Mealtime Zen: Experimenting with Novel Food

Experimenting with novel food for personal reasons is at the higher end of the eating competence scale. It means I am certain of finding acceptable food in sufficient quantity, and I am not stressed about wasting a little food to try something I’m not familiar with. I trust that if I eat a variety of food that appeals to my senses, in satisfying amounts on a regular basis, I will very probably do quite well supplying my caloric and nutritional needs.

Further down the eating competence ladder, I have a child who is confident about finding enough to eat, and comfortable with finding acceptable food. Life, in all her sadistic irony, has hinted that gluten might not have a future at our table, conveniently as TJ starts to experiment with food that tastes good.

TJs anemia might be it’s own unique thing, or it could be the symptom of another issue, such as an inability to absorb iron. This complication is common with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

TJ eats a lot of gluten. Croissants, crackers, bread, bagels, muffins, pizza… Gluten is a HUGE source of calories! I am not willing to sacrifice his trust in a reliable food source by eliminating gluten from his diet on a hunch. However, should this become something we need to take seriously, I would like to prepared.

I spent some time this weekend looking at gluten-free flours, determined to have a few recipes in my arsenal should we need them. There is quite the variety to choose from, one that I found especially interesting is chia.

Chia flour (or seeds ground into a powder) can replace the flour in a recipe 1:1. (BTW, chia can be used in place of eggs.) This is one concern already solved, as gluten-free to wheat flour conversions involve more math than I want to commit to. I can’t seem to get around the expense factor of avoiding gluten – a small bag of ground chia seeds (about 1 3/4 cups) is $14.99 at my local supermarket. (yeesh)

Chia seeds are marketed as a nutritional powerhouse. They are rich in omega-3s and full of fiber. Recipes describe the texture of goods baked with chia flour as “light” and “fluffy”. You have my attention.

More than how nutritious any one ingredient is or how a combination of ingredients create nutritional paydirt, if it doesn’t taste good, no one is this house is going to eat it. Chia has a big responsibility if it’s going to become a welcome part of the kitchen contents:

  1. Chia seeds must meet or exceed stringent criteria to pass critical assessments of texture and taste, and
  2. It must achieve this high standard using wheat flour’s crowning creation.

Chia PowerHouse Banana Bread

1 cup softened butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 frozen (slightly thawed and mashed) bananas

2 cups ground chia seeds (chia flour) *
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder


In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and bananas. Mix well.

In another bowl combine chia flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add to banana mixture and mix well. Let stand for 15 minutes. Use this time to pre-heat oven to 350F and grease 3 loaf pans.

Pour batter into loaf pans 2/3 full. Bake for one hour.

* * *

* In defense, this is my first attempt with gluten-free baking and the bread didn’t set quite as well as I had hoped. I had to use 1 3/4 c chia flour + 1/2 c quinoa flour because I didn’t have enough chia on hand. (I am holding quinoa responsible for the goo-factor). My wheat-flour banana bread is a moist, mouth-watering, world-renown delicacy (for reals). This, despite the flour quantity and my inexperience, was surprisingly close. Some recipes call to let the batter stand and give the seeds time to absorb the liquid, which I’ve added to the instructions.

Adjustments to perfect this recipe are welcome. Enjoy!


8 responses to “Mealtime Zen: Experimenting with Novel Food

  1. The plantain pancake recipe at Paleo Mom is my slightly-food-particular daughter’s favorite. I can now make plantain pancakes in my sleep. 2 plantains (any color works), 4 eggs, 1 tsp baking soda, 2 Tbs coconut oil, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg–blend it all in the blender, pour on a heated pan and flip in two minutes. Yummiest gluten free/grain free pancake ever!

    Eliminating gluten was hard for me until I had a piece of paper that said, “Your kid reacts very strongly to gluten, eggs and garlic.” After that I felt like I could make the radical switch in our diets (which I felt at the time would disrupt the whole family). Now, 6 years into it, we’re all gluten free and considering how grains will play a part, if at all. My oldest can have eggs now thankfully. Gluten is still a no-go.

    My husband was extremely limited in his dietary preferences as a child, and still is, as an adult. He only ate “white” food (ham and cheese sandwiches, milk, one kind of cereal, rice, some strongly flavored meat..) and his mom felt very helpless about it. As an adult, he still will not eat any kind of fruit or vegetables (unless they are very cooked–like bell peppers/hot peppers, onions in his food). His allergy panel came back showing that he was very intolerant of dairy and giving that up has been hard for him; however a lot of the stomach problems that he’d had since being a child have improved. Now he eats the same kind of granola every morning (plain, no milk) at the same time in the morning, his lunch is a big batch of strongly flavored meat/rice combination with bell peppers, and dinner is a toned down version of whatever I make. If we have fish tacos with lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, mango, olives, etc… he eats corn tortillas with fish and a spicy sauce. If I make oven chicken with potatoes, sweet potato fries, artichokes, green beans and brussels sprouts, he will eat the chicken and potatoes. Basically, meat + grain/starch is okay. Anything else is too different. Thus far our kids haven’t picked up on it much since we try not to talk about who is eating what.

    I am always very curious about how to help him over-come the aversions and how to help my daughter navigate the food world in a healthy way. It is so hard sometimes! When did food become such a thing?

  2. You might want to check out “Whole Life Nutrition/Nourishing Meals” for really great gluten/dairy free meals. I only read this post quickly this morning after reading the comment by another mom on Paleo Mom’s website (I had a rough night of sleep last night and am not quite awake yet..sorry!). Have you considered an ELISA blood panel yet to see if he is truly gluten intolerant? An elimination diet is really the best, but really kind of impossible with some kids.

  3. Keep us posted! I have not perfected gluten free baking for N or hubby (who both need it, admittedly I have not spent the time), but I did adapt your zucchini pancake recipe to a buckwheat (packet-mix) version!

    • Yep, buckwheat is gluten free (it’s not actually wheat but part of the rhubarb family I believe). It was an Orgran brand mix. I put zucchini & sometimes apple w some cinnamon in them, and freeze them for my toddler’s breakfast. He’s not such a discerning eater though (never had wheat flour pancakes) so I can’t be sure they’d pass the test, although he is entering the ‘fussy’ phase at 18 months & because of his dietary limitations.

  4. I have not used chia flour before so kudos for a first gluten free experiment!! I would chalk the gooeyness up to chia, because chia seeds become gelatinous when soaked in liquid, which is why they work so well as a binder.

    I have done quite a bit of gluten free baking over the past couple of years, with all different types of flours. I have found that for my non-gluten free family, they actually prefer the texture of grain-free baking (made with almond and coconut flours) over gluten free (made with rice flour, tapioca starch etc). Here is a great chocolate chip cookie recipe they loved recently:

    Good luck!

    • Looks like coconut flour will change the texture, but almond flour might be a possibility. Thanks. Now to google the almond flour to wheat conversion…

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