Following a gluten-free diet can be challenging, especially when it comes to figuring out what to eat for dinner. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s essential to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Thankfully, there are still plenty of nutritious and delicious gluten-free dinner options to choose from.
What is gluten and why do some people need to avoid it?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It helps foods maintain their shape and gives elasticity to dough. For most people, consuming gluten is not a problem. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can trigger an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue and more. The only treatment is to follow a strict lifelong gluten-free diet by avoiding all foods and drinks containing gluten.
Safe gluten-free grains and starches
When you’re gluten-free, wheat, barley and rye are out. But fortunately, there are plenty of nutritious gluten-free grains and starches to include in your diet:
Rice is naturally gluten-free, so all types like white rice, brown rice, basmati rice, wild rice and rice mixes make good substitutes for wheat-based dishes.
Quinoa is gluten-free and contains more protein than most grains. Use it to make gluten-free pilafs or as a base for salads.
Corn and all its forms, like cornmeal, polenta, popcorn and masa, can be enjoyed without worry on a gluten-free diet.
Despite its name, buckwheat is gluten-free and can be used to make pancakes, crepes, soba noodles and more.
Sorghum has a mild flavor that makes it a versatile gluten-free grain. Use it for baking or cooking as you would other grains.
Amaranth has an earthy, nutty flavor and can be prepared like oats or ground into gluten-free flour.
The tiny gluten-free grain teff can be ground into flour and used to bake injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread.
Arrowroot starch can be used to thicken sauces, gravies and puddings. It also makes a good gluten-free flour substitute.
Tapioca comes from the root of the cassava plant. Tapioca flour is commonly used to make gluten-free breads, pancakes and waffles.
Potato starch adds binding and thickness to gluten-free baked goods. Use it in combination with other flours.
Also called yuca or manioc, cassava is a starchy root vegetable that can be enjoyed boiled, fried or mashed as a gluten-free side dish.
Protein foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts are naturally gluten-free. These make excellent additions to any gluten-free meal:
Steaks, roasts, burgers and meatballs are all protein-packed gluten-free options. Choose leaner cuts to avoid too much saturated fat.
From pork chops to bacon, ham and sausage, pork offers variety to your gluten-free diet. Opt for leaner cuts and nitrate-free products when possible.
Chicken is a high-protein staple that can be incorporated into gluten-free dishes like casseroles, salads, skillet dinners and more.
Turkey breast, cutlets, sausage and bacon make easy gluten-free additions to sandwiches, soups and breakfasts.
Fish and seafood
Most fish and seafood like salmon, halibut, tuna, shrimp, scallops, lobster and crab can be safely enjoyed on a gluten-free diet.
Eggs are naturally gluten-free and make the perfect protein for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Cook them any style.
Beans and legumes
Kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and navy beans pack fiber and protein into your gluten-free dishes. Enjoy them in soups, chilis and salads.
Made from soybeans, tofu is a plant-based protein to include in stir-fries, scrambles and more when you’re avoiding gluten.
Nuts and seeds
Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and nut butters make easy gluten-free snacks and salad toppings.
Dairy, fruits and vegetables
In their pure form, most dairy, fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free. Stock up on these nutrient-dense foods:
Plain cow’s milk, goat’s milk, almond milk, rice milk and soy milk that don’t contain added glutenous ingredients are fine for a gluten-free diet.
Plain yogurt and Greek yogurt without extra gluten-containing ingredients can be enjoyed without concern.
Most cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta are gluten-free. Double check flavored varieties for additives.
Pure butter and ghee contain no gluten and add richness to cooked vegetables, breads and more.
All fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits are gluten-free and make easy snacks, salads, sides and desserts.
Fresh or frozen vegetables of all kinds can be incorporated into gluten-free meals, sides and salads.
Spices, oils and condiments
Spices, oils and most condiments are free of gluten and help flavor basic gluten-free foods:
Herbs and spices
Dried oregano, basil, cumin, thyme, rosemary, curry powder and all spice blends are gluten-free. Use them generously to add flavor.
Oils like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and vegetable oil are gluten-free. Drizzle over cooked foods or use for cooking.
Plain yellow, Dijon and whole grain mustard do not contain gluten. Use them as condiments or in salad dressings.
Ketchup and hot sauce
Plain ketchup, chili sauce and hot sauces are typically gluten-free, but check labels for additives.
Plain mayonnaise and aioli usually don’t contain glutenous ingredients. Use them to make sauces and dips.
All types of vinegar like apple cider, balsamic, rice and white wine vinegar are gluten-free. Use for pickling or in salad dressings.
Always opt for gluten-free tamari instead of regular soy sauce, which contains wheat.
Gluten-free dinner recipes
Now that you know the main food groups to choose from, here are some delicious sample recipes for gluten-free dinners:
Baked salmon with herbs
Quinoa tabbouleh salad
Bean and veggie fajita bowls
Chicken florentine pizza
Gluten-free sides and snacks
Round out your gluten-free dinner with these nutritious side dishes and snacks:
- Steamed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or green beans
- Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes or butternut squash
- Fresh salad with oil and vinegar dressing
- Fruit salad made with fresh berries, pineapple and citrus
- Celery sticks with almond butter
- Edamame sprinkled with sea salt
- Popcorn made on the stovetop with oil or air-popped
- Kale chips drizzled with olive oil and baked
- Carrots and hummus
- Hard boiled eggs
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Cottage cheese with sunflower seeds and avocado
You don’t have to miss out on sweet treats just because you’re avoiding gluten. Here are some delicious gluten-free dessert ideas:
- Fresh fruit salad
- Sorbet or gelato made with real fruit
- Chocolate pudding made with coconut milk
- Pumpkin pie made with a gluten-free crust
- Gluten-free brownies or cookies
- Poached pears
- Banana “ice cream” made by freezing bananas
- Rice pudding
- Dark chocolate bark made with nuts, dried fruit, coconut, etc.
Tips for following a gluten-free diet
If you’re new to the gluten-free diet, keep these tips in mind:
- Read all labels carefully to look for hidden gluten ingredients like wheat, barley, rye and malt.
- Look for gluten-free labels from trusted certification programs like GFCO.
- Avoid cross-contamination by using separate pans, cutting boards and utensils to prepare gluten-free foods if you have others in your household eating gluten.
- Choose whole, naturally gluten-free foods like produce, meats, fish, beans, nuts and seeds whenever possible.
- Meal prep dishes like roasted vegetables, quinoa or rice ahead of time so you have gluten-free sides on hand.
- Stock your pantry with gluten-free swaps like tamari, quinoa, nut flours and gluten-free oats.
- Communicate with wait staff at restaurants about your gluten-free needs.
Following a gluten-free diet may seem limiting at first glance, but there are still endless delicious meals you can enjoy. Fill your plate with lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, gluten-free whole grains and dairy. Gluten-free pizza, baked fish, fajita bowls and salads can all be on the menu. Satisfy sweet cravings with naturally gluten-free treats like fruit, chocolate, sorbet and rice pudding. With proper planning and smart swaps, you can create nutritious, satisfying gluten-free dinners every night of the week.