The Gluten-Free Photographer and her Boatload of Lists and Tips.

I know you're gluten-free... can you help?

Lately, it's been a few emails per week, so I figured it was time to get this post finished and posted so I can help a bit more thoroughly than what I can through messages (and beyond the recipes I've posted). It warms my heart that I get so many emails about it, that so many trust me with something as huge as a food allergy knowledge. Because those who have to live with food allergies/intolerances, it is a VERY huge thing. Your entire life is formed around it. You cannot go to certain restaurants, your social events lose a bit of sparkle because you can't partake in pretty much 90% of the catered food, your kitchen is taken over by crazy-expensive food, and in some extreme cases, your entire family also has to alter what they eat for the safety and benefit of one person.

If you've been around here for awhile, you'll know I have a severe gluten allergy/intolerance (my brides always know about this just from seeing one of their questionnaires I give 'em! haha). Let's get a little bit more real here. If I eat gluten or wheat, I have instant GI issues, my face breaks out into red, itchy scales, my energy levels drop (e.g., lethargy over the next few days), and migraines pop up. I could tolerate most of those symptoms except the face breaking out. Because when my face breaks out into itchy scales, it doesn't go away for about a week. A pale girl with itchy, red scales... well, you can imagine the embarrassment and frustration, especially when you work with the "public" frequently and have to go to networking events.

When I first learned I could have a gluten allergy, it was like going through ALL the stages of grief. And I sure did went through them all.
* Denial - "That'd be like God's cruel irony on my cupcake-carb-lovin' life! It's probably the hamburger meat that's destroying my stomach!"
* Anger - "Why don't people and doctors believe me when I say I have a food allergy!? And why can't I eat my pasta?!"
* Bargaining - "Maybe if I don't eat so much bread, I can have a nibble of pasta and still feel all right..."
* Depression - "This sucks. I can't eat anything."
* Acceptance - "Oh, wow, there are a ton of foods I can eat. It's not the end of the world, and I feel GREAT."

I've been incredibly blessed over the years with very sympathetic and knowledgeable people in the local food industry. They have taken the extra effort to ensure I won't have physical reactions... and honestly, as they should. (Yeah... that one time when a catering department sent me a "glutton menu." I kid you not. If I ever have a problem with the Seven Deadly Sins, I will be sure to contact them though! :P) I strongly believe that if you're working with any kind of food, the staff should know what's in that food, and if they don't, they should know who to ask. But that's another soapbox for another day! ;)

Let's get to the good, helpful stuff! :)

[This was the first time I was able to eat gluten-free cake at one of my weddings! Jenn and Jamie were awesome! I was a little excited. :D]


* Stay away from these seemingly innocent ingredients: soy sauce, modified food starch, wheat flour, barley, rye, beer, marinades, salad dressings that are not oil based. See more here.
* Stick with naturally gluten-free foods: vegetables, corn, rice, potato.
* Avoid foods with a million ingredients. It's just more to get lost in and likely way too over-processed anyway.
* Find community with those who also share your allergies. They will be your greatest resource. If you're a photog, join this Facebook group. If you're looking for recipes and tips, join this one.
* Be upfront and honest. Don't be shy like I was. Physical suffering is not worth the extra few minutes of looking "high maintenance" to the server or manager.
* Consider your fiber intake. You will lose a lot of fiber when cutting out wheat products. I take a gummy fiber supplement every day.
* Texture is different. Some foods do have a different texture. Anyone who has eaten wheat products before will notice it. But it's not necessarily a bad thing! When cooking for your GF friends, just note that we are used to it! Bread will automatically have a slightly denser texture... it's never completely fluffy like regular ole white bread. And cake? It's not super spongy like it's non-GF brethren. We love it just the same! :)
* Be aware that gluten can also be in non-food products. Such as moisturizers, shampoos, makeup, etc. Read the label!
* Do not be ashamed of your allergy. It's your body. You know how it feels and works. You don't have to feel crummy!
* Be prepared to repeat yourself often to loved ones who knew you pre-allergy/more relaxed food days. Thanksgiving and Christmas is a gluten minefield for me. It's still very challenging for me, and I still don't eat much on either holiday. But it doesn't stop me from saying, "No, I cannot eat that. It has flour in it." (This would be even more severe/serious if you have a child with an allergy.)
* Don't have an allergy? Be as supportive as you can. You don't have to change your entire life by any means! Just be understanding that it causes allergy folks a ton of anxiety when going out to eat with friends or over to someone's house/event. We typically have to eat a full meal at home before going out, but can feel completely out of place at the event when it's food-based. A simple veggie or cheese tray goes a long way in relieving those anxieties. :)


Below, I've compiled a list of brands and places I stand by and who have shown the utmost professionalism and precautions in food allergies... and heck, are my favorites. (But as my little legal note, always consult them individually with your own cases. This is only a jumping board post to let you know there are great options out there!)

(These are tried and true brands I love. Sailing the gluten-free waters at a grocery store can get too expensive. I'm really picky about texture and flavor! Note: I do eat like a small child and don't eat spicy foods. ;) )

* Canyon Bakehouse - can be found at Target and Whole Foods
(This has now taken the #1 spot for best bread for me. AMAZING texture, squishy, and wonderful. I do wish it were a little more affordable, but the texture and best PB&Js make up for it.)

* Udi's - can be found at Whole Foods and tons of grocery stores
(Their muffins, brownie bites, frozen pizza, and more are also really delicious.)

* Annie's - can be found at Target and most grocery stores
(Best mac and cheese and bunny-shaped cookies.)

* Tinkyada - can be found at most Targets and Whole Foods
(Best rice pasta. Most others are way too gummy. If you don't have a corn allergy, go for any brand corn pasta... definitely best texture.)

* Ian's Natural Foods - can be found at most grocery stores now and Whole Foods
(Great little chicken nuggets!)

* Perdue's Gluten-Free Chicken Tenders - can be found at most grocery stores (fridge or freezer section)
(I seriously almost cried when I saw these come out. Hands down best tenders ever!)

* Immaculate Baking - can be found at Harris Teeter and other grocery stores (fridge section - where the other pre-made cookie dough is)
(Best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. Tried and true with non-allergy people, too!)

* Hodgson Mill - can be found at Wal-Mart and other grocery stores
(The cake mixes are spot on. We use them for banana bread bases!)

* Kettle Brand Chips - can be found most any food store
(Even their "random" flavors are gluten-free, and so I'm pretty loyal to them. I can have Cheddar and Sour Cream chips again!)

* Yoplait Yogurt - can be found anywhere
(Most of their yogurts are gluten-free. They are very great about labeling it, too. **stay away from Dannon!)

* Aidell's - can be found at most grocery stores
(Lots of gluten-free meats, but I love their caramelized onion chicken meatballs most!)

(These include great hotel chains or quick food options that have given great service while I travel about and can be found most anywhere. When traveling, I tend to stick to these as I've had 100% good experience with them.)

* Hampton Inn and Suites
(While no hot breakfasts for us, they always have fruit, hard-boiled eggs, juices, and (most places) Yoplait yogurt. It's a good enough complimentary breakfast that I always try to book this hotel when I can!)

* Jamba Juice
(I look at for these at airports because I know I can get my normal orange/banana smoothie for a quick morning nourishment.)

* CIBO Express Gourmet Market
(While not in every airport, they're growing in number and have great gluten-free snack and small meal options. In the Philadelphia airport, I even found a pre-made gluten-free turkey sandwich in March 2014!)

* GoPicnic Shelf-Stable Meal Packs
(I travel a LOT, and I never travel without these and always stock up at Target when they go on sale.)

(I'm very picky about this. None of that "we just have salad" nonsense! These are local to Hampton Roads OR chains around the country.)

* Anna's Brick Oven Pizza - Williamsburg, VA
(They have a dedicated gluten-free oven. It's the best pizza here in the 'Burg!)

* Taste Unlimited - Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News, VA
(Great meal options; it does vary by site. The owner has Celiac herself, so it's a fab local chain that knows what's up!)

* PF Chang's - National
(Best American-Chinese, hands down. And the servers and chefs are very knowledgable!)

* Five Guys - National
(Great burgers and fries. They have a dedicated fryer just for french fries.)

* Simply Thai - Chesapeake, VA
(They know the LaVeres well enough that I don't get strange looks when I bring my own bottle of GF soy sauce. They are VERY accommodating.)

* Andrea's Pizzeria - Chesapeake, VA
(Their new location in Edinburgh Commons has both GF pizza and pasta. The chef is really great and knowledgeable! I've always had a really friendly experience in both locations.)

* Reginella's - Virginia Beach, VA
(Great GF pasta dishes. They either use corn or rice pasta--  penne and spaghetti.)

* Burton's Grill - Virginia Beach, VA
(Great place for burgers. They make their own GF buns!)

* Y-Not - Chesapeake, VA
(The best gluten-free pizza I've had locally. 'Nuff said.)

* Jason's Deli - National
(They have my favorite GF bread, Udi's! Great gluten-free menu and sandwiches. Very accommodating.)

Chick-Fil-A - National
(Best french fries, hands-down. Because they cook all fries in a dedicated fryer away from battered foods, you can eat your fries peacefully and without worry! As a further precaution, just ask the cashier to "red flag" it.)

* Red Robin - National
(They have a dedicated GF menu, dedicated french fry fryer, gluten-free burger buns (or lettuce wrap), but most importantly, the staff is knowledgeable.)

* Food for Thought - Williamsburg, VA
(The only restaurant I go to when in Williamsburg. Fantastic GF menu. It's the only place besides Burton's that gives a GF roll pre-meal!)

This is pretty much for locals-to-Hampton Roads, but if you're ever in town, definitely check these quality folks out!

* Hummingbird Macarons - Chesapeake, VA
(Kisha's macarons are to die for. It's worth every penny.)

* Yo Mama Frozen Yogurt - Virginia Beach, VA
(Most of their flavors are GF. Just ask for their ingredient list.)

* Hansel and Gretel's - Newport News, VA
(Kimberley's GF cake pops are amazing! By special order only.)

* Flour Child Bakery - Virginia Beach, VA
(Great cake pops, cookies, and other sweet treats!)

* Extraordinary Cupcakes - Williamsburg, VA
(They use Cup4Cup Gluten Free flour... and this definitely is the best GF cupcake I've had in all of Hampton Roads. The quality in ingredients shows! Gluten-free cupcakes are only available on Saturdays, though, so call ahead!)

* Menchie's Frozen Yogurt - Williamsburg, VA and National
(They have ALL allergen information listed right on their machines. There are no questions or guessing games. Love it!)

Whew, I hope this boatload of information has been helpful! It will be added and updated as needed. Feel free to post any questions you might have!

** LAST UPDATED: March 2014


  1. Chelsea, thank you again for sharing this! It was so incredibly helpful as a first-glance into making the move to GF, and I feel much better-equipped for grocery shopping now. Saving it to reference many times in the future!!! :)

    1. You're so welcome! So very glad it's helpful! <3 The grocery store is a beast to tackle, but you get really good at reading ingredient labels over time, and then it'll be a breeze! :) Lemme know if you have any questions at all; GF photogs stick together!