There are a lot of hard things about growing up. Getting a real job. Paying taxes. Budgeting. Moving. Paying bills. Being the one who has to figure out what to eat for dinner every. single. night.
But then there are a lot of amazing perks. Like being married to your best friend!
And going grocery shopping together!
Yes, that’s a little weird: we love going grocery shopping together. For us, it’s an adventure! Hunting for great deals is always an interesting challenge, and stocking up on staples at the best sales is totally thrilling.
When I (Heidi) found out that I needed to completely overhaul my diet, though, grocery shopping became a total nightmare.
If you can’t eat gluten, then you know that feeling when you walk into a store, and suddenly, everything screams poison! Death on the wind! (Those would be my dear old pals Mini Wheats and Raisin Bran on the cereal aisle. Don’t even attempt the bread aisle, my friends.)
That first week after my diagnosis, a trip to the grocery store consisted of the following: A pep talk (Taft excels in this department). The drive to the grocery store. Walking into the grocery store with my best “I can do this” attitude. Trying to ignore the thousands of products that I know and love that are now off-limits. Trying not to panic when I start reading price tags in the gluten-free section. Trying not to panic again when I have to hunt for gluten-free foods scattered across the main aisles. Is this oatmeal safe?! Noticing that the man ahead of us in line is buying fresh bread and it smells so good. Actually having a tiny panic attack when I see the total for our tiny collection of gluten-free groceries. Holding our “yes we can still afford to eat” post-game huddle on the ride home. Unloading our groceries, feeling relieved that there’s now something in the house I can safely eat, going to bed, and then waking up the next morning and realizing I’m not sure I have enough food to get through the next 24 hours. Repeat grocery store trip.
Let’s just say, trying to buy gluten-free groceries is a daunting task in the early days, whether financially, emotionally, or both. I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes still feel a pang of longing when I walk past certain items in the grocery store. But it gets easier. With time, you figure out what to buy. You figure out where to shop. You figure out how to maintain a reasonable grocery budget. And eventually you create a safe place, whether it’s a completely gluten-free kitchen or simply a gluten-free shelf in the pantry and experience the empowering feeling of “I can eat everything here.”
Here are a few tips I would have given myself for that first week of gluten-free grocery shopping:
- Remember to make a list! (After our first trip, we did a lot better with this one.) When you walk into the store and see thousands of products that can no longer grace your shopping cart, it’s super easy to forget any—and all—safe items you intended to buy.
- Find out if your local grocery store has a gluten-free section and then check it out. It’s becoming more and more common for grocery stores to gather gluten-free products on the same aisle. Watch out though! I discovered the hard way that “gluten-full” organic items were mixed in at our local ACME. (My first attempt at buying cookies was a great disappointment…) Or you might discover a collection of Bob’s Red Mill mixes, many of which are gluten free, and find that “gluten-full” Bob’s Red Mill mixes are kept next to them. I’ve noticed that in many stores. Read closely!
- Don’t confine yourself to a gluten-free section. Shop everywhere! Fresh fruits and veggies are a great choice right now. They’re ALL naturally gluten free, but they’re still kept in the produce department, just like they’ve always been. And you’ll probably still want staples like canned tomatoes, rice, and eggs. While you might feel safer on the gluten-free aisle, if you don’t branch out a little, you’ll find yourself at home with piles of pricey granola bars and gluten-free pancake mixes and little else. I promise, there are many gluten-free labels to help you choose safe canned goods and the like.
- Give yourself a price break. It takes time to figure out what reasonable prices are for specialty items like gluten-free pretzels and baking mixes, and even when you do find a good deal, you’ll probably feel a pang as you notice how much cheaper the wheat alternative still is. If you can afford to—and you probably can—buy yourself the gluten-free version of one or two favorite items anyway. Giving up gluten can be emotionally difficult, and it’s good to give yourself some slack. The night that I received my celiac diagnosis, Taft bought me a carton of gluten-free ice cream so I could drown my sorrows in its creamy goodness. After we sent our dinner guests home. But that’s a different story. (Note to self: In the future, try not to schedule dinner guests on days when you receive a life-changing medical diagnosis.)
- DON’T CHEAT, but don’t beat yourself up if gluten sneaks into your diet. Gluten lurks in sneaky places: bouillon cubes, salad dressings, nuts, you get the idea. It’s going to take time to figure this out. I had no concept of how tricky it would be to eliminate gluten from my diet when I first received my diagnosis. Cross-contamination? What is that anyway? (We’ll talk about that one later.)
- Read about other people’s grocery store sob stories. It won’t make your challenges any easier, but at least you’ll know you aren’t alone. Of course, you’re crying about how sad their story is. Not your own. Of course. Here’s one of my favorites.
Grab a box of tissues if you need it. But don’t worry—we’ll figure this one out together.