Continental Airlines Drops Gluten-free Meals

continentalLogoMy first transatlantic flight after my celiac diagnosis had been booked long before I was ever tested for the condition. The flight was with Delta who had just recently dropped gluten-free meals from their service. After a long and extremely frustrating battle with many representatives from Delta, I finally settled on ordering a vegetarian meal, knowing there might be nothing safe for me to eat in it. Since I was packing plenty of food for dinner, breakfast the next morning and snacks in between, it didn’t really matter what the vegetarian meal contained.

Someone used to ordering special meals on flights suggested I order two vegetarian meals. If they lost only one of them, I’d still have something to eat – maybe. Sure enough, on the flight over, they had only one special meal even though it stated on the tickets we both had special meals ordered. I was able to have salad with my own dressing and some fruit from the airline meal. I had packed a sandwich, peanut butter and crackers, dried fruit and a brownie for dinner alone. I could not eat ll the food I brought for that meal so my husband happily helped me finish it. For breakfast the next morning, other passengers were given a hard, cold roll and a green (literally) banana. My breakfast consisted of a hard boiled egg, some cheese, fruit and ready-cooked bacon. I remember the stares from some around me and comments from people who smelled my tasty bacon that could not see my delightful gluten-free breakfast. It was amusing, to say the least.

On the flight back, neither of us got the special meals we’d requested, but I’d expected as much by then. The Paris airport offered a safe pre-packaged salad and some chips. As always, I had my own dressing packet for the salad. I also had a backpack full of gluten-free food I’d packed for the trip, that I didn’t need to eat on vacation. Almost every person I’ve spoken to since that trip has reported problems with their special meal request with various American based airlines. Apparently Delta reintroduced gluten-free meals but includes things like Rice Krispies in the gluten-free breakfast. Rice Krispies contain gluten in the form of barley malt.

Last week on the celiac listserv, Janet Y. Rinhart, Chairman of the Houston Celiac Support Group, posted some annoying news about Continental Airlines. She gave me her permission to post some of her comments here.

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES has discontinued special gluten-free meals on international flights. This can be anxiety-ridden for celiacs if they do not know and do not come prepared on international flights. Because of security concerns and customs, it may be hard to even bring food, at least enough for that flight and a return flight. And there are few GF choices after Security. Of course, you don’t know what is available when you are abroad as well. Please join me in writing your opinion and encourage Continental to reinstate their gluten-free meals. I think they are keeping the vegan selection, but vegan is mainly a choice. A gluten-free diet is not a choice for celiacs; it is the only way to stay healthy. It is the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.

Continental CEO e-mail: [email protected]

or write to: Mr. Jeffery A. Smisek, CEO, Continental Airlines, P.O. Box 4607, Houston, Texas 77210-4607

Customer service phone # 800.WE.CARE2 (800.932.2732)

Well said Janet. In addition to offering a vegan meal, Continental Airlines also offers the following special meals for international flights only – Hindu, Muslim, Vegan, Kosher and Jain. As reported on ABC News earlier this week, the airline does not offer free meal service on any flight under six hours. Let’s see how much Continental Airlines really cares about what their customers think. Consider joining forces with Janet and making a difference in how the gluten-free community is treated by the airline. It’s great that the airline makes the above mentioned meals available (on transatlantic flights) to people who need them. However, having to eat gluten-free is not a choice for most of us and it seems a bit absurd that the gluten-free meal (a meal prescribed for a medical condition) would be one that was recently dropped from the special meal line-up.

Special Thanks to Janet Y. Rinehart for bringing this matter to the attention of the gluten-free community!

Gluten-free Tuna Casserole Recipe

cheesetopping__SL500_AA252_Recently, I discovered an easy and delicious way to make gluten-free mac-n-cheese. We’ve always loved tuna casserole during the winter, but we haven’t had it in four years, aside from the Mrs. Leepers boxed dinner. Though we do enjoy that meal, it’s not the same as the Kraft mac-n-cheese version we used to make. Sometimes you just want an old favorite and luckily, many such dishes can be made gluten-free with a little tweaking.

Our tuna casserole recipe calls for prepared mac-n-cheese. We use Andean Dream quinoa/rice pasta and Kraft Cheesy Topping to make mac-n-cheese that pretty much mimics the Kraft version. Amy’s and Glutino brands sell frozen gluten-free mac-n-cheese and the Annie’s, Trader Joe’s and Mrs. Leepers product lines all offer gluten-free mac-n-cheese boxed dinners. Use whatever gluten-free mac-n-cheese you prefer.

For this batch of mac-n-cheese, I used a heaping tablespoon of the Kraft Cheesy Topping. It takes about 15 minutes to make the pasta dish and two minutes to mix in the soup and tuna. To save time, I’d thickened the soup the previous day. It takes about half an hour to thicken non condensed soup to the desired consistency for casseroles. We use Walnut Acres Portebello Mushroom soup but it’s not that easy to find. Healthy Choice makes a gluten-free cream of mushroom soup and Progresso’s Creamy Mushroom soup is now labeled gluten-free. This dish isn’t the healthiest around but serving sauteed asparagus as a side dish ups the health factor of the meal. If desired, you can add veggies directly into the casserole. Since the cooking time is so short, the veggies or add-ins need to be cooked beforehand.

IMG_0061To say we were impressed with this remade version of our old standby casserole is quite an understatement. It was at least as good as the gluten version we used to enjoy. The only difference was the absence of French’s fried onions and we were surprised that we didn’t really miss them. It’s always fun to figure out a way to convert gluten dishes into something safe and delicious to enjoy. It might take a while and some things might not turn out great the first (or second or even third) time around. But eventually most anything can be made deliciously gluten-free. It just takes practice and patience.

Gluten-free Tuna Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups prepared gluten-free mac-n-cheese
  • 1 family sized pouch of tuna (packed in water)
  • 1 can of gluten-free mushroom soup (I used the Walnut Acres brand thickened with cornstarch/water mixture *Progresso Creamy Mushroom is now labeled gluten-free)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup skim milk (depending on creamy your mac-n-cheese is)

Instructions:

Once mac-n-cheese is prepared, stir in tuna and thickened mushroom soup. Pour mixture into lightly greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes – or until bubbly hot. ENJOY!

Variations:

Use cooked diced chicken instead of tuna. Use gluten-free potato sticks or potato chips flavored with onion powder for extra flavor. Use cream of celery soup instead of mushroom soup. Mix homemade gluten-free fried onions into the casserole and use some to top the casserole. Always make sure to choose gluten-free products for all ingredients.

Frozen Entrees from Gluten-free Cafe

gfcafe_sidebottomGluten-free Cafe frozen entrees by Hain Celestial are now available in most health food stores and also many mainstream grocery stores. The meals are somewhat pricey, as are many gluten items in the convenience foods category. The Gluten-free Cafe meals I’ve tried are very good but my favorite is the Lemon Basil Chicken. The simple delicious meal is comprised primarily of rice, basil, lemon and chicken and it’s really quite delicious!

Other flavors are Asian Noodles, Pasta Primavera and Fettuccine Alfredo. These frozen meals come in super handy whether you need a quick meal for one, or easy meals when visiting friends or family. All you need is a microwave and a fork and you have a tasty gluten-free meal in five minutes flat!

Hain Celestial makes the wonderful line of Imagine soups. My favorite flavors are the Creamy Potato Leek and the Butternut Squash – both are very tasty! The company also offers several excellent soups that do not contain gluten ingredients, that are not marked gluten-free. The company will not label them until the FDA agrees on a law regarding exactly what that means. At least that is what the company told me the last time I called to check the gluten-free status of my favorite mushroom soup from them –  Walnut Acres Organic Portobello Mushroom.

Hain Celestial “no gluten ingredients” products include, but are not limited to, the Healthy Choice soup flavors : Cream of Celery, Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken. All flavors work great for casseroles but since the soups are not condensed, I often use sour cream to thicken them. If a sour cream flavor isn’t appropriate for the dish I’m making, I use cornstarch (mixed in a little water) to thicken but it does take time to get the consistency I like for casseroles using that method.

It will be great when FDA makes a definite ruling regarding exactly what gluten-free labeling means in the U.S. Hain Celestial is not the only company waiting on the FDA ruling before adding “gluten-free” to their “no gluten ingredients” product labels – no doubt.

Check out what Hain Celestial is doing for the environment:

  • Green Buildings: Every facility, from our corporate offices to our manufacturing and warehousing sites, is adopting procedures to evaluate and maximize our recycling practices, reduce waste, and improve energy efficiency.
  • Green Packaging: We are committed to reducing product packaging (versus using more material than absolutely necessary), in combination with sustainable, ethical sourcing of raw material.
  • Green Awareness: We are bringing environmental concerns to the forefront by integrating such messages into our various brand marketing campaigns. Our goal is to increase support and awareness for the need to take action and do as much as we can to protect our environment now.

Have you tried these new frozen meals from Gluten-Free Cafe yet?

Note: Please read the ingredient labels of all products that are not labeled gluten-free as ingredients change often. Something that is gluten-free today might not be tomorrow.