When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease, my first few gluten-free shopping trips took so long that the dairy items in my cart were warm by the time I got to the checkout. Despite what it may seem at first, there are ways to make shopping for gluten-free foods faster and easier. You will need to read every label, and that will take some time. Here are some ways that you can simplify your grocery shopping while still maintaining a healthy gluten-free diet.
First of all, remember that "wheat free" does not necessarily mean "gluten free." Many items do not contain wheat, but they may have other sources of gluten in them, such as malt flavoring or contaminated oats. Before you put an item into your cart think about how it might have been cross-contaminated. Was it in a salad bar that has croutons among the other salad items? Don't buy it. Was it made in the store's non gluten-free bakery? Don't buy it. Are you unsure of any of the ingredients? Don't buy it. Your job is to become a gluten detective, and try to think of ways gluten could sneak into a product. Never assume something is safe until you have proof. Keep a list of dubious products to check on when you get home.
I recommend that you plan your week's menu before you leave the house. When you're first diagnosed, you may have a lot of repetition- that's OK. As you learn, you'll add new meals to your repertoire. For now, focus on meals with ingredients you know are safe. When you make your menu, be mindful that a single store may not have everything you need. I keep a list of which store has the staples I use- for example, I go to Whole Foods for gluten-free lasagna and wheat-free soy sauce, I go to Wal-Mart for store-brand shredded cheese and dairy, and I go to Winn-Dixie for the best prices on Amy's meals. I often forget which store has which, so using the list helps me plan meals that don't require trips to multiple stores.
You'll find that your most reliably gluten-free foods are in the sections around the outer edges of the store. (These are also the healthier sections.) This includes the produce section, meat and fish counters, and dairy. The center aisles of the store are filled with processed foods with many ingredients: more manufacturing and more ingredients mean more opportunities for cross-contamination.
The produce section is almost exclusively gluten-free. At the meat and fish counters, look for unmarinated, unseasoned cuts or individually frozen plain cuts of meat and fish. Items which were packaged by the manufacturer are great, especially if the manufacturer identifies gluten-free products (visit their websites to find out). I don't advise eating meat cut at the deli counter. Slicers aren't usually cleaned well enough to be safe. Look for prepackaged deli meats instead (you still need to read the ingredients!).
Most cheese is gluten-free, although you need to check shredded cheese ingredients. I have also found some blue cheese dressing that is labeled gluten-free. In the dairy section, most full-fat items are gluten-free. Some lower fat versions have starches added to stabilize the product, so be sure to read all the ingredients.
Your first few trips to the supermarket may take much longer than you're used to, but the good news is that a little planning can make your gluten-free grocery shopping a lot easier.