So, I was asked a question the other day. The answer might be helpful to some.

The question: "Where do you buy your food?"

The answer: Lots of places.

I know, it sounds complicated already. It isn't that bad and I've kind of made it a challenge. Most of the time, it's fun.

I'm a bulk buyer. You should know that up front. I buy larger quantities than normal of foods to cut the per-unit (per pound or per gallon) price of products down. This allows me to buy healthier foods for my kids than I normally could afford. I've also researched foods to find stuff my kids really can eat without fear of getting sick.

For us, that means finding stuff free of gluten and casein, and also soy, rice, corn and a few others.

So, you see the challenge. I start with a menu -- what do my kids eat? What ingredients do I need to make them those foods (after all, with that many food issues, you can't find most of this stuff on the shelf). Where can I buy those ingredients and for how much?

I put these onto a spreadsheet and created monthly buying lists -- shopping lists. I try to maintain a steady shopping budget amount each month. If one month gets too costly, I try to move non-necessities into a month that I'm able to spend more.

The end result of this process answers the question of 'Where do I shop?' Now, I'm from Western Pennsylvania, but I'm convinced you could use this model almost anywhere. In rural areas, you'd have to rely more on mail order items -- still possible. I just bought 75 lbs. of flour from Bob's Red Mill, for example, and saved a ton from buying the same stuff four blocks away at the grocery.

Here's my list:

: East End Food Co-op -- this is a typical food co-op. You'll find them across the country. Search for one using this site - click here. Common buys: some produce, cold cereal, sea salt, baking powder (aluminum free), corn chips, rice milk by the case (20% discount), egg substitute, shampoo and soap (soy free), etc.

: Frankferd Farms -- this is a local food supplier with a focus on organics. I buy some produce, bulk rice, some bulk flour, nuts, dried fruit, carob powder (chocolate allergy), etc. Look around and you might find an organic wholesaler in your area. They often deliver long distances for big orders.

: Restaurant Depot -- this is a chain that serves the food service market. I joined after starting a very small business delivering foods from the places I shop to others. Most cities have businesses like this to serve local restaurants, etc. Find one. You'll find products in large sizes. I buy Heinz ketchup, Lays potato chips, tomato sauce, kosher hot dogs, potatoes, etc. from here, often at great discounts.

: Wal-Mart/Sams -- most of our day to day shopping is done at local community markets or Wal-Mart and Sams. Among them, I take advantage of specials on paper and plastics, cosmetics and other stuff.

: Kennedy Farm -- we buy our beef and poultry from a local farm. This farm north of Pittsburgh sells each weekend in the city. The product is not organic but I have talked with the farm and expressed our concerns regarding gluten, etc. The meat they sell is far better quality than supermarket stuff -- and believe it or not, less expensive. You can search for farms in your area at this website -- click here. Use the search engine function.

: Pacific Pectin -- this is my xanthan gum supplier. If you're going to bake gluten-free, you'll need xanthan gum. It's a binder. It's very expensive. Some places sell this for $10 a half pound. You'll buy it for half that at pacific pectin -- the wholesale supplier -- even with shipping costs. YOu have to buy at least 5 lbs. and store. This will last a long time.

: Miss Robens -- i buy some items from here, including gluten free shampoo and conditioner. also get corn-free baking powder. they also sell flours and candy.

: Bob's Red Mill -- flour, flour, flour. I buy tapioca flour, potato starch and sorghum flour here. I buy 25 lb. bags of each and have it shipped. I still pay far less then the store. I'd also buy my chickpea flour here but Frankferd Farms makes its own at a local mill.

So, there's a look at where I buy. It's a long list, but remember, with bulk buying, I'm not buying at every story each month. Some, I may only buy from twice a year.

Hope it helps.

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