The first place to go is the foodservice/nutrition director. The cafeteria staff can refer you to him/her. Parents can discuss options with the director.

If the student has a diet prescription from a medical authority, then it is especially important that the director ensures the cafeteria staff, your child’s first line of defense, is trained and understands gluten-free diet and modifications.  Even without a written medical statement, the school may provide the child with special meals, but is not required to.

Form a partnership with the cafeteria staff and offer to help choose your child’s meals.  Remember that they have to order foods from approved manufacturers, so it may be that they have to order from outside vendors to provide gluten-free options.  They cannot charge the student more for that meal, so they do have to consider the increased cost.  A parent should never hesitate approaching the nutrition department about their child’s needs, but keep in mind that there are regulations.

NFCA: What’s one thing parents can do during National School Lunch Week to advocate for gluten-free needs in the lunchroom?

GP: Parents can form a partnership with the food and nutrition department to send out a newsletter or a side note on the month’s menu regarding children with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and how the department can help with modifications. School administrators can also benefit from this, as they don’t always understand regulations.

For more articles on this topic, visit NFCA’s Gluten-Free Resources for National School Lunch Week 2012

October 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm 1 comment

FNCE 2012: NFCA’s Gluten-Free Workshop for Dietitians

After pulling long hours leading up to Appetite for Awareness last month, you’d think our staff at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) would take some time to wind down. Not the case.

Mixing Gluten-Free Flours

NFCA Director of Development Kim prepped our gluten-free flour blends.

We immediately went full throttle on our next activity, which was hosting a Gluten-Free Culinary Workshop leading up to the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE), an annual meeting for food and nutrition professionals run by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). Planning had already been underway for months, and all the pieces were in place:

  • A Gluten-Free Baking Workshop with Chef Richard Coppedge, CMB, author of Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and a professor at CIA.
  • The Ancient Grains Challenge, featuring a “Chopped” style cook-off between teams of dietitians.
  • Educational sessions, including “Current Understandings of Gluten-Related Disorders” and “Case Studies: Living with Celiac Disease,” led by NFCA’s Alice Bast and Beckee Moreland, respectively.

I eagerly volunteered to help out and take photos and video at the workshop. (A chance to spend some one-on-one time with dietitians and top chefs? Please, I’m there.) So, bright and early last Saturday morning, I pulled up with a car full of goody bags and made my way up to the Academic Bistro at Drexel University.

Gluten-Free Workshop Goody Bags

The dietitians took home these goody bags full of gluten-free treats!

Even with all the details our VP Jennifer had provided, I still wasn’t prepared for how active this day would be. After spending the first few hours mixing huge batches of gluten-free flour blends and setting up our impressive ‘pantry’ of ingredients and fresh produce, it was time to step back and put the dietitians to work.

Our participants were from the Food & Culinary Professionals Dietary Practice Group (FCP DGP), a subgroup of the Academy. They already had a basic understanding of gluten-free food and cooking, but they came eager to learn even more. I think had just as much fun watching them as they did participating.

Gluten-Free Baking Workshop

Our baking workshop started off with an introductory lesson from Chef Coppedge. It was clear that he’s an experienced teacher, as his presentation was brief, yet informative. He brought good energy to the room and gave us a few chuckles as he talked. My favorite tip: Use seltzer water to make your dough lighter and fluffier, but don’t leave it overnight or it will over-ferment and deflate upon cooking.

Chef Coppedge - Gluten-Free Baking

Chef Coppedge helped the dietitians as they baked gluten-free goodies.

Then it was time to hit the kitchen. The dietitians whipped up gluten-free goodies like jalapeno & cheese muffins, spritz cookies and – my favorite – peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes. The hard part was figuring out which of the four gluten-free flour blends to use for each recipe. While the dietitians were mixing and measuring, Chef Coppedge was there offering quick tips. Best of all, they got to bring home a sample of what they baked. And the smells? Heavenly.

Gluten-Free Cookies and Muffins

Yum!

Ancient Grains Challenge

Across the hallway, our participants had to think on their feet as we presented them with pre-cooked gluten-free grains (amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa) and challenged them to make a fresh and healthy meal. For the additional ingredients, we had an impressive display of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, plus sauces, broths, beans and more, to complete their dishes.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

So much fresh produce!

To determine the winner, we recruited a diverse panel of judges:

  • Alice Bast, Founder and President of NFCA.
  • Chef Garrett Berdan, RD, a registered dietitian and chef who is part of the White House’s Chefs Move to Schools program.
  • Chef Charles Ziccardi, Assistant Teaching Professor of Culinary Arts at the Goodwin College of Professional Studies at Drexel University.

NFCA Board Chair Dorothy Binswanger even stopped by to assist with the judging – a deliciously good decision, as it turned out.

Gluten-Free Ancient Grains Challenge - Judges

The judges had some tough decisions to make.

The Ancient Grains Challenge went above and beyond our expectations. The dietitians were incredibly imaginative and resourceful, and their dishes had wonderful flavors. Among the finished plates, there were breakfast/dessert porridge with berries and a touch of orange zest; homemade soup with a side of bean salad; and ‘croutons’ made out of gluten-free grains and flax seed.

Gluten-Free Dish

The dietitians didn’t skimp on presentation.

To make the challenge even more realistic, some of the ingredients on the table were not guaranteed to be gluten-free, such as a broth that wasn’t labeled gluten-free and some premade sauces that required verification with the manufacturer before using. For the most part, the dietitians were cautious about choosing ingredients that were clearly gluten-free. On a few occasions, they asked about questionable ingredients, which became a teaching lesson as our VP Jennifer walked them through the process to verify the ingredient. When in doubt, they left it out.

Gluten-Free Food from Dietz & Watson

Lunchtime! A generous gluten-free spread from our sponsor, Dietz & Watson.

Educational Sessions

While the hands-on activities proved to be learning opportunities, NFCA’s workshop also balanced those active moments with some thoughtful discussions. The morning session on gluten-related disorders prompted good questions from the audience, and the dietitians left with a better understanding of the disease spectrum.

Gluten-related disorders info session

Alice’s morning session focused on gluten-related disorders.

In Beckee’s session, the dietitians discussed a variety of perspectives and scenarios related to gluten-free needs. There was an 8-year-old with celiac disease struggling with her school lunch program; a 19-year-old newly diagnosed and figuring out how to eat gluten-free at college; and a chef who was catering a gluten-free event. The case studies sparked plenty of “A-ha” moments as the dietitians worked through these real-life applications.

Gluten-Free Case Studies Session

Beckee presented three case studies about gluten-free needs.

So, to make a long story short, it was a winning day for all involved. My favorite part was chatting with the chefs and dietitians during and in-between each session. It always amazes me how a group can have similar interests and skills, yet put them to use in such a variety of ways.

Wegmans gluten-free

Thanks to Wegmans for sponsoring our gluten-free workshop!

Bravo to the dietitians for putting in an A+ effort at our Gluten-Free Culinary Workshop. We hope to “see” you again during our upcoming webinar on October 31!

- Cheryl

For more photos from the workshop, visit NFCA’s Facebook page.

October 12, 2012 at 10:21 am 1 comment

New Gluten-Free Find: Pure Tacos in Philadelphia

A few years ago, I caught wind of a place called Pure Tacos that serves incredible food – all gluten-free. It’s based right on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ, and has become a hit among the general population and those looking specifically for gluten-free eats. Now, the beachside stand has an urban outpost, with a new location that just opened in Center City Philadelphia.

Pure Tacos in Center City Philadelphia

Inside Pure Tacos in Philadelphia

Kristin and I were there for the soft opening (like a dress rehearsal) of Pure Tacos in Philadelphia, which gave us the chance to taste the tacos before anyone else. There, we met up with Michael Savett of Gluten Free Philly and Claire Baker of So, What Can You Eat? and enjoyed a carefree, finger-licking, tortilla chip dipping meal.

What’s on the menu? First, there’s your usual chicken, bean and ground beef option. Then it kicks up with Cheeseburger and Chicken & Bacon Ranch. But it’s the Premium Flavors like Orange-Chili Fish, Chipotle Beef Brisket and – my surprise favorite – Seared Mushrooms, that draw in the crowds. Each of these include two tacos on corn tortillas (you can also opt to have them over salad, nachos or rice) and topped with things like sour cream, citrus guacamole, cilantro and homemade salsa.

Pure Tacos Premium Flavors - Gluten-Free

Premium Flavors – and they’re all gluten-free!

Now, what about that gluten-free claim? Well, one of the co-founders has celiac disease, so they went to great strides to ensure a safe place to eat. There is no gluten allowed in the facilities; in fact, employees are instructed to eat the gluten-free food that is provided at Pure Tacos or go out to eat lunch. And as is standard for restaurants, employees must wash their hands before returning to work.

When you’re used to asking question after question at restaurants, it’s a relief to find a place where you can just order what you want. For it to be tasty and under $10? That’s gold. Our group gave nods of approval as we worked our way through the tacos, dripping salsa and all. We even shared a side of guacamole, which had a light, creamy texture and a flavor I still have yet to put my finger on. Whatever, it was good.

I’ve already recommended Pure Tacos to a few local friends, and I hope to see them at Appetite for Awareness this September. I’ll remind them to bring the guac.

- Cheryl

Tickets to Appetite for Awareness 2012 are now available. Get Early Bird pricing »

July 26, 2012 at 8:47 am Leave a comment

5 Ways to Fundraise for Celiac Awareness

Whether you have plenty of downtime or little time to spare, there are several ways you can fundraise for your favorite celiac organization. Here are 5 ways you can take your support to the next level:

1. Cupcake Party

Gluten-Free Cupcake Party for NFCA

Cupcake Party success!

One of NFCA’s signature fundraisers is a Cupcake Party, which you can sign up for right on CeliacCentral.org. As part of the fundraiser, you’ll receive supplies from Pamela’s Products, including gluten-free baking mixes, frosting, recipes and gifts for your guests. It’s a wonderful chance to gather friends, spread awareness and help NFCA continue to offer free resources to the community.

Host a Cupcake Party Fundraiser

2. Birthday Wish

Have you ever checked out NFCA’s Facebook Cause? By clicking “Join,” you can raise awareness, recruit others and gather donations. As your birthday approaches, you can create a Birthday Wish, which sets a fundraising goal and invites family and friends to donate in honor of your big day.

Join NFCA’s Facebook Cause

3. FirstGiving.com

FirstGiving logo

Take your fundraising to the next level by creating your own fundraising page on FirstGiving.com. You can create a special page in honor of your birthday, gluten-free anniversary or another special event. NFCA Athlete for Awareness Peter Bronski is dedicating his 3rd Annual Ultramarathon to celiac awareness, and he’s using FirstGiving to collect donations. Personal fundraising pages are also popular among kids, like NFCA fans Jack Simpson and Noa Spanier, who each raised more than $3,000 in last year’s Awareness All-Stars fundraiser.

Create a Fundraising Page

4. Gluten-Free Restaurant Night

Do you have a favorite restaurant? Consider asking them to host a fundraiser for NFCA. Michael Savett, founder of Gluten Free Philly, has organized Gluten-Free Dinners to raise money for celiac awareness. He offered these tips:

  • Get to know the person in charge of your favorite gluten-free restaurant. Restaurant owners and managers want to keep their customers happy, so introduce yourself and let him or her know that you are a loyal customer. That often makes a restaurant more receptive to hosting a fundraising event that will bring in many patrons, particularly if the event will be on a slower night like Monday or Tuesday.
  • Run a Google search for restaurants that regularly sponsor community events and fundraisers in your area. You can do this by using search terms like “restaurant fundraising night” and your town or city. Many larger chains also participate in these kinds of events, including gluten-free-friendly ones like Uno Chicago Grill’s Dough Raisers and Outback Gives Back.

5. Coupon Campaigns and Special Promotions

GFB Sweater Project - Kids Photo

GFB’s Gluten-Free Sweater Project

Like many companies, gluten-free manufacturers are looking to give back, and they’re doing so by donating funds to organizations like NFCA. This month, take advantage of these charitable promotions – and don’t forget to tell family and friends!

  • GoMacro Bars
    GoMacro is offering this Celiac Awareness Month special: Order 1 case of any flavor of MacroBars and their stainless steel water bottle for $49.95 ($55.30 value) and 10% will be donated to NFCA. Enter NFCA10 as the coupon code.
    Visit GoMacro.com
  • Cecelia’s Marketplace Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping Guide
    Purchase the new 2012/2013 edition of this guide, and Cecelia’s Marketplace will donate a percentage of proceeds to non-profits and celiac disease centers.
    Visit Cecilia’s Marketplace
  • The GFB Celiac Sweater Project
    The folks at The Gluten-Free Bar (GFB) have sent a sweater on a long cross-country journey to raise awareness for celiac disease. For anyone who dons the sweater and submits a photo to sweater@theglutenfreebar.com, The GFB will donate $1 to NFCA. Keep an eye out – the sweater could be in your local area!
    Visit The GFB Sweater Project

May 25, 2012 at 9:09 am 1 comment

5 Tips for Starting a Gluten-Free Dining Group

[You've found some fabulous restaurants that serve gluten-free in your area, and now you're ready to spread the news. We asked Carrie Forbes, author of Gingerlemongirl.com and The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook and leader of the Wilson/Eastern NC Gluten Free ROCK Support Group, to share how she gathered the troops and started a local gluten-free group.]

I started my local gluten-free support group in January 2010. It took six months for me to have the courage and enough people to put together a meeting (and the push to do it by my friend Jaime), but we did it! We had 6 people at our first meeting and that included myself, my husband, and my fearless mother-in-law! Our first meeting focused on local gluten-free resources and restaurants who could cater to a gluten-free diet.

Once the school year started again we began having regular monthly meetings and eventually added what we call “coffee breaks” several times a month. The coffee breaks were more informal times just to get together and chat, have coffee, and talk about all things gluten-free in our area.

As the group has morphed and changed over the past two years, we now have bi-monthly meetings and once-a-month coffee breaks. We now have about 25 active members who come to our meetings and over 45 members we connect with locally through email and Facebook, and the group is continuing to grow.

However gluten-free groups come in ALL different shapes and sizes. In addition to my thoughts on the best tips to share with others, I asked my friend Sarah Neilson, author of Celiac in the City and leader of her local gluten-free dining group Gluten-Free Milwaukee, to share some advice.

1. Determine the Primary Needs of your Local Group.

We have many different singles, couples, and families in our group, but the more we’ve grown, the more I realized that in our particular area we had lots of kids who needed support. They needed to know they weren’t the only kids. So we decided to link up with Danna Korn’s R.O.C.K. organization. We share her philosophy that life is good, and even though gluten-free can be a challenge, it doesn’t have to be a sad or negative experience!

How Sarah decided to form her group:  “For me, I wanted to get people together and do what we would normally do, but with other people, just like us. A group that comes together for good food, friends and fun. I wanted to focus on what we CAN have and where we CAN eat, so I highlight local Milwaukee (in and around MKE) restaurants that are willing to cater to us. I’m proud to say that we have only double up on restaurant options a couple of times, and that was only because people enjoyed them so much that we had to go back.”

2. Be Flexible!NFCA_Celiac Awareness Month 2012_Blogger Badge

Find times that work best for the members in your group. For some, gathering bi-monthly on a Satuday afternoon is best. Others prefer an informal coffee break once a month on a weekday evening. Make sure to build an open network for communication with your group. This can be through Facebook, through an email listserv, or even by using a Yahoo group to share information.

Sarah’s thoughts on being flexible: “During one of our first dinners, I polled everyone to see what they wanted to see from our group, wasn’t sure if I should go a more traditional route with a more support-group-like feel, but most folks felt they would like to just meet out for gluten-free pizza and a gluten-free beer and talk about how we make things work every day in our gluten-free lives. So we’ve stuck with that, and it works well for us.

“It’s important to remember that you can’t always please everyone — I do the best I can to accommodate our crowd and make the majority happy, and for the most part, they are so grateful. Some of my dearest friends are in the group now and I’m thankful that I decided to start this group and have kept it going each month for this long.”

3. Spread the Word.

As a blogger, I knew when I started our support group that I wanted to have a website to promote our group. We started using a “MeetUp” group, but that system was rather restrictive and outdated. Our group now primarily keeps in touch through a group email listserv and a very active Facebook page. We also have an improved website and blog to share documents, keep a group calendar, and to have a searchable web presence.

Sarah shares how she uses social media and her blog to spread the word: “I use Facebook as an easy way to communicate with our group, on my Celiac in the City page. Like I said, I like to focus on the positives — getting together and sharing in our daily adventures, what works for us, which products are on the “must try” list, etc.

“I contact companies each month to get samples of goodies for our group — or sometimes they contact me to review items and I ask for enough to give out to the group, the more “reviews” the better right?”

4. Allow the Group to Change and Grow.

When I first began our group, I was really concerned about making sure we met often to provide a lot of support for our community. However, after many months of lots of both formal and informal meetings, attendance started declining and I was becoming burned out. After talking with our group members and with leaders of other groups, I decided we didn’t need to meet nearly as often. Quality was more important than quantity!

Sarah shares different activities her group has enjoyed: “Some of the other things we’ve done: Field trip to the GF Expo, holiday cookie exchange (2 years of success!), several food drives to get more gluten-free options in our local food banks, a trip to Madison to try a new restaurant and the Silly Yak bakery. Big fun!”

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Learn the gifts that your other members have. I love to host baking classes with new members of our group along with coordinating the group blog and Facebook pages. Another member of our group Nancy, is a gifted hostess and shopper. Nancy hosts many of our group potlucks and also likes to take new members on shopping trips to teach them the best places to find gluten-free groceries in our area.  My husband is great at making posters and being the technical support for our meetings. Using the strengths of your members will help the “work” of the group to be evenly shared, as well as empower the people in your group to help others.

Lastly, no matter what you do with your dining group, no matter how big or small that it is, remember you will be providing a huge service to your community! Your time and energy will be an immeasurable blessing to local gluten-free population. You don’t have to be a perfect planner or leader, all you need is a deep passion to help the gluten-free people where you live.

If you have additional questions or need help starting a gluten-free group, please feel free to email me, Carrie Forbes: gingerlemongirl at gmail dot com.

- Carrie Forbes

*For an extended version of this post, including tips from Shirley of gluten-free easily and Nikki of Charlotte R.O.C.K. and organizer of many Gluten-Free Expos, visit: Ginger Lemon Girl.

May 24, 2012 at 8:28 am 2 comments

5 Tips to Empower Gluten-Free Kids

[Your kids have learned the basics of gluten-free, so what's next? Katie Chalmers, author of Mommy, What is Celiac Disease? and founder of G-Free Kid, has ideas for helping your little ones become proud and confident gluten-free champions.]

As parents, the best thing we can equip our gluten-free kids with is a positive attitude when it comes to being gluten-free — right from the start.  As soon as that optimistic attitude is in place, the next thing to help them cultivate is a budding sense of independence. As our children grow, we can help empower them to start taking the lead. Here are 5 tips that have helped my twin daughters (one with celiac and one with non-celiac gluten sensitivity) start to be ‘g-free’ advocates:

1.  Help them champion their own cause.

Show them some ways in which they can help spread the word and raise money for celiac disease awareness. Help them start a team for an upcoming celiac walk and let them help keep track of donations flowing in and asking friends and family to physically be there to walk together as a team. We have been doing two Celiac walks (“Making Tracks for Celiacs”) a year for the past 4 years — one with friends and extended family, and another one further away from home by ourselves. We take group photos, wear team tags and hang out before and after the walk. We usually win a gift basket for the amount of money we raised, and the girls help pick it out. Going home feeling supported by loved ones, with a prize and tons of free gluten-free samples in tow — plus a sense of pride in knowing we helped raise money for a good cause — is always a great boost for self-esteem.

Team G-Free at Celiac Walk

If you don’t have one of these annual walks in your area, learn how you can raise money through Team Gluten Free or NFCA instead.

2.  Nurture their creativity.

Make your gluten-free kid feel like a champ by helping them design a “Super Celiac” or “Gluten-Free Girl” costume. If your child is still young enough to enjoy dressing up and playing pretend, letting him or her play make-believe Superheroes with a cape and power bracelets is a fun way to “zap gluten” or whatever they want to play.

G-Free Superhero Costumes

If your child is old enough, let them have their own cooking show. Have them don an apron and chef’s hat and talk through a cooking demonstration while you videotape them. This will be good public speaking practice, and it will help them organize their thoughts, follow recipes, read aloud and use good eye contact. Have them practice what they plan to say and do on the video until they are comfortable enough for you to start taping. Post it on YouTube to get them excited that they made a “real” video, which the whole world can watch and learn from.

Do your kids enjoy music more than cooking? Together, come up with some new lyrics to go with a familiar tune — all about being gluten-free. Put it to music, videotape it and send it to friends and family.

Or let them start a pretend bakery where everything is gluten-free. Help them set up a place to play with pretend food, aprons, toy cash register, fake money, paper plates, etc.  Let them make their own signs, menu and decorations. Be their best customer and encourage the rest of the family to stop by with a smile and place an order.

Kids Gluten-Free Bakery

Being gluten-free becomes natural and fun when you bring all of these types of creative play into your kids’ lives.

3.  Teach them to read labels.

For very young kids who don’t know how to read, send along a list of offending ingredients for caregivers, along with a list of naturally gluten-free items, such as fruit and raisins. Help little ones learn how to spot the words “gluten-free,” the certified gluten-free logo or other prominent labels. When looking at packages, the terms “multigrain” and “whole grains” can often be confusing for little kids (and even for adults!), so be sure to explain to them that just reading those words on a package doesn’t mean it is automatically ruled out. Corn and rice can still be considered multigrain or whole grain, too. Teach them that oats need to be certified gluten-free to be considered safe, and other similar tips.

Reading Labels on Gluten-Free Food

Start label-reading lessons small, by going to Grandma’s house and showing them offending ingredients on labels. Then go home and have them read labels on their gluten-free products so they can see what is okay. If your child is old enough and has a long attention span, spend some time together in a grocery store (at a slow time of the week) and go through it aisle by aisle, explaining which kinds of food are gluten-free or not. Show them how many yogurts and ice creams are gluten-free, except those with cookies, brownies, sugar cone pieces, etc. Show them all the naturally gluten-free foods and the special area where the gluten-free products are. I do this with my daughters every now and then to test them on what they know, and they, in turn, always love to demonstrate their growing knowledge.  If this sounds too overwhelming for a younger child, then just do it in small doses on a regular basis as you do your weekly shopping together.

4.  Let them speak up for themselves.

Kids of all ages can learn to speak up for themselves to varying degrees. Young kids can learn how to ask, “Is this gluten-free?” or “Is this safe for me to eat?”  Let your child order for themselves in a restaurant and have them inform the wait staff that their food needs to be gluten-free. Even if you plan on discussing details with the waitress, manager or chef yourself (which I would advise in order to avoid cross-contamination), it is important for your child to get in the habit of always making sure people know that he or she needs to eat gluten-free.

Looking for gluten-free food on a menu

If your child is old enough, test them to see if they can correctly name the gluten-free options on menus at restaurants by themselves. Teach them why they can’t eat certain things like french fries, which are deep fried in shared fryers with gluten-containing foods like breaded chicken fingers. Let them ask if there is a dedicated fryer or not. The older a child gets, the more they need to have these habits set in place. The more they practice, the more comfortable they will get with the necessary dialogue. Your child will be filled with pride as he learns these lifelong social lessons.

5.  Let it become their “normal.”

Find other gluten-free families that live near you. Get together. Let the kids get to know each other and play together on a regular basis, which might also mean snacking together — gluten-free. Get involved in a kids’ support group and the activities that go along with it. If you can’t find one, be your kid’s hero by starting one and making it happen.

If your child is old enough, let him attend a gluten-free summer camp. There are nearly 20 options in the U.S. alone!  How cool would it be for a gluten-free kid to be able to do all the regular camp activities with other children on the same diet, without anyone needing to ask if the food is safe or not?

Lastly, fill his or her bookcase with children’s books about being gluten-free. If your child loves dinosaurs or princesses, count how many books he or she has about them. On the other hand, how many books does your child have about being gluten-free — something your child is going to be for life? There are a bunch of great books out there now about celiac disease and being gluten-free. You can never have too many!  As they read the books, they will take pride in knowing that they are “just like” the main characters, which will help them feel understood and cherished. And consider all the people your child can share their books with — teachers, classmates, friends, relatives, etc.  What better way to help spread awareness than lending books? For kids, it doesn’t get any easier…

These empowering tips will take our children far by teaching them knowledge and positive social skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. The wonderful thing is that awareness of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity is growing rapidly, which in itself is pretty empowering for all of us!

- Katie Chalmers

May 23, 2012 at 8:55 am 2 comments

5 Healthy Gluten-Free Foods You’ve Never Heard Of

[Rice. Quinoa. Potatoes. Been there, ate that. Ready for something new? We asked EA Stewart, also known as The Spicy RD and one of NFCA's experts for Answers from a Dietitian, to share 5 up-and-coming foods that are naturally gluten-free.]

Confession time.

Given the task of blogging about healthy gluten-free foods no one’s ever heard of proved to be a bit of a challenge for me.  But read on because, although I can’t guarantee all these foods are new to you, they are new to me, and they all deliver a healthy dose of nutrients in a tasty little package.

1. Kaniwa

This “new to me” gluten-free seed is actually an ancient “grain-like food” from the Andes Mountains in Peru.  Nutty in taste and texture, like its now famous cousin, quinoa, one advantage of kaniwa is that is doesn’t contain bitter saponins that must be rinsed off before cooking.  In terms of nutrition, this petite seed packs a powerful punch providing even more protein and fiber than quinoa, plus a hearty dose of calcium, zinc, and iron.

Resources:

Warm Lentil Salad with Grilled Portabella

2. Sprouted Green Lentils

While lentils aren’t new to me, my recent love affair with them is, and with the recent rise in popularity of sprouted foods, I was delighted to discover pre-sprouted green lentils at my local grocery store the other day.  Proponents of sprouting grains and legumes claim that sprouted foods offer greater nutrient bioavailability, easier digestion, and greater enzyme activity than their non-sprouted counterparts.  Currently, there is little research to support these claims, although Professor Terry Graham, a nutrition scientist, says that, in theory, sprouting should increase the amount of healthy antioxidants in a grain, since it undergoes changes to prepare for growth.

Ultimately, whether or not more research shows health benefits to sprouted foods, it is safe to say that any type of lentil deserves an A+ for nutrition.  Rich in fiber (~16 grams per cup), both soluble and insoluble, lentils are protective against both cardiovascular disease and certain digestive disorders, and help maintain stable blood sugar levels. Lentils are also a good source of vegetarian iron and protein, and are rich in tryptophan, manganese, and folic acid.  Bonus: They are inexpensive and taste great, too – especially as a meat alternative in tacos or spaghetti sauce!

Resources:

3. Seedy Milks (Flax and Sunflower)

Flax and sunflower seeds have been around for a long time, but I only recently found them in liquid form.  This was a nice discovery, as I work with many clients who not only can’t eat gluten due to celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but also can’t tolerate cow’s milk (at least initially) due to lactose intolerance from damaged intestinal villi or due to a cow’s milk sensitivity. Fortunately, there are many dairy-free options on the market these days (almond, coconut, soy, hazelnut, rice, and hemp), but it’s always nice to have other alternatives, especially for those people who might also have allergies or sensitivities to nuts and soy.

Flax milk packs a nice dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids (12oo mg per serving), along with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 from fortification. Sunflower milk has a nice creamy taste and is rich in vitamin E plus added calcium, Vitamin D and folic acid.  For those who are sensitive to, or choose not to use gums such as xanthan or guar, you may want to have a go at making your own seedy milk!

Resources:

4. Sacha Inchi Seeds

Native to the Amazon rainforest, sacha inchi seeds, aka Incan peanuts, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein (8 grams per serving) and fiber.  In addition, these nut-like seeds are rich in the mood-boosting amino acid tryptophan.  I recently had the chance to try the SaviSeed brand of Sacha Inchi at the Natural Products Expo West, and found them to have a pleasant nutty taste and texture. Be forewarned though – they are costly. So, as with all “super foods,” I recommend enjoying them as special treats, while making sure to eat a wide variety of naturally gluten-free veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, which are all superstars in my nutrition book!

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5. Black Sesame Seeds

In my pre-gluten-free eating days, one of my favorite weekend treats was a chewy bagel smothered with sesame seeds.  For the most part, my bagel eating days are few and far between now (please let me know if you have a good recipe for homemade gluten-free bagels!), but I still enjoy the health benefits of sesame seeds on top of sautéed ginger orange kale, in hummus made with tahini, and sprinkled in to smoothies. Both black and white sesame seeds are rich in copper and manganese and are good sources of calcium, magnesium, iron and fiber. Sesame seeds also contain phytosterols, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and may decrease the risk of certain cancers.  The black sesame seeds I tried had their hulls intact, making them slightly higher in calcium than white (hulled) sesame seeds.  In addition, some sesame experts find them tastier than white seeds, but overall, you can’t go wrong, nutrition-wise, with black or white!

Resources:

I hope at least some of these foods are new to you, and that you are inspired to try them out, but if I missed any of your new healthy favorites, I’d love to hear from you!

- EA Stewart, MBA, RD

May 22, 2012 at 8:33 am 10 comments

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