While in college and again in my early twenties, I enjoyed grocery shopping with a friend. Meandering down the aisles, chatting away about our latest activities, filling our carts—everything was a social event in those days! Most of us are too busy to think of taking the time to grocery shop with a friend at this point in our lives, but recently I had the opportunity to indulge in this luxury once again.
This time it wasn’t just about the fun of visiting and sharing an experience. This time it was to help a friend who had just learned that her family would be eating a diet without gluten and diary milk.
We met at our closest, convenient gluten-free, allergy friendly grocer. This was a whole new shopping location for her, as it is for many people who must shop for a restricted diet. This practical, hands-on help brings real relief and can be lots of fun.
The experience of shopping with my friend not long ago inspired me to provide these ideas for our readers, whether you are newly diagnosed with a food allergy or sensitivity or just interested in helping a friend or family member.
Focus on meals that the family already enjoys and might be easily adjusted to fit the new needs. You’d be surprised to realize there are simple substitutions for meals you already know and love. If you love pasta, there are several gluten-free options. I have found that it really helps to follow the cooking instructions. Adding oil and salt, and stirring frequently while cooking is important. I think gluten free pasta is great, but I have found that it requires a little more attention in the cooking phase. If your family loves hamburger night, try a gluten-free bun or just go with out the bread. I’ve come to prefer my burger without a bun and along side a big green salad.
Don’t tackle any major baking right away. If an item doesn’t turn out it can be discouraging and get you off on a negative foot. I suggest buying a basic ready-made cookie for the cupboard (Lucy’s or other brands!), and a brownie mix. I think most gluten free brownie mixes are great, and usually can be made without milk or eggs. The fancy baking can come later once you’ve comfortably adjusted to the nuances of substitutions.
Keep in mind, some mixes are processed in plants that also process nuts and other allergens, so ifthey are of concern, check the package for ingredients and manufacturing practices. A study published by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2007, showed that a significant percentage of food items with a labeling statement about cross contact in manufacturing do have enough allergen to cause a reaction.
Cover the basics. Fill your pantry with allergy-friendly and/or gluten-free staples including pasta, rice, and potatoes. If milk is a concern, there are numerous good alternative options for margarine, coffee creamer, milk, cheese and the like. Experiment with several different brands at a time in case you don’t like a particular brand, you’ve got another standing by to try. Again, continue to focus on foods that were already in the family’s diet and can remain, or be made with only a slight change.
Buy raw foods. Buy lots of fruits and vegetables. You can make tasty toppings for fruit with honey and soy yogurt. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar and spices make a delicious dressing for salads. It’s simple and your waistline and your cholesterol level will benefit too! Roasting veggies tossed with olive oil and salt is easy to do and tastes great!
Bring a cheat sheet for chef’s when eating out. In my experience, eating out, travel and social events are the most challenging aspects of a special diet. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) provides a chef card on their website that can help you manage these situations. If you have celiac or gluten intolerance, The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) provides a Getting Started Guide on their website to help ease your diet transition. Remember that addressing all aspects of a major diet change will take some time and adjustment. Go easy on yourself.
So, if you are newly dealing with a gluten free or allergy friendly diet, I hope you can find a friend, or a “friend of a friend” to shop with! Then, you’ll be ready to offer the same when you become an expert and someone else could use the help! I bet it will be fun and feel great!