Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping, Part One

Chicken with Vinegar Sauce

I’ve gotten some questions about facing the daunting task of grocery shopping while maintaining a gluten-free diet. Conventional wisdom holds that a gluten-free lifestyle requires lots of expensive, special food. This cannot be further from the truth, and as I explore grocery stores for a couple of weeks, I want to start with the basics.

The day you’re told (or you decide) you have to be gluten free is weird. It’s scary. It’s overwhelming. All you know is you need to start now, this minute. Go. Eat.

All of a sudden, you’re standing at the entrance of your local grocery store and asking, “What am I supposed to buy? What am I going to eat?” On Day One, you look at the long aisles and think there’s nothing there for you (if you haven’t panicked and raced to a high-priced store that stocks all kinds of pricey gluten-free specialty items). Or, if maybe there are options, they’ll be hard to find.

Au. Contraire.

Let me introduce you to three areas, likely very familiar to you, that practically define gluten-free foods. The first is the dairy section. Milk. Cheese. Eggs. Yogurt. All naturally gluten free (though read the labels if they’ve been processed in any way, such as with added flavors).

If you can eat dairy, you have many options available to you. Even some lunch meats are gluten free — again, you really need to check labels here as manufacturers like to sneak ingredients into these foods.

Moving on to…the meat section. Meat is another naturally gluten-free food. As long as it’s not processed. Carefully check the labels of meats that have been pre-marinated, pre-cooked, or pre-packaged beyond the butcher’s basic handling. The meat section includes all kinds of fish, which leads me to a warning: avoid “fake” fish such as imitation crab. These items generally contain wheat.

Finally, hello, produce section!

Yes, the produce section of your grocery store is a giant gluten-free shopping orgy! Mounds of corn. Piles of carrots. Mysterious peppers. Intriguing mushrooms. Amazingly fragrant berries. Intriguing fruits. Surprises in every section. Foods that you’ve always meant to try but always put off. Parsnips, for example (hint: roasted parsnip is a thing of beauty).

Always wondered about celeriac? Well, discover its secrets. You’re gluten free, not taste bud free!

And suddenly your grocery store isn’t the enemy; it’s your ally as you live your gluten-free life. Your local grocery store is your friend.

Since you’ve gone gluten free, what new items have you discovered at your local grocery store? My biggest (and best!) find was fish sauce. Tell me yours in the comments!

Tip of the Week

While I try to avoid high-priced gluten-free specialty foods, sometimes my desire for convenience wins. In those cases, I either buy in bulk from a retailer like Amazon — meaning I buy large quantities — or I ask my the manager of the store to special order specific items. Make sure you understand what the pricing will be before committing!

Menu of the Week

This week’s menu features foods easily found in (just about) every grocery store. These foods are naturally gluten free, and will hopefully remind you that cooking gluten-free meals doesn’t require unusual effort. For the peppers, if you don’t have — or can’t get — quinoa, substitute cooked white or brown rice.

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