Chow Bella

Cooking Gluten-Free: The Fresh 20 Makes It Easy(ish)

First, a confession: I don't really cook. Or, at least, I didn't really cook until recently. Which isn't really accurate, either. I can cook, and I have cooked. It's just that my mother is a great cook, so I didn't really feel the need to learn, and my husband is a great cook, too, so, hey, why bother.

See also: - Fear of (Gluten-Free) Flying -- Or, Rather, of Airport Food; - AZ88 Teaches Our Gluten-Free Girl a Lesson

But eating gluten-free is a lot easier if you make at least some of your own food, and I have found a fabulous solution: quick, healthy, organized and delicious: The Fresh 20 website.

In the past, my time in the kitchen was mostly spent on baking. I was serious. I baked my way through Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts, and even made Martha's Birthday Cake out of her Baking Handbook, the dome with the little tufts of almond-Swiss meringue all over it, scorched like baked Alaska. Yeah, serious.

But going gluten-free kind of kicked that pursuit in the behind.

I also developed a fatigue for gluten-detective work at my favorite take-out places, and had more than a handful of gastrointestinal reactions that told me, even though they said the food was gluten-free, something was happening in the kitchen that wasn't good for me.

So I gritted my teeth and prepared to give cooking at home a more sustained effort. I gritted my teeth because, unlike my husband, I don't love poring over cookbooks for hours to pick recipes for the week, (Okay, maybe 30 minutes, and I know I did it for baking, but it's not the same for me) or making long shopping lists, or throwing out half the bunch of asparagus because your recipe only called for a cup and it went bad before you figured out what else to do with it.

The Fresh 20 solved a lot of these issues by organizing the week's meals so you don't waste ingredients, and by organizing everything for you. It bills itself as Budget Friendly Family Meal Plans, and has three versions, regular, vegetarian and, woo-hoo, gluten-free.

Every Friday, the chef, Melissa Lanz, posts the week's list of 20 fresh ingredients to make five healthy meals, including sides. You supplement these fresh items with things from your pantry, like chicken broth, pasta, spices, oil, and vinegar.

Each meal serves four, and there's usually enough for next-day lunches. It comes with an organized shopping list, recipes, tips for things to prepare ahead, and a nutritional breakdown for each meal. You can subscribe for $49 for a year, or $5 a month, a bargain for my cooking-addled brain.

I have been using the site for about two months, and am strutting around like a veteran in the kitchen.

I've made roasted chicken with parsnips and potatoes, corn and kale enchiladas, herb-rubbed balsamic flank steak, broccoli and beef over brown rice, artichoke and asparagus spaghetti, turkey and black been chili, goat-cheese stuffed chicken breasts, shrimp fried rice and warm peanut noodle salad. And more. And it was easy.

My favorites this week were the kale and corn enchiladas and a side dish, carrot slaw. The slaw consisted of shredded carrots, oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and spices. Something I've never had, would never have thought to make, and which, now, may become an "old family recipe."

Best of all, my husband and son are eating, and loving, the gluten-free menu.

Sometimes, after working late, I don't even print out the pdf before going to the grocery store. I just read the shopping list on my phone as I buzz through the produce and meat sections to grab my 20 items and quickly head home.

I feel organized and proud of myself, even though it really is all Melissa.

You can find the website at, and stay tuned for an interview with Melissa and information about her new cookbook.

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Judith Nichols