Friday, August 22, 2008

How to go GF without going to the poorhouse!

It is approaching our one-year mark of going gluten free. This is not an easy diet. BUT, like anything, with time you figure out little tricks and then one day you realize that it has become second nature.

I was lucky enough to have a neighbor who's family has multiple food allergies to deal with. Her husband can't eat gluten, her daughters can't have dairy, chocolate, almonds, etc. She deals with these limits effortlessly and was kind enough to take me under her wing when we started the diet. She told me which GF foods were good, which were nasty, which "regular" foods were okay, etc. And, most importantly, she has been a constant support that we ARE doing the right thing, even with the ambiguous diagnosis of "non-celiac gluten grain intolerance." During a year when the GI docs would say, "well, she does not have the celiac gene, which means that she only has a 3% chance of having celiac disease..." Marsha would tell me that she was seeing what we were seeing: WG was out of control on gluten and a happy kid off of it. For me, support was KEY to getting through the rough beginnings of the diet.

When we first started the GF diet, we experienced major grocery bloat. Part of this is rising food cost, no doubt, but GF food is NOT cheap, either. In the past year I've figured things out and our food budget is just about where it was before, adjusted for inflation.

Here are some tips for going GF and not blowing your whole paycheck at the health food store:

(Disclaimer: YOU need to read all food labels and decide if things are okay for YOU to eat. Just because I mention something here doesn't make it safe for YOU to put in your mouth. Oh, that I had that kind of power.....)

* Find the things that are "naturally" gluten free. Fruit does not have gluten, nor do veggies and we all need to eat more of those. Nuts, popcorn, chips: all these are available at the regular grocery store and are generally GF (check the seasonings, though!)

* Redefine your definition of breakfast. Breakfast is tough here. Don't even bother going down the cereal isle in the regular grocery store. Cocoa Pebbles is currently GF and that's about IT. All the rest have malt, which has gluten. Some people can tollerate regular oats and some can't. WG's current breakfast rut consists of a few pieces of ham, a piece of cheese, and a piece of fruit. She eats it and I figure it's more nutritious than the GF cereal that is full of sugar and not much else. I eat leftovers from dinner. We also do homemade granola quite a bit because it makes a huge batch and we all like it.

* Find bread alternatives. GF bread can be made / found in various degrees of edibility (is that a word?). It's expensive and not always worth it. Rice cakes and corn tortillas are generally GF, and can be bought in a "normal" grocery store cheaply. With WG getting enough calories was a problem around the time when we started the diet. Her absolute favorite lunch from that time was microwave nachos: corn chips on a plate with canned refried beans, whatever veggies I could throw on and cheese. Nice lunch, "normal" food, no bread!

* Take advantage of the low-carb craze. There are TONS of cookbooks out there dedicated to the low-carb diet. Lucky for us many of the recipes fit very nicely with the gluten-free diet. These are GREAT to page through if you are having a hard time figuring out what the heck you can eat now. Actually, I almost prefer them to the gluten free cookbooks because they don't call for ingredients like xanthan gum.

* Passover is my favorite non-Christian holiday. Actually, I really like right after Passover when all the "kosher for Passover" food goes on sale. Bullion, soup mixes, etc that are marked this way are generally GF (watch out for matzo, though.).

* Shop in bulk. has a huge grocery section with, in turn, has a very respectable GF section. The only problem is that you have to buy in bulk which is a little risky if you haven't tried the products before. The savings are HUGE, though. I recently priced our family's favorite GF pretzels. In the store here they cost about $8 a bag. On Amazon they are $5.21 a bag. If you sign up for the automated repeat shipping on Amazon (you can always cancel) it's even less: $4.43 with free shipping. Of course you have to buy 12 bags at a time, but if you have storage space and know you like the product this could be a great way to save money. There are similar savings on GF bread mixes, etc. My neighbor and I have talked about splitting a shipment which would make storage more reasonable.

* Check out online options for flour. Gluten free mall has a ton, including pre-mixed "all-purpose" types. That's another thing: sometimes it's a wash cost-wise between buying all the flours to mix your own and the pre-mixed flours.

* If you have been diagnosed as needing to eat this way, you can deduct some of the cost of the GF food from your taxes. (Disclaimer: I am a violist, I am NOT an accountant!) The jist is that you can deduct the difference of what the GF food is from what the "normal" food costs. So, if a bag of GF pretzels costs $8 and a bag of regular pretzels costs $3, then you can deduct $5.

* Adjust your attitude. I say this gently and with a lot of love. Think about it: gluten free foods, *especially* baked goods / flours are more expensive than their wheaty counterparts. BUT, think of all the doctor co-pays, medications, missed days from work, etc that you are saving by eating this way! Not to mention the horrible stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation! The last time you were hunched over wishing for a swift death I bet you GLADLY would have paid the price of a bottle of xanthan gum to be done with the misery.

It's tough. My advice is to allow yourself some budgetary wiggle room for a few months to figure out what GF things you like, what you don't, and what the heck you can actually eat! Sometimes (especially in the beginning) you need to make the $6 brownie mix for the sake of your mental health. A world without any baked good of any kind is a bleak one. Cut yourself some slack to adjust to your new normal. Grocery bloat doesn't last forever.

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