It might seem impossible, at first, to eat gluten-free on a budget. I get it. Gluten-free foods (i.e. gluten-free packaged foods) do cost more. However, it’s all how you look at it.
Let’s back up a bit.
Unfortunately, most Americans find it easier to fill their bellies with cheap fast food (ever wondered what’s really in the $1 menu food – ick!) than it is to buy fresh produce and foods with quality ingredients. Sure, you might save money in the short-run, but in the long-run, well, that’s a different story.
This is the motto I live by, especially when I start to worry that the food I’m eating costs a little more: “PAY NOW OR PAY LATER.”
I truly believe you have to eat in a way that his healthy to you, after all, health is wealth. You probably know that modern medicine may keep you all alive longer, but you also know that the quality of your life will greatly deteriorate over time if you don’t take care of yourself now.
So you may be wondering, “Why can’t we eat healthy and still save a little money?”
Saving a buck or two here and there feels good… and I promise you, it is still possible to eat gluten-free – and healthy – without breaking the bank. I’ll show you how.
This guide to eating gluten-free (and healthy) on a budget will not only help you save money on gluten-free groceries but also will help you understand what you really need – and don’t need – in order to live a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle.
Please note that this post includes affiliate links.
Your Guide to Eating Gluten-Free on a Budget
#1. Spend Money on Health, Not Illness
I know, this sounds cheesy… but it’s so very true. You should spend money on keeping yourself healthy, not on managing your illnesses.
Think about your last urgent care or emergency room visit. Chances are you spent hundreds or thousands of dollars just to help you get better! You might also be spending hundreds of dollars on shots and prescription pills each month, not to mention missing work due to illness and doctor visits.
What you may not realize is that healthy people rarely visit doctors and take medications. They prevent disease by eating healthy foods and taking a few key supplements (which we will talk about next). In fact, healthy people spend their hard earned money on maintaining good health (“health care”), not on treating illness through medications (“sick care”). Once again my motto rings true… either pay now or pay later. Up to you.
#2. Stop Buying Unnecessary Supplements
You can get most of the nutrients and vitamins you need if you consume a largely plant-based, whole foods diet. Most of us gluten-free people only need a few outside supplements to maintain good health. These are the supplements I take – and I skip the rest!
- Vitamin D: You get Vitamin D from the sun, but you need to stand outside naked all day to get enough of it (OK, I exaggerate a bit here). But good sun safety means you limit sun time and use a sunscreen, which blocks the sun from damaging your skin, which also blocks Vitamin D from getting absorbed in your body. To overcome this, simply take a Vitamin D supplement and watch your whole health turn around – it’s true!
- Vitamin B Complex: Vitamin B helps us maintain our energy. While you can get various B vitamins from meats and grains, take a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough. Many conventional foods are fortified with Vitamin B to give them some semblance of nutrition, so you may be missing these nutrients if you’re eating gluten-free cereals.
- Multivitamin: Take a good quality multivitamin to cover your basis. If it has D and B in it, you may not need to supplement further or simply limit your supplementation (look at the recommended doses for your age and size).
- Quality Fish Oil: We can’t make omega-3s in our bodies, but boy do we need them to control inflammation. Omega-3s are considered essential fats we need from food. Take a good quality fish oil supplement to get your daily omega-3 boost. Good fish oil brands (like the ones purchased at a natural grocery store or this one I use found on Amazon) will get their fish oil from small fish like anchovies and sardines; these are the bottom of the food chain fish and typically contain lower levels of mercury.
Ditch the rest of your supplements, eat nutrient-dense foods, and see first-hand how you can easily save money.
#3. Search for Gluten-Free Coupons
While most coupons are for sugar-laden, disease-causing foods like Lucky Charms, Pringles and Coke, there are still many “happy” coupons to be found on organic, gluten-free and healthy products you know and love. I wrote an article on where you can find the latest gluten-free coupons and deals. There are many gluten-free coupon sites and ways to save money on quality, gluten-free brands.
#4. Cook at Home
I believe Americans have got to stop spending so much money eating out! I highly recommend cooking at home as a way to save money and eat healthy (and to eat safely GF too). The average dish at a restaurant is $10-$20 – you could seriously feed your entire family with what it would cost to buy one meal at a restaurant!
In 2015, for the first time ever, Americans spent more on dining out than at the grocery store! (Source: Bloomberg News) If you’re trying to eat gluten-free on a budget, ditch dining out or at least limit it to once or twice a week.
Also, the beauty of cooking at home is that YOU choose the ingredients. Remember that most restaurants have razor thin food margins, which leads them to choose cheap ingredients over good for you ingredients. You can buy higher quality ingredients (like the organic stuff), prepare your meals at home and still save money in comparison to eating out!
(Plus, if you have celiac disease, you know that eating out is a minefield! You’ll be safer eating at home so learn to cook. A good place to start learning is my blog, Good For You Gluten Free, where I have lots of delicious and super easy gluten-free recipes to choose from. Be sure to read my meal planning tips too!)
#5. Buy Only the Dirty Dozen Organic
Being healthy doesn’t mean you have to eat organic all of the time – it can be really taxing on your budget. If you can afford to eat organic all the time, great, but if not, there are a handful of fruits and vegetables that you should buy organic, and then all the others you can buy conventional.
So which ones do you always buy organic?
Take a look at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website to find out which produce has the MOST pesticide residue. If it’s on the “Dirty Dozen” list, spend a little extra and buy those items organic only. If it’s not on the list, feel confident that you can buy those items conventional (non-organic) and save money. The EWG list changes year to year, so consult the EWG website for the latest Dirty Dozen list.
#6. Shop for Groceries Online
There are so many great deals to be had online when shopping for gluten-free, organic and non-GMO groceries. Let me share two online places I like to shop:
Thrive Market – This is a huge marketplace of gluten-free goods available at a discount (it’s like an online Costco because you pay an annual membership fee; however, unlike Costco, you don’t have to buy in bulk to benefit from the savings). Thrive says you can get up to 50% off the retail price of your normal healthy groceries. You can join Thrive by clicking on this link. It’s definitely worth the annual membership fee if you ask me.
Amazon Pantry – Search for “gluten-free” on Amazon.com. This is a convenient and easy way to shop if you’re already an Amazon Prime member, and the prices are decent for many of the specialty products you’d buy.
#7. Buy Bulk
There are many ways to save money when you buy in bulk. At Costco, for example, you can buy a large bag of almond flour for less than $20. If you store the flour in your fridge or freezer, it’ll last you for many months. That same bag of almond flour can cost you a lot more (and you’ll get a lot less) if you buy it in the grocery store.
At Costco, you also can buy quinoa, rice, gluten-free brown rice ramen, meats, organic butter sticks, organic tofu, gluten-free breads and so many other great gluten-free (and naturally gluten-free) products. I even wrote a post about all the products you can find at Costco! (Read: Gluten-Free Products Available at Costco.) Just remember to stay away from the bulk bins – those are risky as they may be cross contaminated with items that contain gluten.
#8. Frozen Produce Is Your Friend
Produce can quickly spoil and add to your wasted grocery spend. A good way to make sure your produce lasts for a long time (and is way cheaper too) is to buy it frozen. Frozen produce is typically flash frozen at the peak of freshness and ripeness, giving you the best nutrients possible. You also may have a little extra money to buy organic produce – score!
I always keep organic frozen peas, carrots, spinach and broccoli on hand, as well as frozen mangoes, pineapple, blueberries and peaches in the freezer. The vegetables are perfect meal accompaniments, and the fruit makes a perfect addition to my green blended juices. Plus, because they’re frozen, there’s no rush for me to use them, allowing me to keep the costs due to spoilage in check. (I made this Blender Pea Soup using frozen peas!)
#9. Eat In-Season
Timing is so important when shopping for and purchasing fresh produce. The price of fruits and vegetables change based on the season and availability. When you buy fresh fruit that is in-season in your area (and is plentiful in supply), you’ll get the best bang for your buck (and you’ll feel great too by the way!). Remember, the more supply of a product, the better the price (especially when the product is perishable, like fruits and vegetables!). On the other hand, a piece of fruit that is not in-season and is shipped to Omaha from Peru is going to cost more.
A good way to tell what’s in-season is to notice which produce is on sale and plentiful in your grocery store each week. Many grocery stores will have specials on produce they have a lot of (hint, the reason they have a lot of it is because it’s in-season!) and they even strategically place in-season fruits and vegetables at the front of the store to draw your eyes to it immediately.
Remember, eat in-season and you’ll not only save money, but you’ll also boost your health and save on doctor visits. It’s a win-win if you ask me!
#10. Think Outside the Natural Grocery Store
While I love when people shop at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and other natural grocery stores because I firmly believe you should shop with your wallet (if you don’t support these stores, they’ll go out of business), I do think it’s okay to grocery store cheat a bit… especially if you’re on a budget and need to eat a certain way.
Walmart, for example, carries a large gluten-free selection (limited but large) and the prices are hard to beat. (Read: Amazing Gluten-Free Groceries at Walmart.) For example, the Tinkyada brand of brown rice penne is about $1 less at Walmart than at my local natural grocery store. It’s hard to pay more when I know I can get it for less.
Also, consider shopping at stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi. These “alternative” grocery stores are rapidly expanding across the country, and they are expanding their selection of organic and gluten-free goods too. Almost everything is privately labeled at Trader Joe’s and Aldi (they rarely carry national name brands), so if you don’t mind buying Trader Joe’s brand peanut butter, you can easily save money on groceries here.
#11. Get a Little Perspective Please
If saving money is top of mind for you, remember that we all mindlessly buy electronics, new shoes, and go out to eat, but then we complain that an organic apple is $.40 more at the grocery store. A family member told me she can’t afford organic as she was sipping on her $5 grande Frappuccino from Starbucks. I truly believe we all need a little perspective when it comes to buying good for you foods!
If your priorities are in order and you’re spending money on good, healthy foods, then you won’t mind spending more on groceries and less on wasted consumerism. In my house, we place high value on healthy eating, so shopping for products with quality ingredients is our financial priority… any money leftover can be spent on those new shoes I didn’t really need but I wanted anyway.
So Can You Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget?
Yes, absolutely. You CAN do it!
Just remember to spend your hard earned money on creating health, not feeding illness. Rid of expensive supplements, cook more at home (eat out less) and shop strategically (and don’t forget to read my post about where you can find gluten-free coupons and deals!).
As a good rule of thumb, always be sure to care more about your farmer than your pharmacist.
Cheers to good health my gluten-free friends!
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