Going gluten free may not always be the easiest thing for some. Maybe you just got diagnosed with Celiac or are gluten intolerant, and have no idea where to start. It can be tough wandering the aisles of your grocery store, staring at label after label, only to realize you have been there for 3 hours and have barely anything in your cart. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too.
My first trip to the grocery store felt like a nightmare. I had no idea what to look for, how thorough to read the labels, and if there was anything that I would actually like. When it comes to eating gluten free, one thing is for sure: fresh is best. Nothing beats fresh produce, meat, and fish. Or even fresh local eggs. But sometimes, or many times, we need other ingredients to create our meals too. Maybe it works better to have a few sauces on hand for a quick dinner, or maybe the kids could use a treat in their lunchbox (and you just don’t want to make it from scratch). For those times, I have created a list of my top go-to gluten free grocery products. Many of these are extremely versatile and can be used to create a variety of dishes. I know there are many more amazing gluten free products out there, so if you have any others you highly recommend please let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: Ingredients can change at any time, and without warning, so please ALWAYS double-check the labels of these food items to ensure they are gluten free.
When it comes to pasta, I don’t like taking short cuts. I grew up a hungry swimmer (that ate carbs like crazy) and I like my pasta to actually taste like pasta. This was something I was truly worried about when going gluten free. I walked up and down the isles of multiple grocery stores, only to find every single pasta box stating, “tastes just like regular pasta!” Now, most of these brands are made with corn, brown rice, and even quinoa. And although many of them do taste fairly similar to normal pasta, the texture isn’t always there. Some are sticky, some taste like corn, and I’ve even had spaghetti that crumbles in the boiling water. Trust me, there is nothing worse than trying to drain your pasta only to find it now looks like rice (sigh). After testing about a dozen different brands and types, here are a few of my pasta favorites:
- Barilla Gluten Free Pasta: This ranks #1 on my list! It’s probably the pasta that I have found to taste the closest to normal wheat pasta, and it’s certified gluten free. The texture is identical, and their spaghetti doesn’t break at all when placed into the boiling water. Even better, it is also just about the same price as the regular boxes of Barilla pasta (other brands will up-charge for gluten free noodles), and I have always found them to be included in the regular Barilla pasta coupons. You should be able to find them wherever you would normally find Barilla pasta, such as at Target or many stores online.
- Explore Cuisine Organic Chickpea Fusilli: For those of you who like something a little different, Costco actually sells some pretty great pastas. Explore Cuisine is made mostly from chickpea flour, is high in fiber, has 11g of protein per serving, and is also made in a dedicated allergen free & gluten free facility. The pasta itself is a little denser tasting than normal pasta, so you tend to feel full a little sooner than normal. However, you just can’t beat Costco’s prices with that huge sized box! The brand also makes lentil penne pastas that look delicious, but I haven’t had the chance to test them out yet. If you can’t find them at Costco, you could also find them online at places like Amazon.
- Annie Chun’s Rice Noodles: If you are looking for rice noodles instead, this is the brand I buy all the time. I don’t find them everywhere, but they are at Fresh Thyme, specialty food stores, and many stores online. I have even seen them online at Target (I just haven’t found them in stock at my local store). These noodles are pretty quick to make, and don’t taste super starchy like other rice noodles I’ve tried. They go great with stir fry dishes, or even in a cold pasta salad.
SAUCES AND MARINADES
Although it can be healthier to make your own sauces and marinades from scratch, many of us have those times where we just don’t have the time… or we don’t have our cupboard stocked. When that happens, or when I find myself in a rush, it really is helpful to have some pre-made sauces and marinades on hand.
- San J Gluten Free Sauces and Marinades: I am completely OBSESSED with these, and use them for just about everything! San J makes an entire line of certified gluten free sauces, including Tamari (instead of soy sauce). They come in a variety of flavor profiles, but they are all incredibly flavorful. I’ve used them to make stir fry, meatballs, and even pizza. They are pretty widely available, as I have found these products in almost every grocery store I shop at.
- Thai Kitchen: This brand is fairly similar to San J, except they have a little different selection. If you are looking to make your own sauces and marinades, they have sesame oil, fish sauce, and curry pastes. If you are looking for a short cut, they have pad thai sauce and even a peanut satay! They are widely carried across just about every grocery store, big and small, and don’t break my budget. On another note, their line of canned coconut milk is definitely a must have! My Costco carries a box of 6 for less than $2 a can, and I use them for marinating, in smoothies and desserts, and even soups. It’s an extremely versatile ingredient.
Gluten free bread products are quite interesting. When it comes to a regular loaf of bread, I still find they come in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the slices are so small there is no way I could make a normal sandwich with it! Bread should be the size of bread, not the size of a cracker. But regardless, they still seem to taste pretty good. If you have a local gluten free bakery in the area, they may have some delicious choices. If not, there are still plenty of options.
- Udis Bread: When it comes to bread, I really like their multigrain bread the best. They come in half loaves and full loaves, and can be found at many major grocery retailers including Costco. I find that the slices are larger with the full loaf of bread, so if you like to make sandwiches go for that first. Either way, their bread toasts pretty well, and their cinnamon raison bread is perfect for french toast!
- Canyon Bakehouse: Canyon Bakehouse also makes very good bread, but it’s their bagels that are even more delicious! They taste fairly similar to my old favorite bagel brand I used to eat before going gluten free.
SNACKS AND DESSERT
Now, believe it or not, this is actually a very tough category to talk about. With more and more people eating gluten free, whether by choice or by dietary need, companies are jumping on the train and labeling more products gluten free to cater toward a wider crowd. Unfortunately, something huge tends to be sacrificed when trying to make tasty gluten free snack foods: NUTRITION. Yes, I understand that snacks and desserts are just that… they are meant to be a tasty treat! But I urge you to read your labels closely. Just because it’s labeled gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s “automatically healthier” for you. I have found SO many of these products to contain ridiculous amounts of sugar, fat, and carbs. This is due to companies needing to add extra ingredients to take the place of gluten, and also to try to make it taste great.
Are you ready to cringe at an example? Well, the first dessert we ever found was a beautiful frozen layer cake in our local specialty grocery store. Came in many flavors, and yes – it tasted pretty darn delicious. Until we looked at the nutrition label. The cake has 6 servings, and is probably only a 6×3 or 6×4 rectangle. So 1 serving is this tiny little square of a piece, and contains 46g of FAT! Not to mention the calories and carbs were completely out of control. And let’s be real here, who wants to eat just a few bites of a piece of cake. Not me. Now again, these products that I suggest are not meant to be completely healthy snacks or desserts. But these are products with nutrition labels and ingredients that aren’t completely thrown out of whack.
- Enjoy Life Snacks: These are probably my #1 when it comes to snacking. I sampled a lot of their products when I went to the Gluten Free Allergy Fest back in the spring, and was a fan of all of them. The Enjoy Life company makes tasty products that are free from the top 8 allergens, and are all certified gluten free. They have everything from cookies, to chewy granola bars, and also chips. Their Plentils chips are pretty addicting! And their crunchy baked cookies are oh so delicious. You can find their products at many major and specialty grocery stores, although they might not always carry the whole line (online seems to be the best place). They also have great coupons on their website.
- Pro Bar Bite: If you are looking for a quick on-the-go snack, I recommending trying Pro Bar Bite. They come in a few different flavors, although peanut butter chocolate is my favorite. They aren’t very big anymore, and really are just a 3-4 bite snack. However, they are pretty filling. If you want something even more filling or are looking for a larger bar, try the Pro Bar Meal bars. Their bars are certified gluten free, and are also dairy and soy free.
FLOUR AND BAKING
Finding the right baking ingredients is probably one of the most challenging things I have come across. I have gone through countless different flours and flour brands, only to find that they are not all created equally. Gluten free flours are not the same as regular wheat flour. Since they are generally a mix of a few different flours (usually rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch), and each brand portions their ingredients differently, each all-purpose gluten free flour blend could turn up a completely different result in your baking recipes. When it comes to specialty flours like coconut flour, they don’t all absorb liquid the same way as the next… but that’s a discussion for a later blog post.
- Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips: I know I just talked about this brand, but when it comes to chocolate chips they really surprised me! There are many brands of chocolate chips I found to not be gluten free, so you have to be careful. Many chocolate chip products are made on the same lines as flour or as other products that contain wheat, so always read the allergen statement or give the company a call when in doubt. Their varieties are absolutely delicious, and can be found at many major grocery stores (even if they don’t carry the snacks, they almost always carry the chocolate chips). Again, they always have coupons on their website.
- Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Baking Four: I think I’ve tried several different all-purpose flours in my baking recipes, and none have worked better than Bob’s Red Mill 1:1. This flour blend is made with mostly sweet rice flour, and also contains xanthan gum. Some people don’t like gums, and that’s just fine. But if you don’t mind them, it’s nice to have it already in the blend so you don’t have to worry about how much to add separately. This is my go-to flour blend for all of my recipes, and always turns out great! I’ve made brownies, cookies, cake, and even gnocchi with it. Bob’s Red Mill has a whole line of other flours that I really like and highly recommend as well, but when it comes to baking this one is my favorite. You can find coupons on their website, and they sell their products just about everywhere!
I grew up an athlete, and because of that I have always been very picky about my protein bars. I finally had one I used all through college that I loved, and unfortunately they are not gluten free. I tend to like my protein bars with whey protein, and prefer whey isolate over concentrate. There is actually a very large variety of gluten free protein bars, although they aren’t always found very easily in stores.
- Nugo Stronger: This is my new favorite protein bar! I wish I had actually used these in college, because they are pretty darn delicious. Nugo has quite a few different bars and 27 of them are certified gluten free! Their Stronger line has 25g of protein per bar, but I actually split them in half most of the time (depending on my workout). The peanut cluster flavor is my favorite, and has whey isolate and the main protein source, but they have three other really good flavors as well. They also have many different varieties that have rice protein crisp instead of whey. I have tried the Nugo Free dark chocolate as well and really liked it. These are generally sold singly in specialty stores, but you can find boxes online at Amazon or even Jet.com.
- Wella Bar: These are also a new favorite of mine. We found a huge variety box at Costco one day in the refrigerated section and LOVE them! Wella Bars use pure, organic whole foods to create a “fresh-chilled” protein bar. They have quite a few different flavors, but their main ingredients include peanuts, almonds, cashews, honey, milk protein, and egg whites. Each flavor has a different protein content, but these are a great protein bar that everyone will love.
Other Grocery Items
Last, but not least, I have a few pantry ingredients that I love. These are staples in my kitchen and are very versatile ingredients.
- Manischewitz Gluten Free Matzo Meal: Looking for better gluten free breadcrumbs? Next time you are at your specialty grocery store, be on the look out for this container! Matzo meal is just ground up matzo crackers, and I find them at my local Fresh Thyme grocery store. But geez, these taste just like regular breadcrumbs. They crisp just like normal, and they down burn when pan fried like some other brands I have tried. Try them with meatballs to keep them moist, or use it for your next chicken parmesan recipe. They can be tough to find, but they are truly worth it.
- Carrington Farms coconut oils: Coconut oil is naturally gluten free, and I know many people who just buy coconut oil and have no problems. However, being new to gluten free and Celiac I wanted to be very careful when starting out. When I called a few coconut oil companies, they let me know that they are working on their gluten free certifications… but they cannot guarantee that there is no cross contamination from their suppliers. Again, decisions like this are completely up to you and your specific dietary needs, and I personally just choose to wait for them to test and label it. I found Carrington Farms gluten free coconut oils in the store one day, and haven’t tried anything else! My favorite is their liquid cooking oil, and I actually use the unflavored one for baking. They just expanded their product line, and now they even have flavored cooking oils. You can find coupons on their website, and their products can be found in many grocery stores.
- Trader Joe’s oatmeal: Oats have a lot of information and articles on them when it comes to gluten free foods. Oats themselves should be gluten free, however they are almost always grown alongside wheat and/or transported in the same vehicles (or using the same equipment). I really love Bob’s Red Mill gluten free quickoats, but nothing beats the price of Trader Joe’s gluten free rolled oats. The statement on the package says they are grown in their own field and made in a dedicated gluten free facility. So, if you eat a lot of oatmeal like I do, Trader Joe’s is a fantastic option.
Well, there you go! That makes 16 of my favorite gluten free products that I currently use. Now, there are many other products that I use as well (you can click through some of my recipes to see what they are), I just may not use them as often or they may not fall into one of these categories. I am not an expert on gluten free food by any means, I just love sharing my personal experiences!
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