Last updated on June 2nd, 2023
You need to go gluten free, but where do you start? Maybe you’ve been asked to avoid gluten for several weeks as part of an elimination diet, and you can ease into the transition. Or perhaps a family member received a celiac diagnosis, and all gluten must go immediately. Every situation is unique, but planning your first gluten-free shopping trip doesn’t need to be daunting. Read on for how to plan ahead for your first gluten-free shopping experience.
First things first, check with a doctor before anyone in your home goes gluten free. I know this precludes every workout and change in diet, but for real, get an appointment to get tested for celiac disease before you take the plunge. The blood test for celiac disease is accurate only if you’re eating a minimum amount of gluten regularly, so you should get the test done before you dive into your gluten-free journey.
This is a big change. You’re probably having some feelings right now, and that’s part of the process. Take a deep breath, and roll back your shoulders. Okay, let’s do this!
Whether you’re planning a gluten-free shopping trip for yourself or for the benefit of a family member, realize this isn’t meant to make your life more difficult; it’s a transition toward feeling better and healing.
It’s a challenge, but it is easier coming from a place of love. And once you become familiar with living gluten free, it will begin to feel natural in no time.
Make a Meal Plan
A meal plan will help keep you organized. You won’t find yourself wondering what to make at the last minute, and you’ll be less likely to fall into old patterns associated with gluten. Additionally, you could save time by getting a head start on meal prep and minimize food waste by planning to use leftovers the next day.
Start with what you like, and then branch out from there.
You don’t need to buy a bunch of cookbooks or load up on new ingredients. Look online for recipes you might want to try. You have enough going on right now, so cut yourself some slack and start with simple recipes requiring minimal ingredients. And remember to follow the dietary plan set out by your health-care professional.
Follow your meal plan until eating gluten free becomes second nature.
As you learn more about gluten-free food and experience cooking meals without gluten, you can include new foods and learn new techniques if you want. If cooking isn’t really your jam, stick with what you know.
Find meal inspiration online.
- Check out trustworthy blog lists like these from Feedspot and Beyond Celiac.
- Follow your faves on social media.
- Search for inspo on Pinterest.
Focus on the foods you can have.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Oils and fats
- Beans and lentils
- Eggs, fish, and most meat (look out for gluten in processed meat)
- Most dairy (check items like yogurt with toppings or ice cream)
- Rice, corn, and other gluten-free grains
- Gluten-free pasta and bread
- Gluten-free crackers and snacks
Most food doesn’t contain gluten. In general, the less processed a food, the less likely it will have gluten. For instance, plain chicken in the meat department is gluten free. Deli chicken and self-basting chicken could potentially include gluten, and for the most part frozen dinners contain wheat, or are produced on lines where they could become cross-contaminated.
Become a Skilled Label Reader
Highly processed foods are more likely to include gluten ingredients, so get comfortable with reading labels before you go to the store.
- Look for gluten-free certification on the packaging. An ample amount of gluten-free food is packaged without one of these symbols, but you’ll save time and effort if you look for a certified gluten free icon on the package.
- Look for allergen warnings. Flip the item over and look for bold words at the end of the ingredient list. Manufacturers are required to warn consumers if the product contains top allergens, including wheat. As a courtesy, some producers also include statements warning of possible cross-contact with allergens.
- Read the ingredients list. Food manufacturers aren’t required to caution against gluten in the allergy warnings, so you still need to read the ingredients list for rye, barley, and oats.
Be prepared to read labels at the store and then double check them at home. Even the most diligent shoppers can get caught off guard if they’re momentarily distracted at the store. Once I bought canned pumpkin without carefully checking the label, and at home caught that it may contain wheat. Another time I was in a rush and bought tempeh without checking (you can read about it here).
Make a Gluten Free Shopping List
Take your meal plan and turn it into a shopping list. Read through each meal and itemize what components you need to pick up to make these meals happen successfully.
Thank goodness we have so many gluten-free options available these days! Avoid choice overload by shopping for only what you need on your first trip. For instance, if you don’t need to bake a cake in the near future, you can leave the almond four cake mix on the shelf. However, if baking is part of your routine, pick up some measure-for-measure flour.
Plan Your Gluten Free Shopping Trip
Plan to visit the store on off hours since you’ll need time to look for new food and read labels. (I promise this will get easier as you become more familiar with gluten-free food and brands.) If you’re not sure when to shop, google your grocery store and look in the sidebar for a bar graph of peak hours.
If possible, recruit someone comfortable with shopping gluten free to join you on your first visit. They can lend you support and point out where to find various gluten-free items.
And heads up: gluten-free food is generally more expensive and typically comes in smaller packages than its conventional counterparts. Before you shop, explore these tips to save money on a gluten-free diet.
Your plan should be realistic, not aspirational. Think about the food you already eat and then work from there. In this massive transition it’s okay to go easy on yourself and start with what you know you like. You’ll have plenty of time to experiment with new food as you get used to living gluten free.
And if you have any questions, please reach out in a comment below. If I don’t have the answer I’ll at least point you in the right direction. Going gluten free will get easier and eventually will become a natural part of your life.