|Photo by mconnors|
Going gluten free is a big job and it can be expensive—I know that first-hand. I was diagnosed with wheat/gluten allergies in midlife, when I was a single mother with two teenagers to feed and a strict budget. I was afraid of adding gluten free food into the mix and upsetting my struggling budget even further. With time, patience and practice I learned how to save money on our entire grocery budget.
Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to save money on my gluten free lifestyle. Keep in mind we’re all different with different circumstances—not all of these ideas may work for you. However, maybe these tips will spark an idea that will work for you!
1. Buy staples on sale and in bulk: staples include beans, rice, canned tomatoes, canned fruit, gluten free flour, gluten free pasta, etc. Keeping your pantry stocked with the staples you use most often saves money and enables you to stay on a gluten free diet. If you run out of staples, you may be tempted to use the non-gluten free version. That type of behavior will hurt your health!
2. Look for regular products that are naturally gluten free, such as some yogurts, cereals, etc. You’ll avoid paying extra for the gluten free versions, and as a result saving a lot of money on your grocery budget. Be sure to always read the labels to make sure you’re buying a gluten free product.
3. Cook from scratch and avoid convenience foods. You can grind your own gluten free flour, buy dry beans rather than canned, make your own snacks and more. Cooking from scratch saves money, and your meals will be more nutritious as a result. I used to think cooking from scratch took too much effort; however, with a little organization it doesn’t take much longer than using convenience foods. Cut up onions in advance—it’s easy to chop up onions for your week ahead and then store them in an airtight container in the fridge, ready to use when you need them. The same goes for lettuce and other ingredients.
4. Eat more meatless or vegetarian meals. Cut down on the amount of meat in your diet and replace it with healthy vegetarian ingredients. Beans (legumes) are a great source of protein and they’re filling. Quinoa is a grain full of protein and lots of important nutrients. Noodle and pasta dishes can be filling and nutritious, while saving your grocery budget. You might consider dishes such as vegetarian lasagna, mac & cheese, bean enchiladas…peanut butter and jelly sandwich (served on gf bread)—all of these main dish courses can be made healthy and cheap.
5. Make your own snacks and desserts. You can make your own chips, crackers, cookies and cakes from scratch. Mixes are expensive, but cooking from scratch saves a lot of money. Plus, you can control the amount of fat, salt, etc. in your creations, while avoiding preservatives and other chemicals.
6. Eat breakfast for supper. This is a fun change for any type of diet and it can be filling and satisfying. Omelettes, quiche, pancakes and waffles are all good examples of versatile breakfast foods that make a great dinner. You could fill omelettes and quiches with lots of vegetables; include bacon and sausage as sides with pancakes and waffles, etc.
7. Eat more pasta. This one word, alone, says it all. Pasta is versatile, satisfying and filling. Here, again, you can combine pasta with vegetables, smaller amounts of meat—combined with different sauces and served with a small green salad on the side, making a healthy and filling meal.
8. Make a main dish soup. Soup is another dish that’s versatile, filling and satisfying. You can make it with most any vegetable and meat ingredients you have on hand. You can make it in the crock pot, in the oven or on the stove—making just the right amount needed for your meal. Soup can also be fixed ahead and stored in the fridge or the freezer, making it a great meal to have on hand for those days you don’t feel like cooking or you need a meal in a hurry.
9. Use leftovers creatively. Rather than reheating last night’s meal for tonight’s supper, why not take your leftovers and make something new? Leftover roasted chicken is wonderful for soups or salads, leftover ground beef can be used to make spaghetti meat sauce, etc. Leftovers, creatively used, will have a new taste and you won’t get tired of eating the same thing again the next day.
10. Watch for sales and specials on the products you typically use.
11. Use cheaper cuts of meat. Using cheaper cuts of meat will leave the protein in your diet, while saving money. Slow-cooking is a good way to cook cheaper cuts, leaving them fall-apart tender and full of flavor.
12. Create gluten free main dishes for your whole family. Cooking one meal, rather than two separate meals, saves both time and money. You can make a batch of gluten free spaghetti sauce, and then cook one pot of gluten free spaghetti for gluten free family members and fix regular spaghetti for the rest of the family, with all of you eating the same spaghetti sauce.
13. Cook with foods that are naturally gluten free: fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds, meats, poultry and fish. Not only are these foods naturally gluten free, they are also packed with nutrition. Be sure to avoid fresh foods that come in any type of sauce, such as marinade, etc.
14. Use the cheapest flours in the beginning. Until you get the hang of cooking and baking gluten free, buy inexpensive flours, rather than more expensive alternative flours. Rice flour’s one of the cheapest. When you feel more comfortable and confident, then move on to more expensive alternative flours. You can even try grinding your own rice flour.
15. Never throw away mistakes. Bette Hagman says this in her cookbook, The Gluten Free Gourmet. The ingredients you’ve bought are too expensive to throw away. Instead, save failed breads, cookies, etc. You can use dried bread crumbs to make meatloaf, hamburgers, meatballs and even use it as breading on chicken or vegetables. Failed cookies can be used to make a pie crust or cheese cake. You can even use crumbled cookies in ice cream recipes. You can also save crumbled potato or corn chips to use in your gluten free cooking. I keep a bag of bread crumbs and one of cookies crumbs in my freezer, so they’re fresh and ready to use when needed for a recipe.
16. Adapt your favorite recipes to gluten free, as you gain experience and confidence, it will become easier to adapt your favorite recipes to gluten free versions. Keep recipes organized in a notebook or binder. You can also keep a digital version of your recipes on your computer or tablet. Find the method that works best for you and stick with it. In no time you’ll have your own go-to gluten free recipe cookbook.
17. To start out, you don’t need expensive kitchen gadgets to cook or bake gluten free foods. I cook and bake with no bread machine, no powerful mixer or food processor. I don’t even own a blender. This has more to do with my moving overseas. I had a grain mill, bread machine and a blender before moving, but these all had to be left behind. I was in a new marriage and we were in effect just starting out. So, expensive gadgets were not possible and I had to relearn how to cook and bake without these kitchen wonders. You can make wonderful creations with only simple tools. The tools I currently have are:
· Two whisks
· Wooden rolling pin
· 3 mixing bowls (2 glass and one 1 metal)
· Knives, forks and spoons (a set of sharp knives, regular dinner silverware)
· Measuring spoon ring, one set of measuring cups
· Microwave/convection oven (counter top)
· Crock pot
· Hand mixer (yes, like the old fashioned kind!)
· Misc. other kitchen items—wooden spoons, skewers, cookie cutters, baking pans, cookie sheets and jelly roll pan, muffin pan, stick blender.
· Electric frying pan and an indoor electric grill (small—on counter top)
I’m the first to agree that a food processor would make a wonderful addition to my kitchen tools, to say nothing of making it easier to create some gluten free foods. But it’s not necessary. A hundred years ago, people didn’t have these kitchen gadgets available, and yet they managed to create fantastical food creations of all types.
18. Look for free gluten free cookbooks on Amazon and other sites. You can also find many gf recipes online at recipe sites and on blogs. Checkout this blog every Thursday when I share free gluten free cookbooks from Amazon! You can also find free recipes on blogs and other sites on the web.
19. Cook and eat at home, rather than eating out. This saves an enormous amount of money—gluten free diet or not.
20. Relax and have fun experimenting with your gluten free diet. With practice you’ll gain more confidence and your cooking will be so good that even your gluten free family and friends will enjoy eating it with you!
These are some of the things I’ve learned living a gluten free lifestyle. It’s important to set yourself up for success. You can do this by starting out with simple ingredients and tools. As you gain confidence and experience, you can begin experimenting with flour mixes, recipes of all kinds and even adding kitchen tools that make cooking easier. Do what works for you—so you'll stay on your gluten free diet and end up being healthier and happier, while also saving money!