If you’re contemplating going grain-free or doing the GAPS diet, it may seem, initially, like an insurmountable task. It is a big shift in a lot of ways. Most people in this country have meals that are largely grain-based, after all! Think about our typical breakfast choices: pancakes, waffles, biscuits, oatmeal, cereal — all grains! (And incidentally not a good way to start the day, especially if paired with sugar!) Even our other meals largely rely on grains — sandwiches and soups with pasta or rice at lunch, and dinners paired with pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.
Therefore, trying to plan meals, know what to shop for, what to snack on, how to get enough food, etc. can be really difficult, especially when you are initially starving from a lack of carbs/sugars (which you will crave like withdrawal at first). In order to approach a grain-free diet without losing your mind, some practical help is necessary!
So, if you’re now ready to go grain-free, what now? Here are some ideas:
- Stock up on stock
If you’re doing GAPS, you’ll be going through a lot of stock. Even if you’re not, you can always eat soup. You can add different meats and veggies to it (and cheese, if you can do dairy) for an endless variety. Soup can be reasonably high in fat if you sautee the veggies in coconut oil or butter and leave the fat in the stock. It takes awhile to makes (though it’s quite easy), so you’ll want to make a lot and freeze it so it’s always on hand. Remember to freeze some in ice cube trays in case you only need a little for sauces, gravies, reheating food, or even just a quick snack.
- Fermented foods are your friend
Forget that they make me feel fabulous for a minute. Fermented foods will do two things: 1) help restore your gut health, and 2) kill carb cravings. You need both of these things! You can buy milk kefir (if you can do dairy), yogurt, kombucha, traditional pickles, saurkraut, and other things. You can make many of these things, too, although that’s not as easy. Feel free to brew some kombucha, make some yogurt, or ferment some veggies if you want, though! Go slow if you’re new to fermented foods, though, because they can definitely cause digestive distress, mood swings, and more! Start with a teaspoon or two a day and work your way up to more as you can handle it.
- Buy lots of produce
Fruits and veggies are your friend now. Buy types you don’t usually cook with, too. Add some leeks to your cart, maybe some argula or bok choy. Branch out, because you’re going to be eating a lot. Be sure to get lots of carrot and apples for soups, snacks, and apple-carrot juice, too! You’ll spend most of your grocery budget on produce; except what you spend on eggs and meat, of course! It will help to make salads (if you’re having them) ahead of time, as well as hummus and veggie sticks or other “snacky” type things, so that when you’re hungry there’s something to grab. If you tolerate nuts, buy some almond butter and serve it with apple slices for a quick, protein-filled snack. Peanut butter‘s okay too but not as good, health-wise.
- Focus on protein
Chances are, if you’re strongly craving carbs, you haven’t eaten enough, and you especially haven’t had enough protein. Aim to start your day with protein and to have some at every meal and snack. It will fill you up, keep you full, and won’t spike your blood sugar. Buy tons of eggs, because you can use them for eating plain, for baking (coconut flour muffins require a lot of eggs), for adding to smoothies, etc. Buy lots of meat, too, because you will be starving. (We used to just cook a lb. of grass-fed beef and sprinkle with onion powder and sea salt and just eat it plain when we did this the first time — for a snack, no less.) If you can, buy yogurt and cheese, too, for snacks. Nut butters are also good. Make some jerky if you want, although beware: the last batch I made (two full roasts’ worth) was gone in a day, it was that good! Bottom line: try to eat protein constantly.
- Plan snacks in your day
Maybe before you didn’t really have “snack time.” Maybe snacks were just if you got hungry. You will get hungry now, so plan for it. Refried beans (homemade, please!) with cheddar and fermented salsa might be a good snack (not GAPS friendly, but grain-free). Coconut milk ice cream is good. Veggie sticks dipped in aforementioned salsa. Apple slices in cashew butter. Almond flour muffins. There are tons of great snack ideas. Plan ahead, keep them around the house. Otherwise you’ll get hungry and be tempted to run out and grab a bagel or a cookie, which will leave you feeling not-so-good.
- Make more than you think you need
Since most of us are used to grain-based meals or at least side dishes, that’s how we’re used to getting full. We serve bread with our meals, we make rice or potatoes, etc. There are not nearly the same amount of calories in steamed broccoli as roasted potatoes. For that reason, you will need to plan more at meals than you did before. Add two veggies, and cover them in coconut oil or butter and sea salt (surprisingly delicious!). Serve a salad with full- fat dressing. Add some fruit, or a smoothie made with egg yolks and yogurt. Make extra meat, and cook it with lots of fat. Make larger portions! If you don’t, you will be hungry! It doesn’t matter if the meal is unconventional, either. Just serve enough! Making a big pot of thick soup, a salad, apple slices with almond butter, and a steamed veggie with butter might not be “typical,” but you might really need it. Just make sure you are eating whenever you are hungry, lest you get tempted! (And not feel well!)
- Consider a large meat purchase
If you’ve never bought 1/4 of a cow before (or a whole one like us!), now might be the time to consider it. You could go broke buying all the meat you’ll need at retail prices, but buying wholesale this way can save a ton of money. I can serve a sirloin stir-fry for around $3/lb. instead of more like $12 that it would cost retail! That makes it frugal enough to actually have on a regular basis. Plus, we don’t have to feel bad that we need 1.5 lbs. of meat per meal instead of just 1. Some nights, if we’ve had a rough day, we might just pull a pound of meat out, fry it up with some veggies, and call it snack. But if we’ve bought in bulk at a great price, we don’t have to feel bad. Bonus: the freezer’s full, so you make fewer trips to the grocery store!
- Buy some alternative flours
Despite that you are on this diet to heal and improve your health, you will still want treats. You will miss baked goods. This is especially true around birthdays and holidays. Instead of entirely denying yourself, learn to make these things healthy. Get some coconut and almond flours, or bean flours, and learn to bake with them. Make the occasional treat. Make sure you have honey around to bake with, too, so you’re not ruining your healthy effort with white sugar! Even if you keep these as a very rare treat (by choice or necessity), it’ll be nice to know that you can have a treat. And, you can always cut up fresh fruit and dip it in homemade whipped cream (assuming you can do dairy) for an everyday treat!
Those are my best tips when you’re starting off with grain-free. They’re not all GAPS-oriented, but most of them are. Certainly they could all be adapted!
The last thing: get a good support group. You will need it. Even if you are knowledgeable and determined, you will have rough days. Your friends and family will think you are crazy. Someone will beg you at a birthday party to eat “just one slice of cake,” because “c’mon, it’s a party, loosen up, what is one little slice going to hurt?” To face the hard times, you will need people around you who get what you’re going through! Head to the Yahoo GAPS group or to the forum for support!
What are your best grain-free tips?
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