All posts in Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping

Coconut Lentil Curry by Chef Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen

Coconut Lentil Curry by Chef Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen

This month I welcome Chef Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen who shares her recipe for Coconut Lentil Curry. Trust me when I say this recipe is AMAZING (and EASY to make!)

Serves 6


1 cup masoor dhal (red lentils)
½ cup diced onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups water
1¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cumin
10 to 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups coconut milk
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/8 teaspoon brown or black mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, torn in half


Place the dhal in a medium size saucepan. Rinse it several times and drain.

Add ¼ cup onions, garlic, water, salt, cayenne, cumin, curry leaves, and turmeric to the saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the dhal softens and expands, about 15 minutes. If foam forms on the surface, skim it off with a spoon.

Reduce heat to low and stir in coconut milk. Cook for 2 minutes.

Place the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, immediately add the remaining ¼ cup onions and dried red chili and stir. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the onions begin to brown.

Swirl the seasoned onions into the dhal.

 Want to learn more from Susan about Indian cuisine? Sign up for her Culinary Tour of Devon Avenue! 

About Chef Susan:

Through cooking classes and culinary tours of Devon Avenue, Chef Susan offers home cooks and food lovers a portal to the authentic flavors of India. Her classes feature hands-on instruction for individuals or groups who want to bring the flavors of India home. Come discover the wonders of cardamom and curry leaves. Leave your passport behind. See for a sample of Susan’s favorite family recipes.  To schedule a cooking class or culinary tour, contact Chef Susan at


Gluten-Free Labeling in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Mariano’s

Gluten-Free Labeling in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Mariano’s


Whole Foods Market
I recently submitted questions to each of the mainstream grocery stores in my area (north side of Chicago – Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Mariano’s) where I frequently do my grocery shopping to determine what their in-store Gluten-Free labeling really means. As you may or may not know, currently there are no FDA regulations in place that require a food manufacturer to prove a food is really gluten free (i.e., contains less than 20 PPM) even if it is labeled as such. There’s good news though – the FDA passed a new rule in 2013 that will go into place in August 2014 that will make this a requirement. (You can learn more about the labeling law on the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness website). In the meantime, we should all know what these stores’ policies are in relation to the foods they label as gluten-free in their stores.

Here’s the question I submitted to each store:

I’m gluten-free (by medical necessity) and I’m curious how your gluten-free labeling works. I’ve noticed some of your packaged foods are labeled with a “gluten-free” sign. As you probably are aware, right now there are no FDA regulations in place that require a food manufacturer to prove a food is really gluten free (i.e., contains less than 20 PPM). The FDA passed a new rule that will go into place in August 2014 that makes this a requirement. Can you tell me if the foods in your stores marked with the signs fit within the “less than 20 PPM” category” (therefore most likely certified by an accredited agency like GIG) or if they just mirror what’s on the label, which wouldn’t necessarily mean it was GF at this point in time.

Here are the responses I received:

Whole Foods Market

From Whole Foods:

Thank you for contacting us about in-store “gluten free” labeling. Our policy is to only make in-store “gluten free” claims via shelf tags, signage, etc. for products that have been reviewed and approved by the Global Quality Standards Team. Our position is that a Gluten Free claim should mean that the gluten level in the product is below 20 ppm, and that any Gluten Free product claims should be substantiated by quality assurance and testing protocols that verify the gluten level.

We also have a store specific Gluten Free Shopping list that is continuously updated and only contains products that have been approved and are available in our store. For your convenience I’ve inserted the link that will take you to the online Halsted Gluten Free Shopping list. If you like we can gladly print out a copy for you the next time you’re in the store.

Please feel free to contact us directly if you have any other questions or concerns

From Trader Joe’s:

Hi Joy,

Thanks for the inquiry. All of our products labeled with the words “Gluten-Free” have been laboratory tested to meet the required 20ppm or less per serving. The “No Gluten Ingredients Used” List is for products that are made WITHOUT gluten, but have not been tested for ppm.

You may call us at 626.599.3817 with any questions you have.

From Mariano’s: Note – I have not received a definitive response from Mariano’s yet but did receive a phone call within 24 hours of my request letting me know they are looking into it. I will update this post when once I receive their response. 



Teach your kids to eat healthy foods, part 2

Teach your kids to eat healthy foods, part 2

Last month I joined forces with Karen Orlich, CEO of k.o. kidz, a green-living and organic lifestyle company, to compile some of the best tips (mom and kid tested!) to help you empower your kids to engage in healthy eating. Our tips included “encourage and reinforce” and “hosting ‘Lazy Suzan’ dinners”  This month we’re at it again with even more tips!

Tip # 3: Have some fun at the grocery store with Grocery Store Games!

Getting our kids to eat healthy foods can feel like a chore, and so can grocery shopping! Yet it’s important we do both, so why not combine the two and make your next trip to the market both fun for the kids and an outing you can feel good about as a parent?

Yes, we know, it’s not always easy to keep your child calm in a crowded grocery store. But then again, it’s important to not disengage them from the process completely…kids need to learn about food!

So, rather than placing your child in the cart and handing him/her a box of cookies to snack on while you hurry through the store, think about the grocery store as a learning environment full of COLORS, PLANTS and READING materials! (It’s also a great place to learn manners when interacting with store employees!) It’s with this point of view you can challenge your child to engage in foods and learn about what’s healthy and what’s not. Try these games out the next time you’re at the store:

Search for the Colors of the Rainbow: Bring a picture of a rainbow to the store and ask your child to find fruits or vegetables for two or three (or all!) colors of the rainbow. With this game, teach your children that a healthy diet is a colorful diet. The more colors, the better!Organic Produce

Count the Ingredients: As Michael Pollan reminds us, when we shop for packaged foods, it’s important to choose options with minimal ingredients (he suggests 5 ingredients or less). For kids who can count or are learning, ask them to count the ingredient labels on food packages. If there are more than 5, ask them to put it back and then explain why. (As your kids learn  to read, you can also challenge them to search for unhealthy ingredients like “sugar”, “high fructose corn syrup” or “trans fat”).

Tip #4: Make the ‘Common’ Foods Healthy

This is a great way to transition your kids to healthier eating.  It’s helpful (and fun!) to include them in the food preparation while also teaching them what ‘healthy’ really means.

Gluten Free PizzaPersonal Pizzas: Pizzas can be made from 100% whole wheat (always check the label for ‘whole’ wheat) sandwich rounds or tortillas (for a gluten-free version, check out Amy’s GF sandwich rounds or use 100% corn tortillas) with grilled onions, peppers, tomatoes, etc.  Or, simply bake (we use our toaster oven) the veggies on the bread with tomato sauce.  Olive oil with fresh basil and/or oregano is a delicious alternative to tomato sauce and herbs can be cut from a plant grown in your kitchen or garden.

Hot Dogs: The all American classic!  Unfortunately, traditional hot dogs are loaded with sodium and fat.  Try Applegate Organic Turkey hot dogs, rated #1 turkey dog by Health magazine.  Avoid the salt and high fructose corn syrup, store-bought versions and have the kid help make homemade ketchup (and relish!) with these easy, 15 minute or less recipes from Wellness Mama and Eating Well.

Macaroni & Cheese: The ultimate comfort food for all ages.  Have you looked at the chemical additives and preservatives in that powdered cheese pack?  We know – you’re busy and don’t have time to make your own cheese sauce.  Au contraire!

Start with GF organic brown rice pasta (for gluten-free version) or whole wheat macaroni (yes, your kids will eat it!). Grab a block of fresh organic cheese, cut into thin slices, and add to cooked, drained, warm macaroni (or any small pasta noodle) in pot.  Add light coating of olive oil and mix well with pasta.  Broccoli (or other veggies) can also be added to the pasta for flavor and an added health kick.  We stand the broccoli up to make ‘trees’ and ‘stumps’ in the macaroni ‘field’.  It’s ok to let kids play with their food once in a while if it helps get them to eat it, right?!

Dessert: Every kid wants DESSERT!  So choose tasty alternatives like:

Greek yogurt (double the protein of regular) with fresh fruit, applesauce, baked apple with cinnamon and raisins (core apple, fill with cinnamon and raisins, add 2-3 tablespoons of water to microwave-safe bowl, and ‘bake’ in the microwave until soft), or fruit smoothies (easy to mix in veggies and the kids won’t even know it).  Try one of these recipes from delish.comGF Dessert

We also discovered several websites with recipes for homemade fruit and nut bars (similar to Larabars, which are great GF treat!)  These are a great substitute for brownies and cookies!  An extensive recipe list can be found here.  Delicious and nutritious!  Yum!!

Do you have any tips to share? Like these suggestions? Would love to hear from you! Send me a tweet or post to my Facebook page!


Mariano’s Market is Gluten-Free and Organic-friendly!

Mariano’s Market is Gluten-Free and Organic-friendly!

Large mainstream grocery stores can be overwhelming to those of us who need to shop for allgery-friendly products like gluten-free or dairy-free foods. And, if you’re focused on organics, it’s often difficult to find a range of options to keep you satisfied. Today my neighborhood – Ravenswood – celebrated the grand opening of the new Mariano’s, located at Lawrence Ave. and Ravenswood, conveniently located right next to the Ravenswood Metra stop. Being that I fit into all three of the above food categories – gluten-free, dairy-free and organic – and help my clients transform their diets to include healthier foods and allergy-free options, I wanted to check out this new store to see what it has to offer. I especially wanted to see if I could rely on this store for my gluten-free and dairy-free staples.

My verdict?  This store is a great addition to the neighborhood, even for those of us who have special dietary requirements. The proof? See my finds below. And what’s more – the employees were friendly, willing to help and well-informed – all great things for those of us with specific grocery needs.

Here are my top Mariano’s Finds!

Lots of Organic Produce!

Organic Kale

Organic Produce

Organic Produce

A Dedicated Wheat & Gluten-Free Section

GF Grocery

Dairy-Free Yogurt 

Diary Free Yogurt

Almond Milk

Almond Milk

Gluten-Free, Organic and Vegan Food Markers (These are part of Mariano’s Wellness program, Health KeyTM)

Organic Olive Oil

Gluten Free and Vegan Food

 Organic Coffee!

Organic Coffee


My Top Picks for Packaged Foods

My Top Picks for Packaged Foods

I recommend filling your cart with whole and fresh foods. Still, we all know it’s difficult to avoid packaged foods at the grocery store – they make our lives easier! Check out my top picks for packaged foods which includes items I feel good about and bring home on a regular basisMy list will help you make better choices during your next grocery run. Plus, I offer 2 rules to guide you in choosing the right foods for you and your family.

My rules…

Rule #1: Focus on foods that contain only a handful of ingredients. The fewer the better.

Rule #2: Buy foods with only recognizable ingredients. This will keep you and your family from eating foods that are loaded with preservatives, sweeteners and trans fats.

My list…

1. Brown Rice Crackers (by Edward & Sons).

Gluten Free Crackers

These crackers have two simple ingredients – brown rice and sesame seeds. That’s all you need when you’re craving something crunchy to go with your hummus or some cheese.

Gluten-Free Crackers

Gluten-Free Crackers

2. Larabars


Not all bars are created equally! Just say “NO” to bars with added sweeteners and a long list of ingredients! Larabar offers nearly 20 bars, many of which have only 3 ingredients and use dates – not sugar – to sweeten.

3. Brown Rice Pasta (Organic varieties offered by Lundberg and Trader Joe’s)

GF Brown Rice Pasta

Whether you’re gluten-free or not, brown rice pasta is delicious. Plus, it’s now available in most stores and is a far better option than the pasta you grew up eating (i.e., Enriched Wheat Pasta). Look for a pasta that contains nothing beyond brown rice and water. There’s no need for other ingredients, pure and simple. If you’re at Trader Joe’s, they offer an organic option which in my opinion is the best brown rice pasta on the market.

4. Frozen Fruit

sugar free fruit

I always have frozen fruit on hand for smoothies. You can also defrost it for morning oatmeal or to top off your waffles in place of syrup. But be sure to check the package  before placing it in your cart – oftentimes companies sneak in sugar, so choose a brand that only gives you fruit – that’s all you need! Choose organic when you can to free your body of toxins from pesticides.

5.  Raw Nuts

Raw Almonds

Nuts are a delicious and filling snack, plus are loaded with beneficial fats. I always have a bag or two on hand.  Look for packaged nuts that contain nothing more than the nuts themselves – you’ll notice that oils, salt, sweeteners or preservatives are often added, but need not be there. 


Keep your spring break gluten-free

Keep your spring break gluten-free

If you’re gluten-free then you know how stressful traveling can be. On a recent trip to Yellowstone with my husband’s family, I found myself with few options as we picked up a picnic lunch at a small grocery store. My lunch was a bag of chips and piece of fruit. Luckily the chips were a healthier version of chips by Way Better, which are gluten-free, non-GMO and contain sprouted seeds, grains and veggies (delicious!). Yet it was annoying to be surrounded by nothing but processed and gluten-filled food options in a place filled with lots and lots of food!

Maintaining a gluten-free diet is much easier in the comfort of your home. From airports to highway exits to family’s homes, it’s always a guess what gluten-free food options will be available when we’re away from our own kitchens.

So, as you embark on your spring break travels, here are some simple tips for keeping your vacation gluten-free:

  1. Eat before you go to the airport. Make sure to fill up on a healthy, gluten-free meal prior to arriving at the airport so that you’re not left with less than ideal options like fast-food. The airport is full of bad-for-you food and cross-contact can be a huge concern even for foods that are naturally gluten-free. Bring some healthy GF snacks in your carry on bag to tide you over during the flight.
  2. Make the grocery store your first vacation destination. Before you leave home, go online to locate a grocery store close to your hotel. (I always google Whole Foods, which is packed with GF foods!) Once you arrive, stop by the store to pick up your favorite GF snacks for the week – nuts, fruit, and even your favorite healthy ingredients for GF cocktails (fresh juices, GF vodka and beer, etc.)
  3. Check out glutenfreetravelsite.comThis site allows you to search for GF food spots and hotels by city or zip code, plus you can read travelers’ reviews of these places. They also have apps you can download for both iPhone or Android devices.
  4. Call restaurants ahead of time. It’s never safe to assume that a restaurant is equipped to serve a gluten-free meal. Even if its menu has gluten-free options, call ahead and ask if they can safely handle preparing a meal for a gluten-free customer. If you don’t feel confident, make a reservation elsewhere.
  5. Chat with locals! Seek out a food spot – like a juice bar or Whole Foods – where you know folks who know gluten-free will be hanging out. Chat it up with employees and customers. Ask for restaraunt recommendations for spots where the servers and kitchen staff are equipped (and can be trusted) to prepare a gluten-free dish.





Help your dinner host prepare a gluten-free dinner with ease

Help your dinner host prepare a gluten-free dinner with ease

For someone who is not gluten-free, hosting a gluten-free dinner guest can be a stressful endeavor. Gatherings like baby showers, bridal showers, birthday parties and holiday dinners may bring added complexity. For those who are gluten-free, consider using the steps below BEFORE your next get together to help your host prepare a menu with gluten-free options — he/she  will thank you! (Remember: Your host wants you to enjoy the evening, and that includes enjoying the food!)

This list of tips looks long…don’t worry!   You may need just one – or all – of these steps. Use the list as it suits you. 

1.  Call your host. Tell him/her that you are looking forward to the gathering and then explain that you are gluten-free. You may choose to mention that your gluten-free status is not a choice, but rather due to a health condition, and if you eat gluten you will become sick. (Some people don’t realize the reasons for a gluten-free diet, especially because it is seen as a fad diet right now).

2. If attending a casual gathering – such as dinner at your friend’s house – you might offer to bring a gluten-free dish to share. However depending on the occasion, this may not be appropriate.

3. Tell the host that you are happy to eat before you arrive at the gathering, but that you realize he/she may prefer to have food options available for you and other gluten-free guests. (After all, serving your guests food is what hosting a dinner is all about!)

4. If the gathering is more formal, like a baby or wedding shower, and is being held at a venue such as a restaurant or country club, let the host know that you would be happy to speak with the chef directly so that he/she doesn’t have to explain your dietary restrictions. In most cases you’ll find the host is very receptive to this idea and that the hosting venue can easily accommodate your needs.

5. If you and the host decide he/she will prepare some gluten-free dishes, offer up the following:

  • A list of naturally gluten-free foods. Tell your host there is absolutely NO need to go out to buy gluten-free products (e.g., bread, crackers, desserts, etc.) – fresh meats, vegetables and fruits, along with many grains, are naturally gluten-free.
  • A list of foods to AVOID. This includes wheat, rye, barley (and any foods that contain these ingredients). Check out “Gluten-Free Diet: What’s allowed, what’s not” by the Mayo Clinic for additional information.
  • Your own gluten-free recipes. If you’re gluten-free, you have lots of gluten-free recipes to share!

6. Once the menu has been chosen, ask the host to send you the recipes, so that you can double check that the ingredients are in fact gluten-free (This will be of great help to the host!)

7. For the recipes themselves, recommend specific brands of ingredients which you know are gluten free. If it’s in your pantry, you can text a picture of the food to the host so he/she knows what to buy at the grocery store. (I recently did this with a friend who was making chili for our get together. The recipe called for chicken stock, so I sent her a picture of a brand that is safe. She was very appreciative!).

8. If there will be appetizers, such as chips and dip or cheese and crackers, volunteer to bring a gluten-free plate. This will relieve your host of having to make both a gluten-free appetizer and dinner.

9. Check out this great step-by-step guide for entertaining gluten-free guests by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Pass it along to friends and family with whom you frequently share meals.

Note: While the above tips are helpful in preparing your host, keep in mind that his/her kitchen is likely not gluten-free. Therefore, there is always a risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing foods. It’s up to you to determine what you are comfortable with. 


Do not fear, gluten-free doesn’t mean pasta-free.

Do not fear, gluten-free doesn’t mean pasta-free.

I remember when my healthcare practitioner uttered the words “go gluten free” to me. I was horrified. My diet was gluten-FULL, so how in the world would I ever go gluten free?  She gave me a list of foods to avoid and sent me on my way. This was years before gluten free living had hit the mainstream, so along with my list she included directions to some obscure grocery store in the suburbs where I could find gluten free foods. As a girl who was raised on spaghetti and pasta salad, I was especially haunted by the notion of giving up pasta. Pasta was a staple and I couldn’t imagine life without it. I enjoyed pasta in all forms and topped it with almost anything.

I’m happy to report that I survived going gluten-free and even discovered a whole new world of pasta. The gluten free pasta market has expanded exponentially in the past few years. There are so many options I’ve lost count, and believe it or not, most of these options are delicious.

If you’re considering going gluten free but are worried about the prospect of a pasta-free existence, rest assured you won’t have to give it up. Here are some of my favorites, available at most grocery stores now.  You’ll also be happy to learn that even some of your favorite Italian restaurants now offer a GF option. In fact, just last weekend I had dinner at Chicago’s Topo Gigio and enjoyed a delicious GF dish.

Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta: Who doesn’t love quinoa?  This pasta is made with a combination of quinoa and corn plus its USDA certified organic (especially important with corn, which is one of the most genetically modified crops in our country, and unless grown organically, surely sprayed with pesticides).

Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pasta: Trader Joe’s just makes me happy. The employees are happy and polite, and if you’re on the lookout for gluten free snacks and other packaged foods, they have a nice inventory. I don’t generally prefer brown rice GF pastas, but TJ’s version is exceptional! You’ll never miss the wheat.

Explore Asian Organic Bean Pasta: Looking for something grain-free? Look no further – Explore Asian’s Organic Bean Pasta is fantastic. You’d never know it was made out of beans. Plus, unlike many other GF pastas, it keeps well in the refrigerator as leftovers (doesn’t get sticky or dry). Added bonus – it’s jam packed with protein because it’s made out of BEANS!  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised.



Gluten-free websites that will help you go gluten-free and stay gluten-free.

Transitioning to a gluten-free diet can be a confusing and overwhelming process. When my health practitioner first recommended I remove gluten from my diet, I didn’t even know what gluten was! She gave me a list of foods that I couldn’t eat and sent me on my way.  I was left feeling lost and worried I wouldn’t get it right. And from this initial recommendation, it took many attempts for me to finally commit to the diet. Critical to my ultimate success? Easy-to-go-to resources including websites that spelled out how to go gluten-free and offered ideas for gluten-free substitutes so that I wouldn’t feel like my daily food routine was being turned upside down.

Here are my main go-to sites:

Living Without: As indicated on the site, Living Without is “The magazine for people with allergies and food sensitivities.” Packed with recipes and forums, there’s not much in terms of gluten-free that you can’t find on this site. This is the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ website. Find up-to-date news and endless information related to health, food, medical research and more. The NFCA also offers free webinars and a list of gluten-free blogs.  This site is useful for anyone affected by Celiac Disease or a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.

Whole Foods: Not only does Whole Foods offer a range of gluten-free products, but this market’s website contains over 1,300 gluten-free recipes. Simply do an “Advanced Search” in the recipe section of the site and filter by “Gluten-Free”.



If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?

What would your answer to this question be: “If you were stranded on an desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?” My answer to this question used to be “cereal”. In fact, my life used to be one big bowl of cereal. I’d have it for breakfast, for snacks, and even for dinner some nights, especially the nights my husband was out of town and I didn’t feel like cooking.

My stock of cereal always included a variety – from shredded wheat to cheerios to frosted flakes. Cereal was my favorite “food” and I couldn’t have imagined my life without it. And it always tasted great, but little did I know it was wreaking havoc on my system.. The common ingredient to most cereals – wheat (which contains gluten) – was a food I needed to ELIMINATE from my routine (versus eating it everyday!) Realizing and understanding this took time and patience and motivation. I fell off the wagon many times until one day I decided I’d had enough of not feeling well.

I started with baby steps. I didn’t give up cereal in general – I just found cereals that didn’t contain gluten. At first, I thought this would be an impossible tasks, but to my surprise, it wasn’t that difficult. Gluten-free cereals (and foods) are everywhere today. Some popular brands that now offer gone gluten free options include Chex and Rice Krispies. You can find a list of even more gluten free cereals here.

Removing gluten made a world of difference for my health. I regained energy and shed GI discomfort that I’d been dealing with for almost 14 years. And as I started to feel better, eliminating other not-so-healthy foods became much easier – trust me when I say feeling well is all it takes! What seemed like an impossible step – eliminating gluten – ended up being what empowered me to commit to a healthy lifestyle. The continuum of my journey led to me choosing to removing other foods that didn’t work for my body including dairy, and yeast from my diet. Today I’m happy, healthy and amazingly cereal-free! Are you ready to eliminate gluten or another inflammatory food? Consider working with me, your health coach, to help you achieve your own wellness! Check out my menu of health coaching services!