So you've been told to avoid gluten. You immediately march to the bookstore and read books about it, or even worse, Googled it. After learning about what it means to be gluten free, you are now positive that you will never enjoy eating again. Or perhaps you have a child who has been diagnosed with celiacs. Whatever your reason, diving into the world of gluten-free food does not have to be scary. For everyone who has gone to the store to buy a $6 loaf of bread (if that tiny thing is even considered a loaf), and for all the mothers who are having a tough time keeping their children happy without doughnuts or cookies, this article is for you! The beginners guide to gluten-free happiness.

First, begin by doing research. Make sure you fully understand what you should be avoiding. This is different for everyone so we won't go into depth here. The Celiac Disease Foundation has a great guide for gluten-free living, as well as an in-depth website full of information.

Learn to love naturally gluten-free foods

You'll find yourself eating more fresh vegetables, meats and fruits. Discover that you may not need constant substitutes (or bland reproductions). You will end up eating less processed foods and more natural foods.

Beware of gluten-free goodies in the store

Check the nutrition panels, many of these goodies taste good because they have been loaded with saturated fat. You can enjoy them on occasion, but limit how much you ingest in one sitting. For people with heart conditions or high cholesterol, this can be a problem.

Try new foods, and foreign foods

. Pao de Queijo is a Brazilian cheese puff made entirely of tapioca flour. It became a new hit with my family and was easy to make.

Make it fun

Get your whole family involved in planning your menu for the week and finding new recipes. We've found kids more apt to eat a new food if they get to help select it.

Don't be afraid to bake your own gluten-free food

Rice flour, tapioca flour, coconut flour, potato starch, Xanthan gum. They all seem very foreign, but with a little experimentation, you will learn to love them. Here are a few tips about gluten-free baking:

  • Cakes can generally use a gluten-free flour substitute (1-to-1 depending on the flour), but make sure that you are generous with the moisture. All the starch in gluten-free flours tends to thicken things up.

  • Use cornstarch, or another starch, for soups and gravies that call for flour to make a roux or thicken things up.

  • It is less expensive to blend your own flours. We buy ours in bulk. Find a basic recipe online and don't be afraid to adjust the measurements until you have one you like.

  • Xanthan gum. This makes everything hold together better. Avoid putting it into your flour blends as some recipes say. We find it very hard to distribute evenly in a large bin of flour, leaving you with varying results. Instead, add to each recipe individually.

  • Experiment. You may find it easier than you think to use your own recipes and gluten free flours - especially for cakes and cookies. Remember, experimentation cannot succeed without a few failures. We learn from our failures.

Have fun

There are a lot of websites, recipes and information on gluten-free cooking. Here are some of our favorite websites for recipes and cookbooks:

  • Gluten free on a shoestring. This site contains family-friendly recipes fit for any child. She also has published two cookbooks loaded with fun, easy recipes.

  • Tasty kitchen. This site has a gluten-free section with recipes that you'll love to try, submitted by readers.

  • Simply Gluten Free. This site has recipes that call for individual flours and less flour blends. This is a magazine website, you can order their magazine as well.

  • Cooking for Isaiah. This site is a cookbook and a website we have enjoyed immensely (as we also need to avoid dairy) Her recipes are dairy free. It is full of family-friendly recipes, like pizza dough and doughnuts.

In the beginning, it can be expensive to restock your flour bins and kitchen basics. However, in the end, we decided that we were worth it. You get what you pay for and we have decided to invest in good health. On occasion, we have had a brush with wheat and suffered the consequences.

Finally, when you look out on the rest of your life as a gluten-free consumer, remember you are making this life change to feel better. A healthier body can lead to a happier soul. Once we discovered the reason for our chronic problems and took ourselves off of gluten, within six months we were happier, healthier and had more energy. Shannon lost more than 50 pounds of misery. We didn't realize what a toll a simple little thing like gluten was taking on our entire families with the chronic problems we were having. So, commit to health and happiness. Good luck and good gluten-free baking.

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