I vividly remember the first grocery shop I did after being diagnosed with celiac disease. I was in utter amazement at my options and at the fact that there seemed to be replacements for everything that I thought I would really miss.
But, on the other hand, I was stunned as I saw the prices and approached the check-out. How are we supposed to grocery shop when everything is so expensive?
A 2008 study on gluten-free products showed that they cost on average a whopping 242% more than their gluten-containing counterparts. Now before we start a revolution, there are reasons for the price increase. Higher production costs, lower quantities produced, expensive alternative grains, additional production facilities and labor, and shorter shelf life are just some of the reasons why gluten-free products are more expensive.
Especially as the holidays approach, budgeting is tough. Between gifts, family get-togethers, reunions with friends, and traveling, your wallet can start to feel a bit light.
Now that I’ve gone through this a few years, though, I’ve found a few ways to have fun over the holidays and keep eating tasty, nutritious, gluten-free meals while holding on to my hard-earned cash…
- Look for foods that are naturally gluten-free. Shopping the gluten-free section is not the budget way to avoid gluten. There are plenty of foods that are gluten-free in their natural state, and you don’t have to search for a costly replacement. Fruits, veggies, meat, fish, dairy products, beans, rice, quinoa, lentils, potatoes and eggs are all gluten-free and can be combined to make delicious, inexpensive meals.
- Eat whole foods. This won’t just save you money, it will ensure that your meals are more nutritious than meals using packaged, processed food. While most processed foods can be cheap, they often contain gluten, and the gluten-free versions are often double the price. Stick to fruits and veggies that are in season and save even more money. Don’t forget that processed foods, even when labeled gluten-free, are a lot more likely to be contaminated with gluten than whole foods are.
- Repeat after me: R-I-C-E. Rice is cheap. Rice is gluten-free. Boil it, bake it, fry it. Choose from jasmine, basmati, red, brown, white, long-grain, sushi, thai, the list goes on. Versatile, easy, cheap, and delicious. Check out these easy tips for perfect rice every time.
- Your new best friends: the crockpot and the blender. Don’t over-do it in the kitchen. Unless you’re used to cooking 3 meals a day for yourself, beginning to cook from scratch can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and result in burn-out (leading to ordering gluten-free pizzas multiple times a week). That is definitely not budget-friendly. Keeping you sane will help your bank account. Crockpots are simple: toss in meat and chopped up veggies in the morning, and then come home in the evening to an aromatic home and a tasty meal. Blenders are the answer to, “I have no time in the morning to make breakfast!” Get a blast of nutrients and energy by adding coconut milk, peanut butter and berries!
- Shop the perimeter. This tip is something I strove for even before I began eating gluten-free but applies even more now. The healthiest, freshest, and oven cheapest foods are found around the perimeter of your grocery store. These foods also happen to be the ones most likely to be naturally gluten-free. Stock up on colorful, in season fruits and veggies, and keep an eye out for sales in the meat and dairy sections (but watch out for seasoned and processed meats: they may contain gluten).
- Plan your meals. If you go to the store with a list of ingredients you’ll need for the coming week, you’ll be less likely to go overboard and will come home with foods that make meals, when combined. This will save costly, extra trips to the market throughout the week to pick up missing ingredients, encourage you to experiment in the kitchen and help you find a few favorite recipes that will become staples. It will also seriously lower your grocery bill.
- Look for gluten-free foods away from the “gluten-free” aisle. Manufacturers pay for their products to be placed in the gluten-free section because they know shopping can be so difficult! The Asian food section will be packed with items such as gluten-free rice noodles and rice crackers for a fraction of the price.
- Buy in bulk. Once you’ve found some foods that you like and use often, buying them in bulk can save you a lot of money. Look for dry goods such as rice, beans, nuts and lentils. These items are healthy, cheap and versatile: the perfect combination for gluten-free eating on a budget. You can often find deals on Amazon for bulk dry goods that are cheaper than at the grocery store! Be careful when making bulk bin purchases, though: these may pose a cross-contamination risk.
And here are some additional tricks you may want to consider:
- If your local tap water isn’t safe, get a filter. Spending money on bottled water is more than likely unnecessary, and sugary sodas and fruit juices are not only unhealthy, but add up in cost.
- Asian markets often have cheaper produce.
- Make soup! Make your own broth in bulk and freeze it for future use.
- Eat more vegetarian and vegan meals. Meat is expensive!
- Avoid expensive packaged sauces, dressings and spice mixes. Upgrade your spice rack, grab some gluten-free soy sauce and fresh garlic, and you can create tasty combinations for less! I’ll let you in on a secret: the best salad dressing EVER is gluten-free soy sauce, orange juice, and a tiny dab of mayonnaise. You’re welcome!
- Cook double portions and freeze. This way, if you come home exhausted after a long day, you can defrost a home cooked meal and not be tempted to grab something processed and expensive on the way home because your fridge is empty.
- Coupons! You can even find gluten-free specific coupons and sales these days, if you look hard enough.
Saving money on a gluten-free diet can take some extra creativity, but you’ll eventually get there.
What are some other creative ways you’ve found to help you save?