Gluten free specialty food is freaking expensive.
This is why most newly diagnosed Celiacs’ jaws drop when they stand in the gluten free aisle of the grocery store. Many gluten free prepared foods like bread, snacks, and pasta are easily double the cost of their gluteny counterparts.
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by this! But you don’t have to be.
A perfect example of what I’m talking about is in this article in Winona360. In it, we read about a college student who feels like she can only afford to eat gluten free for one meal a day, and suffers tremendously for it. It’s quite sad. As most people with Celiac Disease know, eating gluten free once a day is not enough.
You must be gluten free for life.
I can understand why people feel completely helpless. So much of the traditional American diet is made up of cheap, processed “food”. If it’s cheap, quick, and has been injected with enough artificial flavorings people will buy it up.
Many people don’t know how to cook basic things, or simply have no desire to learn because it’s easier to just have someone else — another company who doesn’t care about your health — do it.
What many people don’t realize is that living gluten free isn’t about replacing “XYZ” with “gluten free XYZ“. Think outside the [cardboard]box. Change your idea of what meals are. Don’t be chained to convention!
Look for food that is naturally gluten free. This should be your goal and main form of nourishment. The fancy gluten free breads and snacks are not the foundation of your diet but optional accessories to a gluten free life.
What’s naturally gluten free? Let’s take a look at some examples:
- Fresh, whole produce like: Apples, oranges, bananas, kale, broccoli, spinach, salad greens, strawberries, cherries, herbs, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, green beans, avocados, asparagus
- Unprepared meats like: Chicken breast, chicken thighs, drumsticks, ground beef, ground turkey, turkey legs, pot roast meat, pork tenderloin, pork chops, ground pork, fish
- Dry goods: Plain rice, dried beans, canned beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, corn tortillas, canned meats, canned pumpkin
- Eggs, butter, bacon, goat cheese. Be careful with dairy, many Celiacs are lactose intolerant to it until their villi heal, and some have a casein allergy as well. If you can eat it, great.
- Plain nuts and seeds (check labels)
You don’t have to spend a ton of time in the kitchen to make gluten free food, either.
Here are some ideas for cheap and easy gluten free meals and snacks:
- Microwaved white potato topped with: goat cheese, butter, chives, green onions, ground beef, ground turkey, broccoli, cheddar cheese, sausage (check the label)
- Microwaved sweet potato topped with: butter, goat cheese, cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, honey, maple syrup, roasted grapes, soaked dried cherries, toasted pecans, ground turkey
- Microwaved acorn or butternut squash filled with: butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground pork with kale and carrots
- Roasted peppers can be filled with rice, ground meat, spices, cheese
- Rice and beans (both are cheap and can be bought in bulk)
- Plain corn tortillas are gluten free, like the ones made by Mission which are available at my local grocery store. They’re cheap and can be filled with all sorts of stuff.
- Apples, bananas, and celery with nut butter or with cheese (apples and bacon is a very nice snack too).
- Salad with chicken or turkey, dried cherries or cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese, raspberry vinaigrette (check the label or make your own)
- Cook a whole chicken in a crock pot. Whole chickens usually run about $5-$6 here. Then use the carcass to make delicious chicken stock for pennies.
- Any ground meat sauteed with any veggies of your choosing. Add chicken or beef stock to make it a soup, or add rice to stretch it out further.
- Hamburger patties topped with cooked onion, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, laid on top of salad greens — no bun required
- Pot roast in a crockpot — put the meat on top of a bed of onions, leave it on low all day and about an hour or two before dinner add in whatever veggies you like, such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, mushrooms.
- Taco Salad: Season ground beef with cumin and chili pepper, add canned chopped tomatoes, avocado, cheese and sour cream if you can do dairy, all on top of lettuce greens. If you want “traditional” tacos, check out Ortega’s dinner kit, it’s on their gluten free list.
- Breakfast can be leftovers, or eggs served in various ways with bacon. Gluten Free Chex and Gluten Free Rice Crispies are two cereals that aren’t too expensive.
- Smoothies are quick, try using canned coconut milk + frozen berries + cinnamon and sweetener of your choice.
- Plain canned meat should be gluten free (check the labels) and cheap. Try: Tuna, salmon, sardines, smoked trout, smoked oysters
- Dark meat is cheaper than white meat, like chicken thighs and drumsticks. Chicken breast with skin and bones still on is cheaper than the boneless, skinless packages.
Shop sales, buy in bulk, and look online for deals. Amazon often sells dry goods in bulk and cheaper than what you’d find in stores.
Asian markets often sell produce for cheaper, too. You might not be able to read the signs in there but broccoli will still look like broccoli.
In the summer season, consider gardening. If you lack a green thumb, make friends with someone who has one. Often gardeners will have surpluses of certain crops that they are happy to give away like summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, plus herbs like mint. They might even give you some plants for free.
Frozen fruit and veggies are often cheaper than fresh.
Drink tap water instead of canned or bottled beverages.
Cook big meals and freeze leftovers so you won’t be tempted to buy prepared foods later. This will also ensure that the food won’t spoil, which is just money down the drain. Same thing goes for storing the rest of your food – seal it, store it, freeze it all well.
Coupons! While coupon websites may not have many specifically gluten free product coupons, they will have them for other items you might need. A few websites I found were Coupons.com, SmartSource.com, and RedPlum.com
Something you might not want to consider but is a valid option as well is cutting other parts of your household budget. Being healthy takes priority. Do you really need cable? Could you be just as happy with Netflix or Hulu instead? What about your phone? I’ve never had an iPhone or any other expensive type of phone. Instead, I currently use a Tracfone that lets me pay for the minutes I use. If you barely use your phone to call people and instead use your computer to email or chat, this might be a great option for you. Skype calls are free, too.
If you’re looking for some help with meal planning, Gluten Free Mommy has a good post about meal planning and how she saves money.
Remember, eating gluten free doesn’t have to be expensive. Focus on foods that are naturally gluten free.
Cook more, have fun, and enjoy feeling better!
P.S. Looking for some more guidance in the grocery store? Check out Step 1. of my Guide to Gluten Free!