How to eat healthy gluten-free food on a budget
Eating gluten free doesn’t have to be expensive! Learn ways we save money (as a family of 6) while eating a healthy gluten free diet. These simple tips will keep you on budget while eating healthy and gluten-free meals.
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Keeping that gluten-free food budget in check
I’ll never forget that moment. I’m sure my eyeballs were popping an inch out of my head as a stared in disbelieve at the grocery checkout.
The lady at the register started blankly back at me, clearly unconcerned or unaware of my inner panic-attack.
My eyes frantically looked at the bottom of the receipt. Yep. I didn’t misunderstand her.
This was almost the entirety of my monthly budget at the time, and those groceries would not make it through two weeks, let alone a month.
Gluten-free foods can be exorbitant. They can break the bank and they can sabotage your healthy, gluten free, change-your-life goals.
Saving money on gluten-free foods is possible
Since that wake up call 8 years ago, we have learned how to save over $600 a month on grocery and household items.
Our monthly budget is now $450 for our family of 6. But that doesn’t just include food. That includes everything for household supplies.
Beauty products, cleaning supplies, toilet paper.
And we do it on one income.
Being a stay at home mom is important to our family. My husband has a good job (that we’re very thankful for), but it is not a two-person income by any means. We have had to learn to steward the money we have wisely. It has meant sacrificing certain luxuries and giving up unimportant extras to keep me home.
But it has also meant getting smart about what foods we buy, what foods we make, and how to get the most bang out of our buck.
This post will give you some applicable ways to keep your grocery budget low each month so that you are able to provide the things that are important for your family.
Top tips to go gluten-free on a budget
1. Make breads from scratch
One of the most expensive things to buy is gluten free breads. Cakes, sandwich bread, bagels, rolls. All of these will cost double, if not quadruple what regular store-bought breads cost.
A very small loaf of gluten-free bread from almost anywhere will cost you at least $4.99. I can make a bigger, better tasting loaf, with healthier ingredients, for about $1.50.
Buying gluten free biscuits, pancakes, bagels, rolls, etc will suck up too much of your grocery budget. If you don’t want to eliminate them from your diet (I know I don’t!), start making them from scratch.
Tip: When making quick bread type recipe, all you have to do is replace regular flour with a gluten free flour blend.
Here are some of my favorite bread recipes:
- Perfect fluffy dinner rolls (can be used for hamburger or hotdog buns too!)
- The BEST sandwich bread
- Healthy & filling breakfast cookies
- Cinnamon raisin bread
- Healthy fudgy blender muffins
- Heavenly cranberry-orange scones
2. Invest in the right kitchen appliances
If you’re going to be making gluten free meals from scratch, it becomes pretty important to have the right tools.
I do tend to take a minimalist approach to things, so I pair down my appliances to just a few that really make my life easier and are worth the investment and the space in my small kitchen.
Here are some quick tips to get you started cooking gluten-free meals from scratch
- Create your own gluten free all-purpose flour blend.
You can use it 1-for-1 in almost any regular cake, cookie, biscuit, or pancake recipe with great results. It might change your life like it changed mine.
- Do not use this flour or any gluten-free flour in a regular yeast bread recipe.
Don’t. All of the kneading and methods used in regular bread making are to help the gluten, which is completely absent. So do look up gluten-free specific bread recipes (like this one that I make almost weekly).
- Hunt for recipes on Pinterest and Google and create a list or board with recipes to try.
Make a list of gluten-free items you’ve been buying from the store, like bread, bagels, cookies, etc, and then start researching how to make those at home.
- Take time at least once a week, preferably more if you can, to make a gluten-free recipe from your research.
The more you actually practice making gluten free meals, the better you’ll get! So start cooking!
- Consider the trial and error an investment in your health and budget!
Don’t cry over gluten free things that turn out bad and feel like you’re wasting money (ok, you certainly CAN cry, I know there have been a few times when I did). But know it is part of the process that pays off after practice, I promise you.
3. Stock your gluten-free pantry with baking supplies from the bulk section
I keep all of these items on hand for various recipes:
- Brown rice flour
- Potato starch (NOT flour)
- Tapioca starch
- Xanthan or guar gum
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Ground flax seed (buy whole and then grind it yourself)
- Baking soda
Find a store that carries bulk gluten-free flours. I use a local Winco, but many Krogers also have a well-priced bulk section.
If your grocery store doesn’t carry something that you need, ask them to carry it! Get a couple friends to also request it, too. I’ve seen, first hand, that this can get things into your store. Be the change, man!
Your dietary needs are not an inconvenience. They want to sell you stuff! Asking your grocery stores to carry gluten-free items so you can shop there benefits both of you. So don’t be afraid! Start a conversation. They may even be willing to order some items in especially for you.
NOTE: I know that those of you who deal with legitimate celiac may not be able to purchase from a bulk section for safety reasons, but there are still ways to buy in bulk from other retailers that are cheaper than grocery stores.
If you don’t have a local bulk section or you have celiac and aren’t able to purchase in bulk, here are some online places to try:
4. Use a lot of fresh produce and whole foods
When eating gluten free on a budget, you can naturally lower the costs of gluten-free foods by avoiding a large quantity of processed foods—and by processed I mean store-bought crackers, cookies, chips, etc.
It’s easy to buy gluten-free crackers these days, but they cost A LOT more than regular crackers, and really aren’t the healthiest option anyway, right?
Snacks and bread items are the biggest gluten-free foods that are easy to purchase, but can take up a good portion of your budget!
Here are a couple tips to cut out the processed foods:
- Instead of snacking on crackers, chop up crisp fruits and veggies.
- Make homemade ranch dip or peanut butter to go with fruits and veggie snacks.
- Make your own trail mix using nuts, seeds, and dried fruit (buying in bulk will save you money here, too)!
- Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand for a protein snack or lunch
- Make homemade larabars to replace store-bought granola bars
Note: Even when splurging on processed foods, know that the majority of tortilla and potato chips are already a gluten-free food and don’t need to be bought “special” gluten-free.
Related post: Check out best tips to keep veggies fresh as long as possible.
5. Meal plan for a month to save even more money
Going into the month without a solid menu plan is like lighting a $20 bill ion fire every week. Without a plan, we tend to make impulse buys instead of hunting for the best deals. And it adds up.
Here are the main ways meal planning has saved my sanity:
- It saves time because I’m not trying to put a meal together at the most stressful time of the day. Stressed and distracted thinking at the 4pm “dinner-rush” takes longer to work through to actually make dinner.
- I waste less food because I have a plan to use all of what I buy.
And that means…
- I save money since less food waste equals less money wasted.
6. Eat foods that are naturally gluten-free
I wish someone had told me this when I first started eating gluten-free (maybe while holding my face so I’d really hear them):
Eat more foods that are naturally gluten-free!
Because there are a lot of naturally gluten-free foods. And I’m not just talking vegetables and fruits.
- Potatoes, sweet or otherwise
- Rice of all colors
- Corn—including popcorn (hey-o, favorite snack!)
- Oatmeal (certified gluten free, I buy this brand in bulk here)
- Nuts & seeds
When meal planning, incorporate more meals that utilize starches that are from potato, rice, corn, and beans (like many Asian and Mexican dishes) .
When you make meals that originally don’t have gluten in them, then you don’t have to substitute it with a more expensive gluten-free option.
NOTE: Soy sauce is actually made up of 60-80% wheat. Tamari is pure soy sauce, and is made fully out of soy. Read those labels (and buy tamari)! The price difference is worth it here.
Here are some naturally gluten-free meal ideas:
- Stir-fry over rice
- Whole roast chicken with salad and potatoes
- Street tacos
- Peanut Butter Thai Noodles
- Sweet potato, turkey, and brussels sprout skillet
- Taco Soup
- Korean rice bowl with fermented veggies
- Cream of potato soup
- Beef stew
- Turkey and rice soup
- Enchiladas with corn tortillas
- Vietnamese Banh Mi bowls
When you eat this way, though, you don’t miss the gluten because it’s normally not there to begin with.
7. Know the price point of gluten-free foods and stock up!
Here are a couple tips to help you find the best priced gluten free foods in your area
- Drive to a few stores and look at the prices for a list of specific items, like noodles, tortillas, etc. In a notebook, write down all the prices for each item. Then circle the store with the lowest price.
- When you see an item you use regularly in your meal-plan often for a great price, stock up!
Coupons should not drive your menu plan. Your menu plan should drive what items you buy. Stocking up on items you know your family loves and will use will save you more money than buying something with a coupon that you don’t like (or don’t know how to use) and will throw away.
Bonus tip to save money on Gluten-free foods:
Avoid the gluten-free specific food aisle.
This could be connected to almost every tip I’ve mentioned. Stores that have these sections are generally very over-priced and usually contain foods that aren’t the healthiest option, anyway.
Look outside of this aisle for snacks and items that are naturally gluten-free (or again, make your own!). Like I already mentioned, you can make most of these items yourself, OR you can find them in regular aisles because they’re naturally gluten free (like corn tortillas, tortilla chips, or potato chips).
I’m not for NEVER buying these foods. When I’m sick or when I’ve just had a baby, my husband will often splurge on some of those convenient items to bless me.
Those are great times for the convenience.
I also love to grab a box of pre-made cookies (these are my-all time favorite) for a road trip. Maybe even some pretzels . These items are great for treats, but buying them regularly will make for an expensive gluten-free diet.
There you have it. Simple ways we save a bunch of money while eating gluten-free.
Want to save MORE money?
Check out these posts from the Money Saving Series:
Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments below. I love talking food—especially gluten-free food!