Going on a gluten free diet would have been much easier if I had never tasted birthday cake. I spent a quarter of a century devouring pillowy breads and creamy macaroni and cheese. With one short phone call, I was told I would never be able to enjoy those things again. At least not the kind with gluten.
As the gluten-free diet has risen in popularity, more gluten-free products have come out on the market. If there is a way to make a product without gluten, it has been done and put on the shelves for double the price of its glutenous fraternal twin. I have tried many products, and they are close, but definitely not the same.
So how do you cut out gluten, but keep the dough? You don’t eat the dough.
I apologize. That probably wasn’t the answer you were looking for. But with any diet, you have to sacrifice something. I sacrifice the specialty gluten-free products so I don’t have to give up the Benjamins. Seriously, one loaf of gluten-free bread, one frozen pizza, and one tub of cookie dough will cost you $20.
These are the gluten-free foods I buy so I don’t have to give up two kinds of dough.
1. Vegetables and fruits– In their raw, natural form, these are gluten-free. Don’t let the “gluten-free” label on a banana throw you off. It does not mean other bananas are not gluten-free. Silly marketing. However, any vegetables that have been seasoned, like the Bird’s Eye and Jolly Green Giant frozen veggies, could contain gluten, so read the labels carefully. I can tell you from experience that the Jolly Green Giant steamable honey carrots that come frozen in a box have wheat in them. Lesson learned.
2. Beans and lentils– Dry beans are cheap. The Crockpot and dry beans are best friends, and they have graciously let me join their club.
3. Meat– Like veggies and fruit, meat is naturally gluten-free if it has not been processed. Deli meats and prepared meats that have been seasoned might have gluten in them, so read the label. Boar’s Head meats from the deli counter are all gluten-free. I buy the Everroast chicken, which is often on special, and roll it up with a piece of cheese.
4. Nuts and Seeds– Once again, naturally gluten-free in their raw form. If you buy flavored varieties, read the label for ingredients like modified food starch, which can be made from wheat (gluten) or corn (no gluten).
5. Cereals– All varieties of Chex (except the Wheat Chex..duh) are gluten-free. I tend to buy the Kroger brand if Chex is not on sale. If I’m in a sugary mood, I prefer the Safari Cocoa Crunch from Mom’s Best Cereal. Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles are also an option. Be careful with Rice Krispies. The original blue box has barley malt as an ingredient, which has gluten. The GF kind is in a yellow box that states “Gluten-Free” on the front and should be the same price as the original.
6. Pasta– There is a plethora of gluten-free pasta on the market. Trader Joe’s sells corn pasta for cheap. Rice pasta costs a little more, but the texture is better than the corn. Barilla and Mueller Pastas each have a gluten-free version made from corn and rice blend and are usually decently priced. Target and Kroger have their own brands of GF pasta, too, but I haven’t found it to be much cheaper. Fair warning: gluten-free pasta is very starchy and usually ends up extra chewy or overly soft.
7. Rice– Cheap and goes with everything. Chinese food? Rice. Mexican food? Rice. Caribbean food? Rice. Greek food? Rice. I eat a lot of rice. As per usual, if you buy a seasoned rice mix, read the label for hidden gluten.
8. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa)- A seed that cooks like rice but has a nuttier flavor. It’s expensive if you buy a small bag in the grocery store, but I have bought it at Costco and Sam’s in larger quantities for less.
9. Yogurt– My favorite is Chobani. Always read the label, especially if the yogurt has an add-in like granola. These often contain wheat.
10. Cheese– If you are not lactose-intolerant, cheese is generally safe. The only exception I am aware of is blue cheese.
11. Gluten-free oats– Oats are confusing. They don’t naturally contain gluten. They do contain avenin, a protein similar to gluten. Oats also have a high risk of cross contamination during harvesting and processing. I buy large bags of gluten-free oats from Trader Joe’s ($3.99) or Chex Instant Oatmeal.
12. Soups– Inexpensive gluten-free canned soups are few and far between. Progresso Soup has a few gluten-free options that have a “gluten-free” label on the can in teeny tiny letters. Watch out for modified food starch in the ingredients. The “cream of” soups are not gluten-free, so keep that in mind when you are eating casseroles made by other people. Unless it is some top-secret recipe, the person who made it should be happy to tell you what the ingredients are.
13. Crackers– Rice or nut crackers are pretty cheap and my alternative to buying expensive gluten-free breads.
1. Frozen pizzas– Usually between $8 and $10 for a small one, I would rather order fresh gluten-free pizza from Pizza Perfect for a couple dollars more. However, the Udi’s frozen pizza is decent, and Publix recently had it as a BOGO deal.
2. Cake mix– Most are at least $5 a box, but the new gluten-free Funfetti cake mix is $2.99 and tastes great!
3. Cookies– The cheapest “cookies” I have found are the Kroger brand gluten-free animal crackers. I actually kind of prefer the taste to the original.
4. Frozen entrees– If I was rich, I would eat EVOL’s gluten-free bacon macaroni and cheese every day. Unfortunately, it costs around $4.50 a bowl at Target, and as yummy as they are, no individual frozen entree is worth that much.
5. Granola bars– The prices are finally coming down on GF granola bars. If you don’t mind the chewiness or seeds in your teeth, the KIND granola bars are $2.99 for a box of 5 at Target and occasionally go on sale.
6. Bread– I have probably bought three loaves of gluten-free bread in the last two years. It is over-priced and usually comes frozen. If you are a big sandwich eater, it might be worth it, but I am satisfied with rice crackers.
This is how I choose to live gluten-free. The more expensive gluten-free products may be worth it to you if it fits your lifestyle. Explore your grocery stores, discount stores, and farmer’s markets to see what is available, compare prices, and make a food budget that meets your needs.