How to go Gluten Free: The Basics

Note: this post is based on giving up gluten, but can easily be applied to eliminating other allergens and things from your diet. In fact, I gave up gluten and dairy at the same time, and then gave up soy not long after. Use your judgement on how this might apply to your own scenario, and remember to ask questions. I love questions!

I vividly remember the day I decided to give up gluten. For me, it was all or nothing. Some will suggest that you take a few weeks to ease into the process, slowly eating up what you've already got in your pantry, and replacing those items with similar, gluten-free options. If that works for you, then go for it!

But like I said; all or nothing. I don't live well in the "gray area," and needed to make a clean break from gluten.

So what did I do? I set aside a morning, made sure my little guy was well occupied, and cleared the pantry, fridge, and freezer shelves. I did my usual sort, tossing anything old and out of date, or otherwise undesirable, and then I started to read the labels on what remained. Even the spices. Even the ketchup.

Because gluten is one of the major allergens, it *should* be clearly marked on most packages. It's not completely fail-safe, but it's a good start. For example, if the package contains "natural flavors," and isn't specifically marked gluten free, you may have found hidden gluten.

Here is an extensive list of UNSAFE ingredients, and here is a list of SAFE ingredients. When in doubt, look online or, better yet, call the manufacturer.

I am the only person in our family who is 100% gluten free, so I designated a couple of "gluten ok" shelves. One was for our toddler and his snacks, like animal crackers and Annie's mac & cheese. The other was for my husband, who will often have things on his shelf such as crackers and cereal, or nuts (which I typically can't have because of soy bean oil) and the occasional package of beef jerkey. Also found in our home, but not ok for me to eat... cheese, some deli meats, yogurt, bread for sandwiches, and the occasional wandering cookie from the bakery. This works for me because I know what I can and cannot have, and the worry about causing symptoms all over again is enough to keep me from sneaking bites.

If you're setting up a gluten-free home for a child, or if you're worried about temptation, try hiding gluten-laden items away from the "ok" food, or better yet, get rid of everything the whole family cannot enjoy.

The rest of the pantry (and fridge, and freezer) is gluten free, and nothing was left behind that wasn't gluten free. Because I do almost all of the cooking in our home, and because I'm absolutely *not* interested in cooking two separate dinners, I made it my mission to make healthy, yummy food that we would all be able to enjoy. That meant I needed a well-stocked, gluten free pantry.

I know, I know... "please tell me you didn't throw out all of that perfectly good food!" I didn't. At the time, we were living in a small apartment complex. I knew for a fact that there was a hungry family living down the way, so I packed everything into a box and went down to their apartment when I knew the children would be in school. I saw tears in mom's eyes as I explained to her that I would no longer be able to eat this big box of goodies, and wondered if she'd like to make use of them.

My point? Find someone who can use what you can't. Donate the unopened items to a food bank or shelter, take them to your neighbor's house, or put an ad on CraigsList if you have to.

At this point, our food supply was looking pretty pathetic. {I may or may not have cried during this process.}

So, I loaded our little guy into the car and headed off for the grocery store. I don't really know what I went looking for, and I certainly hadn't made a list, and the trip did NOT go well. I walked out with a box of Rice Chex and a bag of Fritos.

{My biggest problem on that day? I didn't research well enough to learn which grocery store in my area would be best to visit. Some stores carry a big allergen-friendly section! Others do not. At all.}

I remember trying to make dinner that night, and opting for taco salads. I was hovering in this awkward phase where, because you don't know what to eat, you simply avoid anything likely to contain gluten, or that you would imagine to be "bready" or "carby" in some way. So tacos were out, spaghetti was out... and all of my usual meals {at that point in my life} were out. Thus, taco salad.

Wouldn't you know it... the taco salads were a failure too! I had given up dairy at the same time, and happened to read the taco seasoning label after seasoning the freshly browned ground turkey. While the boys ate their taco-y treat, I ate a salad without dressing or cheese. {and then I cried.}

After all of that jabbering, how about a list of do's and don'ts:

Make a plan. Make a list of typical week-night meals for your family, do some reading online to identify the foods you can no longer eat, find suitable replacements, and make a list. Head to the store with your list. I *still* don't fare well at the store without a list, as I find that my meals require just a touch more planning than they used to. Partially because, when we make something like spaghetti, we purchase the whole, separate ingredients and make our own sauce. Remembering everything I'd like to include isn't as simple as grabbing a jar of sauce and a package of pasta!

Ask for help! Look online, send me a note... whatever you need to do to feel prepared, do it. Plan ahead and you're far more likely to feel successful.

Take it easy in the beginning. Rather than pulling out your favorite, perhaps elaborate recipes and trying to "replace" all of the no-no ingredients, plan some simple meals while you get your bearings. Spaghetti is simple if you use gluten free pasta and check the label on your favorite sauce, mashed potatoes are easy and filling, and homemade chicken and veggie, or beef and veggie soups are simple to put together once you've checked the label on your favorite broth. Salads are healthy and generally safe if you hold the croutons and read the dressing label.

Ask around before you shop. Which stores, in your area, are best for what you need? Is there a store that caters to allergies? vegan eating? specializes in organic and hard-to-find ingredients? I'll give you a couple of pointers and say that Safeway isn't going to cut it. Albertson's and Top Foods are probably out too, and until you're confident with your shopping, I'd also skip Trader Joe's. Fred Meyer, if you have one, will likely have a pretty good selection, and if you're in my neck of the woods, Roseaur's or Yoke's aren't bad. Top of the line, best-selection stores will include Whole Foods, Huckleberry's, and, almost everywhere, the Co-Op.

Add a bag of Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free AP Flour and a package of Bob's Red Mill Xanthan Gum to your list. These two ingredients will take you far!!

Panic! I promise you'll eat again, and you'll eat well! I think my recipes are proof of that!

Fall into your old habits when you enter the grocery store. Stay out of those center aisles as much as you can, and shop the perimeter of the store, where you'll find fresh fruits and veggies, meats, etc.. the good-for-you stuff!

Give up. If you slip, that's ok. Just start fresh with your next meal. Don't be hard on yourself, and allow plenty of time to learn and adapt.

Now... if you've made it this far, you must really be interested in the process. That's pretty darned awesome, if you ask me! Please keep in mind that this is all based on my own transition away from gluten, dairy, and then soy. I'm not professionally educated in the subject, just sharing what I know and have learned.

Finally, what questions can I answer? I'm sure I've inspired a few, and I'd love to be able to answer your questions in the comments. Remember, if you're wondering about something from this post, you're probably not the only one!


  1. Thank you SO much! What are you thought's on Pamela's Baking Mix? I've heard some good things about it. Also, do you have a favorite gluten free pasta? :)

  2. Pamela's is great! I don't use it personally, probably just because that wasn't what I first purchased, so it didn't become habit. But! I've eaten treats made with Pamela's mixes, and I have a wonderful friend who swears by the baking mix for just about everything.

    ...and my favorite pasta is Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta. ( I especially love the elbow macaroni, and tend to use that even for spaghetti and things. It holds together best, compared to some of the other shapes.

    Some of my other favorites and things are listed under the "what I eat" tab along the top of the page, where you find recipes and things in case you'd like to see more :)

  3. You must know because of you I am now addicted to Nature's Path Honey'd cornflakes. A sliced up banana with these cornflakes and coconut milk is delicious. I bought 6 boxes today. Yes, 6. As I'm transitioning off dairy, soy, and non-whole grain wheat products, one "secret" I'm finding is to of course focus on what you can have instead of what you can't, but also take it a step further and build meals around things you love. I am already an avid salad eater. I make huge salads for meals. The hard part has been to find dressings that aren't dairy-based. I love trying to make new things, so I made my own dressing! Also, I love cheese on my salads. I love cheese on pretty much everything, or all by itself. Instead of cheese I am finding other ways to make foods yummy like adding avocado or another ingredient to add flavor or texture so I don't notice what I'm missing until it becomes what I'm used to. I've been wanting to try and make my own curry but I've been scared of failure. Going off non-whole grain wheat has been the motivation I needed to try this! I've got a recipe all picked out (from a GF crockpot food blog) that I'll try this weekend.
    You've got to make it work for you!

  4. So glad I found you and your blog, Christina! I'm sure I'll have questions as I start my new gluten-free life. Grateful there are people like you that care enough to take the time to post such great info. Thanks so very much!

    1. That's the sweetest thing I've heard all day!! I'm thrilled that you've "landed" here on my page, and can't wait to help you with this transition.

  5. Hi Christina! I am eliminating gluten and most dairy from my diet in hopes of curing my acne once and for all (hopefully!) I need to know what you think about carrageenan, a seaweed-derived texturizer commonly found in most name-brand almond and soy milks, as well as most dairy alternative processed products. My limited knowledge has taught me there are two types, a food-grade and a non-food grade, but the difference remains fuzzy. Have you noticed this ingredient on your labels and do you trust it?
    Thanks for your thoughts! Also, this is Day One of exploring your blog and I'm liking it so far!

    1. Hi Amy! It's nice to "meet" you! ;) be honest, I haven't worried too much about carrageenan. I don't find that it's a bother to my system {though I have heard from others who ARE bothered by it and choose to avoid}, and because I try to focus on whole foods diet before anything else, my "exposure," if you will, is perhaps a bit more limited. Yep, it's found in my almond milk and a few other things {actually, a quick peek through my fridge and I didn't find anything but the milk}, but it's definitely not found in the fresh, from-scratch breakfast I put together this morning, and it won't be a part of my lunch either. I don't say this to sound snooty or "better than," but to illustrate how little I take in without even trying to avoid it. So my opinion is that it's one of those products to be aware of, but not to lose sleep over unless an issue presents itself, if that makes much sense?

    2. It does, thanks. And I agree! I think there is continuous research being done on all of the weird ingredients involved with dairy products and whether or not they are known carcinogens. It's just scary to think that in efforts to be healthier, we are potentially actually polluting our bodies!


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