Support Gluten-Free Food Banks

The gluten-free diet can feel overwhelming enough without having to worry about the often-staggering cost to boot. Gluten-free food banks can help those who may be financially struggling to stay on course.

In an ideal world, those of us on the gluten-free diet would live on meals straight out of a Gwyneth Paltrow-styled fairytale. We’d eat a balanced variety of naturally gluten-free organic fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and ancient grains. We’d spend Sunday afternoons mindfully preparing healthy snacks for the week ahead: resealable bags full of cut-up local peppers, carrots and strawberries, homemade granola bars, chia-covered cocoa balls and spicy kale chips.

But as anyone who has to follow the gluten-free diet—and especially those who are new to the diet or raising kids on it—can attest, the reality is that even the most health conscious of us invariably rely on store-bought, prepackaged gluten-free goods from time to time. And when you consider that, on average, gluten-free versions of “regular” foods can cost up to 450 percent more than their gluten-containing counterparts, you can imagine how formidable the gluten-free diet must feel to low-income families or those who are food insecure (see “What is food insecurity?” at right).

While there is no known figure for exactly how many Americans on gluten-free diets are food insecure, a study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that 21 percent of children diagnosed with food allergies experience low food security. That’s just one snapshot of why the work of gluten-free food banks is more meaningful than ever—and why it’s critical that the gluten-free community rally around them and those who rely on them.

Sticker shock

Emily Brown of Kansas City, Kansas, remembers the disheartening feeling of shopping for gluten-free foods. In 2012, her older daughter was diagnosed with a wheat allergy, and her family was experiencing financial difficulties. “I was unable to get the items that I needed through WIC, a federal nutrition program, so I went to a food pantry and was just stunned by the lack of availability,” she said. “I recognized that there was a gap, and that this was a critical need. And I knew that I was not alone, that there had to be other families who were impacted just as mine was.”

And so Brown paired up with Amy Goode, a mom she met in a food allergy support group, and has made it her mission to provide for those in need. In 2014, the two women launched Food Equality Initiative, a Kansas-based organization dedicated to improving health and ending hunger for low-income individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease. Theirs is a three-pronged approach centered on their allergen-free food pantry, advocacy work and education. “Anyone who’s diagnosed with a medically necessary diet knows that the No. 1 concern your physician has is whether you’re going to comply with the diet,” Brown said. And she points out that there’s the psychological toll specialized diets can create, particularly for kids—and that ready-made gluten-free foods really do serve a role in alleviating it. “People don’t realize how profound it can be to provide a family with pizza dough or cupcake mix—to be able to ensure that your child is not left out of something so meaningful.”

Scott Akeson of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, visits Food Equality Initiative monthly. As a father of four kids ages 8 to 17, he says his family began eating gluten free when his oldest son was diagnosed with celiac. “Each month, our food bill was as much as our mortgage,” Akeson said. “It can be awkward to ask for help, but we needed some way to defray the cost of this medically required food.” The biggest boost, he said, are items like gluten-free flour—which a Food Equality Initiative report showed can cost $6.39 per pound, compared with $0.57 for regular flour. “Emily and her team of volunteers are all so helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, and we’re so grateful,” Akeson says.

Giving back

The Gluten-Free Food Bank, part of the New England Celiac Organization, distributes gluten-free foods to pantries in the greater Boston area. “We concentrate on getting those specialized gluten-free replacement products—bread, crackers, pasta, nutritious bars,” said Director Nicola Harrington. When Harrington’s son was diagnosed with celiac three years ago, she had an “a-ha moment.” “Being diagnosed is a stressful time—there’s the stress of trying to change the diet and the stress of dealing with the social aspect of it. But then it hit me how much more stressful it would be to not be able to afford some of these products,” she said.

While The Gluten-Free Food Bank gets valuable donations from large-scale national suppliers, Harrington also feels grateful to have a supportive local community in New England. “We have a very sympathetic audience among the gluten-free community, from individuals to manufacturers and vendors,” she said. “They know how expensive these products are, and they empathize with those who have financial insecurity or food insecurity and need these products.” Take 14-year-old Brendan Weissel of Newton, Massachusetts; for his bar mitzvah, he asked guests to bring gluten-free items to donate to the bank. “I have celiac, so I really wanted to help the celiac and gluten-free community,” Weissel says. He and his guests ultimately donated more than 130 items.

Tiffany Holtzman has been equally moved by teens who want to make a difference. As the founder of S.A.F.E.—Supplying Allergy Friendly and Emergency Food Pantry, Inc.—in suburban Baltimore, she supplies allergy-friendly food to a local food bank and has relied on the amazing support of youth like Lily Lev, 14. For her bat mitzvah, Lev created a flyer and asked MOM’s Organic Market to donate re-useable grocery bags. She printed more than 100 flyers and stapled them to the donated bags. With the help of her younger brother, Sam, Lev left the bags at more than 100 houses in her neighborhood. The following week, the siblings returned to the homes to collect the bags and were amazed by the turnout: 146 pounds of food, filling three grocery carts.

Brendan and Lily inspired me to rally my gluten-free community: For a Valentine’s Day gathering organized by Cel-Kids Maryland, a Maryland social support group founded by Andrea Balzano Tucker and Kate Cramer, I asked anyone who’d like to donate items to bring them to the event. I was floored when the 18 families in attendance generously donated nearly 50 items. “The gluten-free community is naturally a supportive, collaborative, helpful group. No one understands better the necessity—and cost—of gluten-free food than those who depend on it daily,” said Balzano Tucker, who launched the resource

Heather Gannon agrees. After her daughter Rachel was diagnosed with sensitivities to gluten and dairy, Gannon felt the pinch to her wallet—and became determined to help others. In September 2015, she created The Rachel Way, a dedicated gluten-free food pantry in suburban Philadelphia that, she says, people drive more than two hours to visit. “Every client who comes through our door gets teary-eyed,” Gannon said, from the homeless family who was living out of their car to parents who’ve lost a job or are going through a divorce.

In addition to staples, Gannon makes sure to stock the kinds of food that help kids feel less alone. “I have cookies, cake mixes, fruit snacks. I try to make sure I have things in snack sizes for kids’ lunches because it’s so important that they don’t reach for someone else’s,” Gannon said. “Sure, they’re things you shouldn’t eat every day—I think [those on the gluten-free diet] naturally progress to a more whole, real-food diet [as time goes on]—but it’s reassuring to know your child can feel included.

The Big Picture

Advocates like Brown are gratified by the movement of food banks nationwide to increase their offerings of naturally gluten-free fruits and vegetables. “Fresh produce is the fastest growing channel of food and our No. 1 priority,” said Michelle Marshall, MS, RDN, the director of community health and nutrition at Feeding America, which serves more than 46 million people across the nation every year.

And Marilyn G. Geller, CEO of Celiac Disease Foundation, points out that food banks also often do have naturally gluten-free items like rice and beans on hand. The challenge, many say, is that food banks often lack the staff or training to get those foods in the right hands. Dee Valdez, a Colorado-based consultant on gluten-free issues who’s known as “Gluten Free Dee,” was one of the first in the U.S. to help organize gluten-free food pantries. In many cases, she said, the necessary food exists—but it’s just not sorted so that it gets to those who require it. “My request is for people to give more purposely—if you want to give food, you need to give it to food banks that get it to the families who need it.” Other experts emphasize the importance of labeling gluten-free foods clearly if you choose to donate them, so that they get where they need to be.

Strength in Numbers

“We’re in this together,” said Valdez. “And if we don’t want people to suffer in the long-term, and become a very large expense in our medical system, we need to take care of them with the gluten-free cereals and pasta and pizza, and all of the things that most of us eat or used to eat at one point or another. We need to meet people where they are, and then once they’re feeling better, they can have a different mindset and heart and commitment to eating healthier.”

Food banks need your help, she said. “They need help sorting food and figuring out how to store it differently. They need someone on a local level to educate them.” Volunteer, she said, to be that person. “The reality is that we have to take care of one another.” Akeson concurred: “There are things that we individually can’t do—we need the help of a community, we need resources from other people and organizations. If we work together, then we can all be helped ”

And then there’s Geller, who offered these heartening words of empowerment: “The gluten-free community is a small one, and the more compassion we can show each other, the stronger a community we become.”

Learn more

Looking for more ways to save money on the gluten-free diet? Check out our Tips for Saving On Gluten Free section! 

Jessica Press is a writer whose work appears in Redbook, Parents, O, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Photos by Dana Nichole Photography

You can make a difference through celiac research


Beyond Celiac’s “Bold Beyond” symposium empowers all of us to change the celiac scene

I was thrilled to be able to attend Beyond Celiac’s “Bold Beyond” symposium at Drexel University earlier this month. With an all-star physician-researcher panel and moderating by Beyond Celiac CEO Alice Bast, the evening was a major wake-up call: For so long, I’ve become blasé about the fact that my strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac. After that first year of transitional growing pains, I eased into my new normal, and found myself grateful that at least there is a known way to manage the disease.

But the panel highlighted just how much of a toll the diet actually takes on the lives of those in the celiac community—socially, emotionally and physically. Inconveniences and insecurities aside, 30 percent of celiac patients on the gluten-free diet show no improvement. And in a world where we’re all constantly eating on the go and often at the mercy of other food handlers, even the most diligent of us can’t confidently say we’re 100 percent gluten free—we’re just as gluten free as humanly possible.

3 ways to make a difference

Still, the panel wasn’t just an opportunity to vent—it was a call to make a difference, to push for a better quality of life, to campaign for the kind of research that could lead to pharmaceutical treatments and alternative therapies. And you can answer that call. Here are three easy ways:

  1. Sign up for Go Beyond Celiac at It’s an online community where people with celiac share their stories and experiences—and, in turn, advance celiac research. Currently, celiac receives the least government research funding of all gastrointestinal and autoimmune diseases. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Beyond Celiac team has an extensive network of doctors, researchers and patient advocates with whom they regularly communicate—and who can be our collective voice for the need for further research.
  2. Speak up to your doctors about the toll celiac actually takes on your life. So often, celiac patients don’t feel entitled to share their hardships—but suppressing those concerns stifles the chance for further research. When you speak up to your physicians, you help increase the likelihood that your struggles are conveyed to the research community, which in turn seeks out the necessary funding for research.
  3. Participate in clinical trials. Visit Beyond Celiac’s clinical trials finder to see which studies are available near you. And in the future, the Go Beyond Celiac platform will include a registry component to help connect patients with researchers.


Pictured above, panelists included (left to right): Anthony J. DiMarino, Jr., MD, Chief, Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital; Ciaran P. Kelly, MD, Director, Celiac Center and Director, Gastroenterology Fellowship Training, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Alice Bast, Beyond Celiac CEO (Moderator); Daniel Leffler, MD, MS, Medical Director, Clinical Science, Gastroenterology TAU, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, USA Inc.; Director of Research, The Celiac Center at BIDMC, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Ritu Verma, MD, Section Chief, Gastroenterology, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

11-year-old Creates Stunning Celiac Awareness Bracelets for a Cure


For some kids, having celiac disease can make them bashful or self-conscious, resentful that they have to be different at a time in their lives when all they want to do is fit in. For others, it can feel like a badge of
honor—something that makes them unique, and propels them to help others in the celiac community. Over the course of the five years since she was diagnosed, Skylar Weitz, now 11, has undergone a metamorphosis from the former to the latter. “I used to be shy about having celiac, but now I just want people to know about it and realize how it affects people on a day-to-day basis,” she says. So last fall, the Long Island-based 5th-grader started making and selling gorgeous celiac awareness bracelets. Her goal is to increase awareness for celiac disease while raising money for Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF). “Skylar’s commitment to raising awareness of celiac disease and the need for a cure is an inspiring example of how every child has the power to make a difference,” says Marilyn G. Geller, CDF’s CEO. “Ending the needless suffering of millions with celiac disease is a massive undertaking. Through efforts like Skylar’s, together we can improve the quality of life and the long-term prognosis for those we love.” Since last fall, Skylar has raised about $3,000 to support CDF’s goal of finding a cure; looking ahead, she plans to donate proceeds to the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York, as well.

And Skylar’s not messing around when it comes to style: Her wares are a far cry from de rigeur rubber charity bands. She—along with the help of her squad: her mom Shari, sister Hailey, aunt Jaime, cousins and grandmother—hand-makes each bracelet out of a range of colored gemstones in both adult and kid sizes. Skylar’s aunt, Alisha Grimm, a jewelry designer, lends her expertise. “So many people—myself included, prior to Skylar’s diagnosis—are naïve about how much of an impact celiac disease has on a person’s day-to-day life,” Alisha says. “And it upsets me that there are people who think it’s not a legitimate disease. So when Skylar asked me if we could make bracelets to raise awareness and funds, I said absolutely. I’m just so proud of her.”

“I just want to help find a cure,” says Skylar. You can find out more about the bracelets and how to order them by visiting The Skylar Project’s Facebook page. With Celiac Awareness Month coming up in May, it’s the perfect time to wear them
as your celiac badge of honor.

Jessica Press is a writer whose work appears in Redbook, Parents, O, The Oprah Magazine and more.

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Sending (Hershey’s) hugs & kisses to The Sweetest Place On Earth

Tucked among the farms and factories of Eastern Pennsylvania, The Hotel Hershey and Hershey Lodge make it refreshingly easy for gluten-free families, couples and groups to have a truly carefree getaway this Valentine’s Day, and beyond.

“Sweets for my sweets,” my grandfather would say, lovingly presenting my sisters and me with a bag of Hershey’s Kisses during his weekly visits. I suspect every family has their own sugarcoated Hershey’s memories—mine, however, may border on the obsessed. In addition to my grandfather’s treats, the theme of my very ‘90s bat mitzvah was candy (my ever-gracious mom created a Hershey’s stencil and used brown spray paint to make oversized candy bar centerpieces; guests received cylindrical Hershey’s-emblazoned piggy banks as favors); for my eighth-grade woodshop class, I created a clock in the shape of a Hershey’s Kiss (my best friend made hers in the more class-appropriate shape of a hand saw); and at a party before my wedding, friends showered my husband and me in foil-wrapped Kisses, wishing us sweetness ahead.

Hershey's Park
The Hotel Hershey Exterior

So it was with great relief that, after my daughter and I were diagnosed with celiac disease in 2014, I realized just how many Hershey’s products we could still safely eat. Because, sure, I quickly got on board with sorghum and quinoa and spiralized-everything, but when my sweet tooth kicks in, nothing satisfies those chocolate cravings quite like Hershey’s. And when, last Christmas, my family headed to The Hotel Hershey (what took a devotee like me so long to make the pilgrimage, I’m not sure…), I was blown away by the resort’s ability to accommodate my family’s gluten-free needs: For the first time since our diagnoses, we didn’t even touch our go-to bag of on-the-road gluten-free food. From room service to poolside dining to meals at the hotel’s upscale restaurants and the nearby Hershey Lodge’s family-friendly ones, servers and chefs were knowledgeable, reassuring and encouraging—making “The Sweetest Place On Earth” also one of the most relaxing for gluten-free guests.

 “Now that celiac disease is a much more commonly diagnosed condition, it’s created an opportunity for us to educate our teams and to have processes in place so that it’s as seamless as possible to help gluten-free guests dine,” says Hershey Lodge’s executive chef, Bart Umidi. “Certainly, we avoid cross-contamination and have an awareness of products that contain gluten, and we check products’ ingredient lists on a regular basis.” But, says Umidi, guests must be proactive, too. “People need to let their servers know what their needs are, so that we can take all necessary precautions.”

With the safety of our food assured, we could’ve spent days eating and exploring our way through the land that chocolate built. But two separate overnight visits—first at the Hotel over Christmas, then at the Lodge, three miles away, this past fall—gave us ample opportunity to play, while leaving us excited to return again soon. Here, the sweetest highlights:

The Spa At The Hotel Hershey

I’ve grown accustomed to feeling like an intruder at cramped, snooty city spas, so I had a moment of welcome culture shock upon being greeted at The Spa At The Hotel Hershey. Ornate and spacious without being at all pretentious, the spa occupies three floors at the far end of the grand resort. There’s an aromatherapy room, a tranquil silent room and a lounge designed in the image of company founder Milton S. Hershey’s library, overlooking the Hotel’s sprawling grounds; there, I snacked on Kisses and sipped coffee while waiting for my treatment with fellow robe-clad singles, mother-daughter duos and couples. The spa’s signature Cocoa Massage was a gentle, Swedish-style treatment that made use of lightly scented—gluten-free—massage oil.

Butterfly Atrium 

With an unobstructed view of the nearby roller coasters, the brand-new Butterfly Atrium inside Hershey Gardens features hundreds of majestic butterflies, including rare species from Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Look up as you exit the exhibit into the Milton and Catherine Hershey Conservatory to see stunning stained-glass butterfly mobiles created by local artist Luise Christensen-Howell. Fun fact: It seems even the butterflies have gone gluten free—they feast on fruit and juice. The exhibit is open year-round and kept between 78 and 82 degrees, making it a decidedly appealing wintertime excursion.

Hershey Gardens 

I was married at a botanical garden and, in college, even toyed with the idea of majoring in horticulture; flowers speak to my inner hippie. Eighty years ago, Milton S. Hershey wanted to “create a nice garden of roses,” and today, the 23-acre attraction—open year-round—doesn’t disappoint. We especially loved the playful children’s garden, with its interactive musical features and alphabet-themed walkway, and the peaceful Japanese garden with its massive sequoias and babbling stream.

Hershey’s Water Works

Back at the Lodge, my kids went bananas at the indoor pool complex that opened last May. We took turns jumping on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-shaped “lily pads,” “riding” (foam) dolphins, and slipping and sliding on a structure designed to look like a giant sand castle. At the poolside Cocoa Cabana—where the chef and manager had both received allergen-safety training—our family enjoyed salads, sandwiches and the first soft-serve ice cream we’ve had since our celiac diagnoses; the Cabana’s manager and chef reassured us that all flavors were gluten free and had zero contact with cones. The Water Works facility also includes a gym, candy-themed playroom and LEGO zone, and arcade.

Chocolate World Tour & Hersheypark

Kitschy Coney Island notwithstanding, I’ve never been much of an amusement park gal. But in Hershey, I stumbled upon two secrets for making the most of the park. The first strategy: Visit in winter, when the crowds are relatively non-existent! The second: Arrive later in the day (free shuttles run from both The Lodge and the Hotel), and do the free Hershey’s Chocolate World Tour first (it’s a cute 15-minute ride through a mock Hershey “factory”). Then make your way over to the park and get discounted “twilight” tickets for late-day entry. You’ll arrive just in time to check out the 200 animals at ZooAmerica before stopping at The Outpost, the park’s dedicated allergen-friendly vendor for pizza, salads, sandwiches, snacks and more.

The Museum on Chocolate Avenue

I was oblivious to the extent of Milton S. Hershey’s philanthropy until visiting this thoughtfully curated museum. It offers an interactive look at how Hershey went from bankruptcy to mega-success, with a touching focus on the impact of the Milton Hershey School. Hershey founded it for children from impoverished backgrounds—and donated his entire personal fortune to it. Our kids loved “working” the factory machines and creating digital faux newspaper front pages with their faces on them (a nod to Hershey’s namesake Hershey Press newspaper) while my husband and I were impressed with the collection of candy memorabilia dating back to the late 1800s.

Chocolate Bingo

I admit, I rolled my eyes when I saw it on the daily activity list. But the hilarious and high-energy Hershey staff turns the classic game into a spirited competition where everyone is a winner. My preschool-aged son has never been prouder than when, during the last round of the night, he unabashedly shouted “BINGOOOOOO!” before collecting his chocolate bounty.

Eat. (No, really—eat!)

The Hotel has three upscale restaurants…which I would’ve made reservations for had I been traveling without kids. That said, sometimes the greatest indulgences for even an adult traveler are the guilty little pleasures you typically can’t have outside of your home when you’re eating gluten free—for us, that included the grilled cheese with house-made bacon off the kids’ menu at Harvest, with baked French fries to boot.

The more laidback Lodge has four restaurants—all more casual than those at the Hotel—in addition to The Lobby Bar, coffee shop, Cocoa Cabana and room service. Our kids loved the hockey-themed Bears’ Den, with its memorabilia from the local minor league Hershey Bears team. Chef Felicia Griffie personally came out to reassure us that, with few exceptions, pretty much anything on the menu could be adapted for our needs (they even have a dedicated gluten-free fryer—yay!). Of course, you could easily spend the weekend surviving on the properties’ strategically placed candy bowls.

But, wait—there’s more!

There are also two 18-hole golf courses for overnight hotel guests’ use at Hershey Country Club, mini golf, weekend falconry, 5.5 miles of hiking trails, a playground, outdoor pools, tennis and basketball courts, and kids’ activities like scavenger hunts and opportunities to meet Hershey’s characters. And seasonal events, like Hershey Sweet Lights, a drive-through Christmas lights show, “Chocolate-Covered February” for Valentine’s Day (think chocolate-and-wine pairing events, savory chocolate dishes and more), attract visitors of all ages from all over.

We couldn’t get to all of it, but that’s OK: With the resorts’ ability to accommodate our food needs so reliably, we’ll no doubt be back. In the meantime, I’m considering reviving my grandfather’s delicious tradition: On Friday nights, with a long week behind us and another one ahead, I can now be the one to pause, kiss each of my kids on the forehead and say, simply, “sweets for my sweets.”

Jessica Press is a writer whose work appears in Redbook, Parents, O, The Oprah Magazine and more. 

Shake Shack Introduces Gluten-Free Burger Buns

For those on the gluten-free diet, ordering a bun-less burger gets pretty lame pretty fast. Thankfully, Shake Shack recently added gluten-free burger buns to menus at all 67 of its U.S. locations (Shake Shack’s five stadium and ballpark outposts don’t carry them). And unlike many sad, hard-as-a-rock or oddly gummy gluten-free buns, Shake Shack’s are delish—soft, sweet, bread-y—and, dare I say it, practically twins with the chain’s traditional buns.

SS_Gluten Free Buns_3Even better: Shake Shack staff know how to safely prepare them. “Servers are trained to change their gloves to handle gluten-free buns, and the buns are stored in a separate area and toasted on the griddle to prevent cross-contact with the bun toaster, where other buns are toasted,” Edwin Bragg, Shake Shack’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, explained via email. “Be aware that while we do everything we can to prevent cross-contact, we unfortunately can’t make any guarantees since the kitchen is fairly small. It is important that when you place the order, you alert our cashier that you have an allergy. That way we can mark it for the whole kitchen to be aware,” Bragg added.

Adam Shapiro, Shake Shack’s Marketing and Communications Manager, offers these tips for making the most of your gluten-free visit:

  • Avoid the ‘Shroom Burger, which contains breadcrumbs.
  • Skip the fries. The oil in the fryers is filtered through the same equipment as the ‘Shroom Burger.
  • Order frozen custard without a cone, and make sure to double-check the ingredients of the Seasonal Shakes with cashiers before ordering.
  • Choose from these safe mix-ins: strawberry purée, peanut butter, chocolate toffee, marshmallow, fudge, caramel, chocolate sprinkles*, sea salt and chocolate sprinkles*, cherries, bananas and almonds.
  • Drink wisely. All soft drinks and wines are gluten free, but beer options do generally contain gluten.

Of course, all this burger bliss begs one question: Will hot dog buns be next? “No plans at this time, but you never know!” Shapiro says. Our fingers are crossed. See for locations and info.


* Shake Shack’s rainbow sprinkles are processed in a factory where possible cross-contamination can occur.


Jessica Press is a writer whose work appears in Redbook, Parents, O, The Oprah Magazine and more.

Tech Company Introduces Portable Gluten Sensor

A San Francisco-based tech company, 6SensorLabs, has developed a portable gluten sensor. The device, called Nima, is designed to allow users to test a sample of food for the presence of 20 parts per million or more of gluten. Users pop a sample of food into a disposable capsule, screw on the cap, place the capsule into the device, then wait about two minutes. A smiling or frowning face reveals whether the sample in question meets the less than 20 ppm standard the Food and Drug Administration has set for gluten-free labeling of packaged food. A free Nima app for smartphones will allow users to share their findings and search for other users’ reported results.

Gluten Sensor
Gluten Sensor

A proprietary immunoassay detects the gluten content of any kind of food, according to the company, which is seeking third-party validation for the device. Prior to the sensor’s debut, the company is also comparing its test results of samples of packaged and restaurant food to results from samples of the same food being tested by established companies using validated methods.

The device, which is expected to be released in mid-2016, sells for about $200, and a 12-pack of the required one-time-use capsules is priced at about $60. Time magazine named the sensor one of the best inventions of 2015. The company is developing versions to test for other allergens as well.

Once the device enters the market, consumers will have to figure out whether its technology is practical, especially in one of the trickier areas of being gluten free, dining out. The company suggests asking restaurants for samples before ordering a meal and using results to determine what might be safe. It remains to be seen how effective this approach will actually be and whether restaurants will cooperate. And Nima can only test the sample in question, which may not reflect the gluten content of your whole meal. For now the best defense against accidentally ingesting gluten remains doing your homework.

“We intend Nima as another tool—not a replacement for anything that people are doing right now,” says Shireen Yates, chief executive officer and co-founder of the company. “People who have celiac disease or any dietary restrictions are very well trained to be skeptical and critical and do their due diligence. And we don’t want anyone to change that behavior. What we’re doing is just providing another supplement, another data layer, to work with before you make a decision about eating.”

Yates was an MBA candidate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management when she first started thinking about developing the sensor. But a risotto ball is what launched the idea.

“I was at a wedding without the snack pack I typically tote along, and when I approached a waitress to find out if the hors d’oeuvres on her tray were gluten free, she asked, ‘Well how allergic are you?’” says Yates, who follows the gluten-free diet. “I was so tired of that question. I was hungry, cranky and fed up with always having to explain myself.”

Conveniently she also happened to be standing next to a friend with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. She asked him how hard it would be to test food for gluten. “He said it would be difficult—but do-able,’” she says. Learn more at

—Jessica Press

With Love From Baltimore: Gluten-Free Valentine’s Day Recipes from Harmony Bakery


This Valentine’s Day, play kitchen cupid with inspired sweets from Charm City’s new Harmony Bakery


A mix of passion, playfulness and purpose has served Don and Renee Gorman well both in and out of the kitchen.

Don and Renee Gorman on their wedding day.

The pair, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in December 2016, have a long history in the restaurant business. Now they are part of a family-run gluten-free eatery in Baltimore with a name that hints at the secret to their marital and culinary success: Harmony Bakery.

“We’ve been working together forever, day and night,” says Don. “We’ve had such a common goal.”

Food has always been a family affair for the close-knit Gormans, who ran the locally beloved health-food restaurant Puffins in suburban Baltimore for more than 20 years. Following Don’s lead, Renee and their children, Lisa and Kirk, became vegetarians in the early ‘70s. Renee adopted the gluten-free diet several years ago, in response to debilitating gastrointestinal pain.

In ’77 the whole brood—including their two dogs—left their native Baltimore to head to Boston for a year, where Renee and Don apprenticed under a disciple of macrobiotic pioneer Michio Kushi to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant business. When Puffins opened, everyone pitched in.

From the time she was 9 years old, Lisa waited tables. “I was basically raised at the restaurant,” she says. “That’s when I started creating in the kitchen.”

Lise, Renee and Don Gorman (clockwise from top). Photo: Lauren Gilson.

So it’s only fitting that, almost four decades later, Lisa’s parents now report to her at the bakery, the trio’s new gluten-free gem in Baltimore’s eclectic Hampden neighborhood. “When she was a kid, we threw her out on the restaurant floor; now we let her take over,” says Renee affectionately. “It’s never good when there are too many cooks in the kitchen.”

“We have fun—we really enjoy what we’re doing, and doing it together,” Lisa says. “And it’s amazing to be able to serve people—we have customers who dance when they see our stuff, they clap; they just can’t believe it [is all gluten free].”

Delighting customers has been at the forefront of the Gormans’ mission whether at their restaurants, at the popular city farmers’ market where they’ve been vendors for 11 years or during the period between closing Puffins and opening Harmony, when Don and Renee held cooking classes in their home and published a cookbook.

“We realized a long time ago that your vibrations affect your food. And so you really have a responsibility when you’re cooking for people, and we take it seriously,” says Don.

At work in the Harmony Bakery Kitchen. Photo: Lauren Gilson.

Love—yes that harmony—comes through in everything the family and their team do at the bakery. In just 10 months, they’ve developed a base of regulars who can’t get enough of the cozy, 700-square-foot space, with its open kitchen and mere 10 seats. “Our customers love being here not only for the food but for the whole atmosphere,” says Lisa.

But as infectious as the Gormans’ warmth is, it’s undoubtedly the food that keeps customers coming back. The family’s years of experience shine through in their inventive sweet and savory menu—including curry chickpea tarts, rosemary cashew cookies and polenta pies.

And so, in the spirit of love, family—and chocolate—this Valentine’s Day, the Gormans are sharing recipes for some of their customers’ favorite desserts, all of which are vegan to boot.

There are fudge-like brownies that don’t stand a chance of making it home uneaten in a to-go bag. Their secret ingredient: sweet potato.

A decadent chia pudding packs a super-food punch and gets topped with a luscious cashew cream. The family’s treasured cupcakes are perfect for decorating—then devouring—with little ones. Make one or all for, or with, the ones you love.


Harmony Bakery Recipes



Chocolate Brownies



Chocolate Chia Pudding



Chocolate Cupcakes


Jessica Press is a writer whose work appears in Redbook, Parents, O, The Oprah Magazine and more. Press and her daughter have celiac disease, and she was thrilled when Harmony Bakery opened soon after she and her family moved to the Baltimore area.

Boston Children’s Hospital Releases Videos for Kids with Celiac Disease

You know the feeling: You just found out your child has celiac disease, and as soon as you hang up the phone with your doctor or leave the office, questions start swirling through your mind.

Will she be safe at school? Will we ever again eat at a restaurant as a family? Will he be teased or feel left out of things like camp and parties and trips? And how can I best explain this to my well-meaning—but admittedly clueless—extended family?

They’re the questions that Alan Leichtner, M.D., director of the Celiac Disease Program and vice chair of the department of medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, hears over and over. So Leichtner and a team of parents, patients, faculty and staff produced short videos addressing the most common patient concerns.

“We wanted to create a resource that would help families learn about this chronic illness and learn to cope with the gluten-free diet,” says Leichtner. “Our goals are to demystify celiac disease and bring families and professionals together in a community to support children with celiac disease; we want to help parents realize that their kids will adjust and will learn how to deal with peer pressures that make it challenging to follow a gluten-free diet.”


Answering Common Questions

Video topics range from creating a gluten-free kitchen to working with your child’s school to preparing to eat at restaurants and more. They are alternately told from the perspectives of parents, young children, teens, Leichtner, a nutritionist and a social worker. The 12-video series is available for free on the hospital’s Celiac Disease Program site.

Leichtner’s team also created companion materials, including a comic book for younger children and a DVD for teens heading off to college, which includes a section intended to educate campus dining hall staffers.

Additionally Leichtner is spearheading a project in which teen patients are creating video chronicles of their day-to-day gluten-free life. The videos will be edited and disseminated to teen patients via a new website. “Teens would much rather listen to another teen who’s learned how to adapt to a gluten-free diet than listen to me, sitting in my white coat lecturing them,” Leichtner knowingly concedes.


Viewer Response

Robin McLafferty, executive director of the hospital’s celiac disease support group and the parent of a teenager with celiac disease, helped create the videos. But she benefited in unexpected ways as a viewer.

“At the time the videos were created, I was comfortable with being gluten-free in my own home, but I worried when my daughter was on her own at school and when we ate in restaurants. So it was interesting to see how other families handled [those challenges],” she says.

She is especially grateful for videos that helped her family navigate milestones such as going away from home for extended periods. “It was seeing the video about camp that ultimately gave me the peace of mind I needed to send my child; my daughter wound up loving camp and went back for many years,” McLafferty says.

Leichtner remains passionate about offering educational tools to children and families. His team will be updating the video segment on food shopping and in the future he hopes to oversee the creation of new online teaching tools.

“As much as I value face-to-face contact between parents and families and kids with celiac disease, learning is increasingly occurring online,” he says. And since you can’t keep your doctor in your pocket 24/7, it’s reassuring to know that trusted information is just a click away.




Check out Boston Children’s Hospital’s Celiac Disease Program’s video materials.

Amy Goes Gluten-Free, a spirited comic book for younger children, is available on Amazon for $4.

Gluten-Free at College, the two-part DVD, is also at Amazon, for $29.95. Proceeds support the development of new family education materials.