By Holly Bortfeld
You’ve chosen to start your child on the GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) diet, but now you're wondering which bank you will have to rob to be able to pay for the special foods needed, right? Before you get out your ski mask, here are some hints that might help.
There are several approaches to a special diet:
- $$$: - You buy everything pre-made.
- $$: - You buy mixes and such but bake the products yourself.
- $: - The easy and cheap “grandma method."
$$$ - Let’s start with the expensive method. There are so many places where you can buy everything pre-made for you nowadays. When I started the diet with my son, there was almost nothing. Now, you can find companies that deliver all pre-made meals, and online retailers carry products from a wide variety of manufacturers, pre-made and mixes. If you can afford to purchase all pre-made foods, this article is not for you.
$$ - This is the category most people fall into. You don’t have the time or the recipes to make all your own breads, muffins, cakes, pie crusts, etc. so you buy mixes and some pre-made things like cookies or sandwich bread, pasta and hot dogs. You also spend a good chunk of time comparison shopping and making sure all the products fit your child’s allergy profile.
$ - Finally, this is the “grandma method”. I’m going to take you back in time for this one. Think about the way your great-grandmother used to cook before food came in boxes and was heated in microwaves. She made a meat, a vegetable and a starch for each meal and that was all. No muss, no fuss. It’s a healthy simplification of cooking that uses no pre-made ingredients. You’ll find meal ideas and more in GFCF Diet on a Budget Meal Plans. I found this method even saved me money compared to the way I used to cook before GFCF. I wasn’t paying $5 a box anymore for my son’s favorite pre-made junk food, of which he ate 3 boxes a day, because he was addicted to it.
While I could tell you to move to the country, plant a huge organic garden, and start your new career in animal husbandry, I’ll spare you having to learn how to de-worm cows and when to flip your compost pile. I think it will be much more helpful to give you a bunch of time-tested tips that I’ve learned over the years.
What is GFCFSF?
Gluten is more than just wheat – it’s the protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Casein is the protein found in all things dairy – more specifically, anything juiced from a mammal – including cow’s milk, sheep, goat and human breast milk. Soy needs to be removed too. Labels that say “wheat-free” do not necessarily mean gluten-free and certainly not GFCF. Dairy-free isn’t casein-free. Lactose-free isn’t casein-free either, since lactose is milk sugar. Organic doesn’t mean GFCF. Organic milk still comes from a cow and organic wheat is still wheat. Reading labels and understanding the difference is crucial. Going gluten-free also includes avoiding grains that do not have gluten in them, but are either grown alongside grains containing gluten or processed in a facility with them, contaminating them, such as millet and oats.
What Is Organic?
Organic foods are produced according to certain standards determined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), specifically, its National Organic Program (NOP). For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. For animals, it means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. In most countries, organic produce must not be genetically modified.
Read more in the Toxins In Food and Environment article.
Here are websites to help you find local farmers and growers with organic products:
Tip: Cut out the middleman. Buy directly from farmers rather than through a retailer/reseller who marks up the products.
Learn To Read Ingredient Labels
Learning to read labels will save you much time and effort, which means you can go anywhere confidently. If a store or restaurant sells a food, they must be able to provide you with the exact ingredients list for each food so you can determine if it meets your child’s allergy issues or not. Know that manufacturers can change ingredients without any special alerts, so always check the labels. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer. For the most up-to-date information about food labeling laws and requirements, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website.
Tip: In a hurry? Cook everything in big batches and freeze in individual servings so when you need a quick meal, you can just grab, heat, and go.
Where Can You Buy GFCFSF Products?
There are many great stores, retail and online, to choose from now. Please note that most places also sell things that are NOT GFCF, so please carefully read the ingredients before you buy. See the GFCFSF Shopping List and the GFCF Food Ideas article.
This is just a small sampling of the online retailers:
Tip: Buy in bulk quantities. For meats, you can buy half or whole animals (you can join with other families if needed) and have them processed. Or if a store has meat sales, you can stock up the freezer.
Health Food Store Finder
Tip: Share the load. Have a few families get together to cook multiple dishes in big batches and swap dishes so everyone goes home with several different complete meals.
Check your local grocery store. You can buy a lot of GFCF items in your local grocery store. And remember, if there is something you would like your local store to carry, ask the store manager to see if he/she can order it in for you.
A Food List of GFCFSF Products
Tip: Stock up! Get a big stand-alone freezer so you can buy and cook in bulk.
Tip: Join a co-op (or start your own). If you can join with a few other families to buy food in bulk, you can save considerable amounts of money. You can do this with meats if you buy whole animals too (the farmers will still process them into smaller portions).
Groups who use their bulk purchasing power to get lower prices.
Tip: Frequent Buyers. Ask if a store has loyalty or bulk discounts, or participates in local co-ops that you might join. If your store has a senior citizen discount, take Grandma shopping too.
Meal Plans Help You Save Money
If you have a list of recipes and the ingredients you need, then you are less apt to buy things you don’t need.
Click here for great Meal Plans to help you plan your shopping trips.
Tip: Invest in a good vacuum food sealer. Package food into individual servings to save yourself time when you need a meal fast, so you can just grab, heat, and go.
Get free recipes off the web. Here are just a few great sites for free recipes.
Tip: Make your own mixes. Order flours in bulk quantities and mix up all the dry ingredients for multiple mixes at a time and seal. Then when you need a mix, you just grab it off the shelf and add the wet ingredients.
If your child is in public school, federal law says the public schools must provide nutritional meals that fit a special needs diet while special needs children are on campus, at NO additional cost to the families! All you have to do is have your doctor write a letter that states your child’s allergies and include it in the IEP in the medical section. The school must create meals to accommodate those allergies. While you may assist them if you wish, you do not have to provide the food or help the school shop in any way. You may want to still confirm that the foods are GFCF before allowing your child to eat them. You can learn more at these sites:
Tip: Need dedicated appliances? If you need a second toaster due to cross-contamination issues, a separate freezer, or a bread machine (for foolproof bread), make sure you check your local Goodwill or another second-hand store. A lot of these appliances can be found in great condition and for the right price.
Cooking Equipment–What to Buy and Where to SAVE YOUR MONEY!
Before you go crazy at Macy’s Home Store, Best Buy, or Wal-Mart buying cooking equipment and supplies–step away from the credit card! Here are the basics I have bought and use a lot:
- Muffin pans
- Kitchen Aid mixer. This is an expensive item but I have to stress it that it was well worth it! I cannot believe I went two years without one on this diet!
- Bread pans. I do NOT recommend buying a bread maker! All the recipes in TACA's recipe database are made without yeast in regular pans without a bread maker!
- Good measuring cups and spoons
- Good cookie sheets
- If your child is a fan of nuggets and fries, then get a deep fryer
- If you can afford it, a small food processor is great for chopping up veggies and other items. A blender (or Vitamix) is a great help for sauces and smoothies too. Buy one that can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher.
Other cooking gadgets are cool, but they are just gadgets. I went out and bought everything and ended up putting most of them away or giving them away. Save your money! The Recipe Database only uses the gadgets and kitchen items listed above.
Tip: Track your purchases. Use one credit card for all things treatment-related. I buy all of my kid’s food, books related to autism and special diets, books about medical-related travel such as trips to an out-of-state doctor, office co-pays, therapy equipment, vitamins, etc. on the same card so when tax time comes, all I have to do is hand my tax preparer the credit card statements.
Tip: The special foods required for your child are partially tax-deductible. Save all of your food receipts. The write-off is the difference in cost between regular and diet – i.e., if a regular loaf of bread costs $1 and your diet bread costs $4, then you can write off $3 per loaf.
Babies, Babies, Babies!
Want to feed the whole household GFCF but also have an infant? See our GFCF Infant Formula page.
Tip: Hungry for more? There are some great places on the web to watch FREE nutritional seminars and presentations from the best in the field.
Autism Journey Blueprints
Parent Mentor Program
Find a TACA Chapter near you
Email or Phone