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Gluten Free Challenge for Heinz

heinz-gf-spaghettiWe love Heinz here.

16 years ago, when we were first navigating the gluten free diet, it was a huge relief to find that Heinz clearly labelled their products as gluten free (if they were).

This meant that I could say to people feeding my daughter: give her a jacket potato and Heinz baked beans. A reasonable meal, and more importantly, a gluten free meal that could be rustled up by anyone, even those people without experience of the gluten free diet.

And I regularly recommended this as an easy ‘first-night’ meal for those children diagnosed as gluten free, when their parents were worried about where to start.

These days, of course, there are many, many more options, and more manufacturers carry the magic words on their labelling. But the amount of brand loyalty that those two words generated has stuck, and we still love Heinz.

So we were delighted to find out that Heinz are now manufacturing gluten free pasta, and pasta sauces.

To be honest, I’m less excited about the pasta sauces—though I can see they are a natural brand extension—because most tomato-based pasta sauces that I’ve come across are naturally gluten free. (Do watch out for flour used for thickening, and any added items such as sausages, of course).

But the pasta is intriguing.

In ‘the olden days’ I used to create a home-made version of Heinz tinned spaghetti, to go to nursery with our coeliac, so that she was eating something that at least looked a bit like the food the other children were eating. Obviously getting the taste and texture exactly the same would have been tricky!

So when Heinz offered to send us some samples, naturally I leapt at the chance. We received a pack of spaghetti and two cartons of tomato and herb sauce – and were pleased by our taste-test results. We eat a lot of pasta meals…

Our coeliac commented that the spaghetti strands are slightly thicker in diameter than she’s used to—not that that’s a problem, as pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. And she enjoyed the sauces. I’d say it was a success.

In a sense, it’s a surprise that Heinz have waited so long to join the gluten free market, but since Bi-Aglut is one of their brands, I guess it was only a matter of time until they made the move.

And the pasta (spaghetti, penne and macaroni) are available in supermarkets now – at least, in Tesco, Morrisons and Asda. I’ve even seen it in our little local Tesco, and the packaging makes it look attractive. Plus, of course, it has that name behind it. It should do well.

So here’s the challenge, Heinz: tinned gluten free spaghetti! My daughter has outgrown it now, but I’m sure there’ll be parents of small children who’d just love to see it on the shelves…

Gluten Free Favourites

favouritesI thought it might be helpful to list some of our current favourite gluten free products, for those of you who don’t know where to start. Of course, tastes do vary, but this is a list of reliable products that are (mostly) generally available…

Bear in mind that these do change! But at the moment, our list includes:

Bread

Sainsbury’s soft white sliced bread
Sainsbury’s baguettes
Warburton’s white wraps

Pasta

Tesco’s pasta range
Doves Farm pasta range

Flour

Wellfoods plain flour mix
Doves Farm self-raising flour
Finax Havrebrodmix oat bread mix

Biscuits

Tesco’s chocolate covered wafers
Asda caramel wafers

Cookies

Waitrose’s chocolate chip cookies

Cakes

Waitrose’s millionaire blondies
Waitrose’s country cake slices
Tesco’s victoria sponge

Cake mixes

Hill Cottage Bakery cake mixes (added 28/5/13)

Pizza

Dietary Specials’ Bella d’Italia pizza

Breakfast

Genius Pains au Chocolat (special treat!)

Ready meals

Tesco’s chicken, bacon and pea pasta (we haven’t seen this for a while)
Marks and Spencer’s breaded chicken
Amy’s Kitchen burritos

Take-away

Domino’s pizza

Snacks

Sakata crackers
Tesco Chipz (like Pringles)
Kelkin chocolate covered rice cakes

What do you think? Obviously this is a UK list… what would your favourites be?

Gluten Free at a PTA Event

happy-child-eatingRunning a PTA event, and wondering how to cater for the children with allergies in your group?

In my experience, parents of coeliac children (and no doubt those with other food allergies or intolerances too) tend to assume that there’ll be nothing at an event that their child can safely eat, and to plan around that—either making sure that the child has eaten beforehand, or by bringing safe foods.

But I was contacted recently by a reader who wanted to offer something to these children at an event which she was organising in the summer, and that made me think about how you could go about doing just that.

Her idea was to offer manufacturers a stall at the event, so that they could promote their products, and visitors could try them out. This is a great idea. Options for this will depend on the scale of your event, but could include:

  • contacting the major manufacturers (here in the UK, these would typically be those companies that produce prescription goods, or the major supermarkets). This group would probably prefer to visit large events, or specific allergy-focused events, so that they can communicate with as many people as possible – but if you don’t ask them, you won’t know.
  • contacting local manufacturers and retailers, to see if they’d like to promote themselves and their products. It’s good to support local businesses, and if, for instance, there’s a local shop that offers allergy products, your visitors may not yet know about it, so you’d be helping out by putting them in touch with each other. This group may not have as much money to spend as the larger companies.

Other options of the do-it-yourself variety could include:

  • calling for volunteers from the parents. There may be someone who’d step up to help you out, and to help out their fellow allergy-parents (yes, I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean!). I ran a support group for gluten free children and their parents for a while, and found it very valuable. People have lots of information to share!
  • buying in some ready-made branded products to sell. I suggest that you either choose individually wrapped items or leave them in their packets, so that your visitors can read the labels to reassure themselves that this food would be safe. There are lots of options, but you could include:
    • individually wrapped portions of cheese, readily available at the supermarket. Here in the UK, these could be BabyBel, or portions of hard cheese such as cheddar. Don’t go for soft cheeses unless you’re prepared for mess!
    • biscuits – savoury or sweet, plain or chocolate. There’s quite a variety available at supermarkets on the Free From shelves now.
    • crisps (check the packets very carefully)
    • cakes—again, there’s a lot of variety on the supermarket Free From shelves. Don’t over-buy: if the cakes aren’t good, no-one will eat them and you’ll have wasted money. These products are not cheap. At the moment we like the Tesco Free From sponge (cut it up small) and we love the Waitrose Love Life Millionaire Blondies.
    • nuts, raisins and other dried fruits are all gluten free, though be very careful of any with added flavourings
    • fresh fruits are all gluten free
  • if you want to offer hot food, then consider either buying some in, such as Domino’s gluten free pizza, and cutting it up small (leave it in the box for reassurance) or keeping it very simple—perhaps baking potatoes and offering various fillings. I know that these are boring options: coeliacs are always offered baked potatoes. But they are reliable and safe, as long as your fillings are also safe.

Of course, what you’re offering will depend on what everybody else is being offered. For instance, if you’re having a hog roast, then the meat would be fine as long as it isn’t coated in any way—watch out for those sauces and marinades—but you might want to have a stock of gluten free rolls on hand (well wrapped!) to offer to go with the meat. Chips (otherwise known as fries or frites) are fine as long as nothing else is or has been cooked in the oil, and the chips aren’t coated in flour to make them crispy or flavoured.

Don’t forget that if you’re offering edible prizes, it can be very disappointing for a child to win sweets they can’t eat. Could you check whether they’re OK in advance, and only buy prizes that would suit everyone? Here in the UK, most Haribo and Swizzels Matlow sweets are gluten free (do check each type, though, and leave them in the wrappings), and cheap to buy as prizes.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope your event goes well. Although some people may decline to try your gluten free offerings, there will be some there who are delighted and grateful that you’ve thought of them. And inevitably, the non-gluten-free people will want to eat them too! Remember to keep some back for the truly gluten-free…

Eat Water and Slim Rice

Slim RiceI was recently sent some Slim Rice to try—it’s made by a company called Eat Water.

There’s been a lot of publicity about this new product over the last few months, but in case you’ve missed it, this is a gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, salt-free carbohydrate-substitute designed to be used in place of rice, pasta and noodles. It has very, very few calories…

They sent me the ‘rice’ to try—obviously real rice is naturally gluten free (so don’t get confused) but since, I imagine, each of the products are fundamentally the same, simply presented in different shapes, it didn’t really matter which one I tried.

And they are all gluten free. All the Eat Water products—rice, pasta and noodles—are listed in the Coeliac UK Food And Drink 2013 directory (under Pasta and Noodles) as being acceptable for a gluten free diet.

So what did I think of it?

I’ve been struggling to know what to say about this product, because there isn’t much to say, as it tastes of very little.

But it is innocuous enough, and with a flavoursome sauce, is fine. And it is, as promised, filling.

It is, apparently, based on moyu (konjac), a vegetable fibre which has been used in Asian cuisines for centuries, and I can imagine that a good use for these products would be in a noodle soup or similar dish – think ‘rice noodles’ as a comparison. A few recipes are available on the Eat Water site to get you started.

If you’re looking for flavour, I’d have to say that eating true rice or a decent pasta would offer more, but if you want to cut down on calories, you could consider trying this occasionally instead of your usual carbohydrate to fill you up. It isn’t cheap, but as a kick-starter for a weight-loss diet, it might be just what you need.

What was I expecting?

My main concern when I first heard about this low-calorie, gluten free product was the potential for conflation with the ‘go gluten free to lose weight’ school of thought.

As you may know, I have mixed feelings about this view, because while it widens the market, making it more desirable for food manufacturers to provide gluten free food, it can trivialise the importance of going gluten free because you have coeliac disease. Those who choose to be gluten free to lose weight and then aren’t consistent in their diet (“a little bit won’t matter”) make it less likely that those who must be gluten free, and for whom even a little bit matters a lot, are taken seriously.

However, having reviewed the Eat Water site, I don’t believe that they are falling into this trap. Their products are primarily aimed at those who want to consume fewer calories, and it is an almost-accidental bonus that the products are also gluten free.

Incidentally, two of the products have been shortlisted in the recent FreeFrom Foods Awards – do go and check out the shortlist.

Summary

If you have to be gluten free and also want to reduce the number of calories you eat, this could be an option to consider, as long as you continue to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet overall. And you’d want to do that on any weight-loss diet, wouldn’t you?

Try the Shortlist: FreeFrom Foods Awards 2013

five-gold-stars

At last – the FreeFrom Foods Awards shortlist is out.

I was invited to be on the judging panel for a couple of the categories again this year. This is a privilege—and not just because I got to taste 28 different kinds of cake in an afternoon!

It is fascinating, and a rare chance to spend the day in the company of experts in various aspects of living gluten free.

Plus cake, obviously.

As you’d expect, there were some strong views among the judging team, and lengthy discussion. So much so that we significantly overran the allocated time for the bread session (over 25 different kinds of bread, as well as the cake…)

But we—and the other judging teams—did eventually make our decisions. The winners of the Awards will be announced at the ceremony in London, in April. I’m looking forward to it!

Tasting such a wide variety of bread and cake at the same time made some things really clear. One of these is that the quality of gluten free goods is rising, and therefore that the ‘minimum acceptable quality bar’ for products is getting ever higher these days.

Or it should be.

There are still too many ‘good enough’ products out there on the supermarket shelves. I think we should be expecting more.

Some of the products I tasted were indistinguishable from ‘standard’ products. Not necessarily identical, but they didn’t come with that ‘obviously gluten free’ taste or smell. I’m sure you know what I mean!

One or two of the products were so good that I would buy them even if we didn’t need them to be gluten free. (Not everyone in my family eats gluten free). You’ll have to wait for the Awards results to find out which the judges liked best!

So if this is possible, why are there still so many ‘adequate’ products, rather than good ones? Even given the fact that people have differing tastes (as evidenced by the discussions on judging days), it is clear that some products are just not as good as others.

Yet we accept them, and go on buying them.

So if you’re still buying the same baked goods as you chose when you were first diagnosed, try something new, for a number of reasons:

  • you might just find something you prefer
  • it supports innovation in product development, whether this is by new, small companies, or well-established names, meaning that we continue to see new and better products
  • demand for better products will mean that manufacturers will work harder, and shops will stock them
  • and people who live gluten free should be able to choose delicious, high quality products too.

So go on. Try something from the 2013 shortlist soon…