Welcome to New You Nutrition. My name is Melissa Pickell and I am a registered dietitian and author of the cookbook Melissa’s Marvelous Meatless Meals…everyday recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, and refined sugar.

I run a private nutrition counseling practice in Stockton, NJ, one of the beautiful river towns along the Delaware. In addition to weight loss coaching, I work with clients who have various ingredient restrictions and intolerances which result in gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free diets. These restrictions add many other dimensions and complications to a person’s daily lifestyle and become acute when traveling and during family celebrations and holidays.

Years ago when I decided that one day I would write a cookbook, I had a very different vision of what that book would be. As a registered dietitian I have a passion for helping my clients find wonderful foods that work within their particular diet restrictions. Although I have provided excellent, healthy, and tasty vegetarian meals for my family for years, we never had to contend with food allergies, or any dietary restrictions for health reasons. Over the years of raising my children I have grown many of the vegetables I have cooked, baked many types of bread, and experimented with all sorts of whole grains and other foods not commonly found on the typical American table.

Some of these restrictions hit my own household when my husband, who was living with a chronic intestinal disorder, became frustrated with the lack of results from pharmaceutical medication and no particular diet. After seeking help from a wonderful holistic medical doctor, my husband began to follow a very restricted diet of no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar, and for the first six months, no corn in any form. And did I mention that we are vegetarian? I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and thinking, “OK, this is my profession, I can understand what all of these restrictions require, and I know how to research what to do”. And then I went to the grocery store. I admit that I stood there and cried. In the health food section of the store, every package I picked up contained one or more of the ingredients that he wasn’t allowed.

A gluten-free diet is complicated enough, but being vegetarian added some extra challenges. For gluten-free vegetarians, meal planning can be additionally complicated since almost all of the commercially available alternative protein sources contain wheat gluten and/or soy sauce which have wheat. No more veggie crumbles, veggie burgers or hot dogs, or seitan. Even certain types of tempeh are made with grains that have gluten.

I realized that I would need to prepare almost everything from scratch (which I was mostly doing already anyway) and I would have to be vigilant in label reading. Having been a bread baker most of my life, I tried my hand at gluten-free bread, very unsuccessfully. I needed a book on gluten-free baking. I purchased two cookbooks which were helpful in teaching me some of the principles of gluten-free baking, but I found that the available books included a lot of dairy and meat, the baked goods contained lots of refined sugar, and there were no recipes for some of the gluten-free whole grains that we were already using, like millet and buckwheat.

I combed the library shelves looking for books that suited our new nutritional lifestyle and found books that were vegetarian but not gluten-free, gluten-free but not dairy-free, sugar-free but not gluten- or dairy-free. An internet search for cookbooks containing recipes with no gluten, dairy, or refined sugar turned up one solution; however, one review of the book was by a frustrated person who complained that most of the recipes use brown sugar. Brown sugar is considered a refined sugar and my recipes do not contain this ingredient. My recipes use mostly gluten-free brown rice syrup, and pure maple syrup as sweeteners, and occasionally honey, date puree, or blackstrap molasses. Getting the texture, consistency, and taste right in a food that has no gluten, dairy, or granulated sugar is complicated and it is not surprising that people are overwhelmed by this.

Over many months I began to develop my own recipes, making adjustments to old family favorites, and creating new ones. I have since met many people, friends and clients, who follow a vegetarian lifestyle and are also trying to avoid processed sugars. I have received calls from potential clients who are overwhelmed by having many restrictions (and it seems the sugar restriction creates the greatest disturbance since sugar is in absolutely everything!) and not knowing how to eat anymore. I hope that my recipes are in keeping with the philosophy which I describe below: of eating healthfully and well, enjoying food, and promoting wholesome and home-prepared food. My recipes are not time consuming since I too have a busy family schedule. I hope my recipes will reach an audience of those who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle by cooking more, eating less meat, less wheat, and less sugar. In my home, we aim to cook a meal that works for everyone, regardless of their food restrictions. I have tried to take the recipes that we have enjoyed as a vegetarian family and find ways to make them dairy, gluten, and sugar free. I hope that my recipes will take some of the difficult thinking out of gluten-free vegetarian meal planning and put back some of the joy of eating.
Melissa’s Marvelous Meatless Meals is available on my web site www.pickellnutrition.com or from Amazon.com.
Photo by Deborah Gichan Photography