Lately I’ve been getting quite a few email from people who are just beginning their journeys to the Land of the Gluten Free. Over the course of the last few days, these emails have really brought me back to the beginning. I thought I would highlight the first tip that I used when I started in order to make the transition a little less insane for myself. (Keep in mind, my idea of sanity is apparently quite fluid! LOL!)
A few years before being diagnosed with Celiac Sprue, my students (then 5/6th graders) were embarking on their studies into fractions, ratios and percentages. One activity that we did gave the kids a budget of money (imaginary, of course) that they were to use to organize a birthday party for a younger sibling. The kids went crazy with their plans for HUGE junk food festivities.
And then, I threw in the monkey wrench. I coupled their math lesson with the science/nutrition unit we were in as well. I gave them the requirements of having a *healthy* party that also avoided nuts (peanut allergies in the class) and high fats/sugars. They were also given a strict budget by the kindergarten parents. Within these limitations, they were to provide food, beverages and entertainment for 12 kindergarten kids. Their budget? A mere $40.00. In order to achieve this budget (which was, by the way, the budget amount given to me by the real kindergarten parent group), the kids brought in the latest grocery ads and I brought them copies of the maps of the stores.
To make a long story short, the kids noticed the marketing genius of the grocers. They noticed that the items that they most frequently needed to purchase with their families (Needs versus Wants) were along the back walls of the market (milk, meats, etc) and the enticing needs (fruits/produce) were up front. They also noticed the sheer quantity of rest of the store as they began to map out their purchases and the prices with the grocer maps.
Being budget minded youngsters who live in an inner-city on strict family budgets themselves, they began to think about the purchases they initially dreamed of and compared these to the purchase list and plans that they created in the end. Instead of tons of pizza, ice cream, chips and pop, the kids designed menus filled with fruit (watermelon or baked apples with walnuts, anyone?), grilled meats (they found some great deals on chicken legs/wings) and some fabulous salads (potato salad or cole slaw). For desserts for the party, the kids decided to have frozen yogurt and popcorn balls. The second party menu that they planned is not only substantially healthier than the first, but also cheaper. And mostly gluten-free! With a few tweaks (adjusting the meat seasoning and omitting the grilled buns) and I could have sent along a 5 year old gluten-free kidlet too!
What did I learn about shopping at the grocer after going gluten free?
Stick to the outside of the market (but skip the Bakery).
- Buy fresh fruits/vegetables in season which often means on sale, too!
- Buy fresh meats/fish – not preseasoned nor pre-packaged.
- And read the labels of anything that comes with a label! (And ASK for the label if you don’t see one – like for deli meats/cheeses.)
Sticking to the outside of the market was my first GF shopping tip. It was much less overwhelming than trying to navigate all of inner aisles (not to mention less time-consuming). You can easily make balanced, healthy and nutritious meals that fit your budget from the produce, meats, dairy and whole grains/nuts/dried legumes that you can find in the bulk section. (A little note about the bulk section: I never buy flour in open bulk containers. The risk for cross-contact or mixing of gluten-free and gluten grains is MUCH too high with flours, etc. However, if the rice, dried beans/legumes or dried fruit/nuts are far enough away from the flours, I will buy those items from the bulk area.)
You can also find some great gluten-free grocery tips from using this guidebook by Triumph Dining. The folks at Triumph also offer great dining cards (multiple languages and laminated) that people love and now their grocery guide is out. It’s substantially smaller and therefore easier to even consider lugging it with you to the store, if you are new to this too.
When it comes to going gluten free, you will find that COOKING gluten free is actually an easier task than you fear. (Baking is where the learning curve lies!) Stick to whole, naturally gluten-free foods and season them with the flavors that you love and you won’t miss a thing.
Well, at least that is what worked for me until my Love and I were able to figure out what types of flours/flavors and gluten-free baking items and products we enjoyed. But instead of looking at this new challenge as daunting, consider it an adventure. After all, I bet you know someone who has never heard of quinoa (keen-wah) in their life. (Maybe that’s you?) Trust me when I say this: people *will* ask you what that delicious and wonderfully aromatic food is that you are eating. They will even want to eat it all. Gluten free is that good.
What other tips would you all give to those just starting out?
If you could go back and start this diet all over again, what would you do differently and why?
I can’t wait to read your ideas too!
Happy Gluten-Free Eating Adventures, everyone!