Best Places to Shop for GF Foods

If you need to eat only gluten free food it is tough to avoid cooking.  There are only so many frozen entrees you can buy. Gf foods are not cheap; they are sometimes twice or even three times the cost of wheat based similar baked goods. So I bake and I cook lots of yummy gf food. Stores where you can purchase gluten free food products have increased their gf selection dramatically over the past ten years. This is partially due to the increase in folks who chose to eat gluten free for dieting reasons or because they think it is “cleaner” to eat gf. Plus the medical world is getting more familiar with celiac disease and the increase in diagnosis is definitely fueling the need for gluten free foods.

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease four years plus ago I had absolutely no idea what that meant.  I was truly horrified to find out it meant cutting out bread, pasta, rolls and pastry. I was in denial for a couple of weeks. But then I buckled down and started switching to a gluten free diet.  This meant I gave away or threw away all my regular cereals, flours and pastas that had gluten in them meaning everything I had! Replacing them with gluten free food became an adventure of epic proportions; sort of like an Easter egg hunt for safe foods.  Some stores mix their gf foods with regular stuff and others give it a separate location.  A couple of grocery stores even do both.  Here are some of my findings over the past 4-5 months.

aldi sign

My favorite grocery store is Aldi’s. I mostly shop at the one in Bethlehem on Easton Avenue although I have been to the Wilson store as well. They have the best gf crackers, tortilla chips and gluten free hot pockets.  I have gotten ravioli there as well as gf pizza, pizza mix, chocolate chip cookie mix, baked cookies, snack bars as well as gf chocolate. All of these items are clearly marked GF. Occasionally, seasonal gf items come out as well as pushes of new gf stock items that may or may not stick around long term. It is worth checking them out every month for what’s new.  Not particularly gf but important to me are their great prices and excellent quality of foods.  My favs in dairy are the store brand string cheese, Greek cheese and goat cheese. Plus the meat department is small but mighty; super great prices and I find the quality to be high considering the price charged.  They do not have a separate gf section although the freezer gf stuff is together and most of their gf crackers and cookies are placed near each other.

wegmansSecond place goes to Wegmans.  All three Weggies have awesome separate gf departments of cereal, pasta, flours, cookies and snacks plus freezer space nearby where frozen bagels, breads and ravioli reside. Best selection in the Valley. Still, I have found some gf flours over in their baking aisle; millet for example.  I strongly urge them to consolidate all gf marked flours together in the gf section. They have some pastas I can’t find at any other store; a wonderful rice shaped corn based pasta as well as things like gf graham cracker crusts and gf hot cereals that I often buy there. Lots of cookies and snacks too!

Third place: Giant: each store has a separate gf section as well as dedicated gf freezer space in the health food freezer section nearby. The stores do put gf cake mixes with the regular cake mixes.  I am thankful they put them at the top of the shelf.  This is best practice as it keeps wheat based product from sifting down if a package breaks. I hate the thought of getting gluten based cake mix on my fingers and accidentally ingesting it. They also place gf Barilla pasta in the regular pasta aisle although the rest of the gf pasta is in the separate gf section.  There is gf bread crumbs on the same shelf as regular bread crumbs and different brands are back in the dedicated gf section. I have found a few gluten free frozen foods in the regular aisle of frozen items although there is a portion of the freezer in the health food aisle which seems dedicated to gf frozen items. It’s a weird sort of inconsistency but I can’t complain that there are no gluten free items in the stores.

The Fresh Market at the Promenade Shoppes of Saucon Valley does not have a gluten free section.  A few gf items are sprinkled around the store but I didn’t find much to buy there except some rather nice looking wide ribbon pasta and a container of citrus green tea.  Not a place I would go back to in my quest for gluten free items.

Valley Farm Market on Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem has limited gf choices.  They do have a lot of gf dry flour mixes and baking mixes in a section over near the deli.  The only issue is that they store gf foods with bags of gluten based products right next to them.  Those of us with celiac disease much prefer a separate section for gf foods to cut back on package surface contamination from wheat based flours that might spill.  I didn’t find many gf items elsewhere in the store. I love their produce and meats but gf…not so much!

Shoprite in Phillipsburg NJ has a number of gf products but, again, they can be all over the place. I haven’t shopped but a couple of times in the new store off of Freemansburg Avenue heading towards Easton.   I was unable to find much there of a gf nature other than fresh unadulterated turkeys both whole and a turkey breast which the meat department obligingly deboned for my Christmas meal. I searched for a gf section; found no dedicated area.  Will keep looking!

Some unusual locations for purchasing gf foods are odd lot stores or discount places like Marshalls.  Frey’s Better Foods in Hellertown has a fair amount of gf foods, no dedicated section though.  I have gone west to Echo Hill Store out near Fleetwood for bulk purchases of beans and rice, great prices and interesting selection there.

Lots of great choices for gluten free foods here in the Lehigh Valley.  I seldom buy on line as I can find most of what I need locally. So, whether you eat gluten free occasionally, mostly or always, there are options locally for great meal preparation as well as ready made meals.

Aldi’s…My Latest Finds

Okay, I confess to loving cheese curls, baked ones… bag marked gluten free and totally addictive in the cheesy crunch of these treats. But this post is not about them.  It is focused on treats you can buy for cheap at Aldi’s. These are products new to me. Just forget I mentioned cheese curls…for now!

aldi's

green pea crisps

Ever eat Green Pea Crisps by Simply Nature? Never tried them until recently, you can find these interesting snack crisps at Aldi’s… This is a baked whole pea pod with less fat than potato chips; about 120 calories for a one ounce serving.  They are very tasty, irresistible in their fluffy powdery crunch. Labeled gluten free, baked instead of fried and free of a lot of additives.  The coating is rice flour, baked with any of three vegetable oils.  I had even almost half the bag before I realized they had the note “Processed in a facility that uses, milk, wheat and soy.”  Whoops! Now that was a big downer.  I hadn’t gotten ill, it was my second time of eating them with no issues so I did keep and finish them another day.  Not sure I will buy again, a bit chancy in my opinion. I wish they would not use wheat in the same facility.  Probably not safe for those of us with celiac because even a crumb of gluten (wheat, rye or barley) is enough to make a celiac really ill.

I also bought some Aldi’s Gluten Free Mini Pretzels.  They were rather hard and crunchy; fairly similar to other gf mini pretzels.  Cheaper but not better tasting.

mini pretzelsfiesta lime crisps

In the liveGfree food line available only at Aldi’s a stand out is their black bean and rice flour fiesta lime crackers.  They are spicy and crisp.  We tried them with a goat cheese spread I made with fresh herbs.  Amazing combination: the spread is basically plain goat cheese made smooth by adding a tbsp. of organic yogurt and flavored by a tbsp. of minced fresh herbs like oregano, garlic chives and thyme or rosemary.  Also ate some with extra sharp cheddar cheese and tomato jam; wonderful combo.  I have been enjoying their sea salt multi seed gf crackers for a while now; they are lightly salted and perfectly flavored.  Go with cheese or dips and are priced to please.  Why spend $4 bucks on crackers when you can go to Aldi’s and get these for less than half of that?multi seed crackers

Saved the best for last: Aldi’s Hazelnut Dark Chocolate bars, big, crunchy, delish and only $2.  A must buy if you like dark chocolate, made in Germany and marked gf.

hazelnut chcolatehazelnut chcolate

So, yes…get to Aldi’s; great prices, interesting and tasty gluten free products.  Just take a shopping bag or two with you; bags are extra!