The gluten-free diet is expensive, but there are ways you can eat gluten free on a budget without breaking the bank. This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosures.
The high cost of food – coupled with the high costs of following a gluten-free diet – can take its toll on a family. Gluten-free food is expensive, with gluten-free foods costing, on average, 183% more than their wheat-based counterparts.
Even restaurants charge more for gluten-free food. One diner even sued PF Chang’s for charging more money to make her dish gluten free, citing it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (she later dropped the lawsuit).
This is why when someone tells me that the gluten-free diet is just a fad, or that people are eating gluten free for attention, I have to ask them, “Why in the world would someone want to pay so much more money for less food?”
In fact, the vast majority of people who eat gluten free are doing so for medically-necessary reasons or to better their health. These people may have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or an autoimmune disease in which the gluten-free diet has been proven to eliminate and/or relieve chronic symptoms.
If you must eat gluten for health reasons, and you’re looking so save a little money at the grocery store, my 10 tips for eating gluten free on a budget can help you save a little money. And a little savings here and there can really add up.
(1) Take Stock of What You Have
Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day. This is why eating gluten free on a budget means eating through the food you already have so little goes to waste.
A good way to eat through what you have is to keep your pantry, fridge, and freezer space organized. This way you don’t buy products you already have and no products expire or spoil before you remember to use them.
When your pantry, fridge, or freezer starts to look messy, do an audit and organize what you have, then plan your meals accordingly.
Here are a few tips to minimizing food waste and eating through the foods you already have:
- Berries, peaches, pineapple, and mangos can easily be washed (if needed), then then dried and frozen.
- Apples that are mushy can be dehydrated. I love my dehydrator. Apples also make for excellent applesauce, which also can be frozen.
- Use wilted carrots and celery to make a vegetable stew or soup.
- Use overripe bananas in banana bread, or freeze them for smoothies.
- Use the parts of the vegetables you typically discard (i.e. tops of onions, carrots and celery, and broccoli stems) to a make nourishing broth.
- Potatoes that are about to turn make wonderful french fries or hash browns.
- Bones from leftover chicken or ribs can be boiled to make bone broth. After my family devours a rotisserie chicken, I save the carcass and bones (rinse them off, of course) and make a beautiful broth. I then portion the broth into two cup containers and freeze.
- Stale (but not moldy) gluten-free bread can be cubed and dried out in your oven. You can use them as croutons or process them into breadcrumbs.
- Tortilla chip crumbs at the bottom of the bag are perfect for garnishing soups.
(2) Eat Less Meat, More Vegetables
Meat is expensive and should be enjoyed in moderation. When I make a beef stew, for example, I use a small package of short ribs (with bone), and then load my slow cooker with potatoes, beans, carrots, garlic, and onions. The stew has a wonderful meaty flavor, and we each get to enjoy a little bit of meat with our mostly vegetable-loaded meal.
A great cookbook for less-meat meals is Meat on the Side. The cookbook is filled with vegetable-forward meals for carnivores who want to eat less meat and more vegetables.
While fresh vegetables are the best, a frugal option is to buy frozen or canned vegetables. They have a much longer shelf-life and work well in soups, stews, and stir-frys.
Canned vegetables are always nice to have in a pinch and are cheap too. I keep plenty of canned beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas on hand to ensure I always have access to vegetables when my fresh produce supply is low.
And don’t forget a wonderful and cheap meat replacement is eggs. Don’t relegate eggs to just the breakfast table. Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, they work well in many recipes, they’re filling, and best of all, they come at a much lower price tag than meat.
(3) Properly Store Gluten-Free Flours
If you like to bake, you’ll probably go through a package of gluten-free flour quickly. But if you only bake periodically, be sure to store your flour in your fridge or freezer to extend its shelf life.
The best way to store gluten-free flour is to put it in an airtight container or zip top bag. This will ensure that the flour stays fresh, once opened, for about 1-2 months in your pantry, 4-6 months in your fridge, and up to one year in your freezer, according to Gluten Free Yummy.
Remember, almond, and coconut flours (and all nut flours) should always be stored in the fridge or freezer once opened. They contain oils that go rancid more quickly than a rice flour blend.
Tip! It’s much cheaper to make your own homemade chocolate chip cookies than buy cookies at the store, so get baking!
(4) Eat Cheaply
While gluten-free specialty products, like boxed mac and cheese, packaged cookies and cereals, and store-bought gluten-free breads, cost a pretty penny, what doesn’t cost more are naturally gluten-free pantry staples such as rice, dried beans, potatoes, and canned goods.
Incorporate these cheap-yet-naturally gluten-free pantry staples in your meals to feed your gluten-free family on a tight budget.
(5) Clip Coupons and Rebates
Believe it or not, coupons, deals, and discounts for gluten-free products do exist, and you just have to know where to find them.
Coupons: For coupons, visit the manufacturer sites directly to see if they have a current coupon available for printing. Also sign up for manufacturer newsletters because many send coupons periodically. (Read: Where to Find Gluten-Free Coupons and Deals)
Here are a few coupons I spotted on gluten-free brands I regularly shop for:
- Annie’s Homegrown – $1 off coupons for both mac and cheese boxes and snacks.
- Canyon Bakehouse Bread – $1 off coupon (or $2 off if you share the coupon on social media)
- Crunchmaster – $1 off coupon
- Enjoy Life – $1.50 off two Enjoy Life products coupon
Rebate Apps: One app that offers you cash back on items you’re already buying is Ibotta. Download the Ibotta app to your phone to sign up. Submit your receipt after you shop and get instant rebates on tons of products, many of which are gluten free.
Grocery Store Apps: You can also find digital coupons inside grocery store apps. I love the Sprouts grocery app and save anywhere between $1-$5 off each visit. Sprouts also sends an occasional $5 off coupon in its Wednesday mailer, and often sends scannable coupons to its email list for money off specific items, like frozen foods.
Amazon Pantry: For gluten-free pantry staples, shop Amazon Pantry. Many items are discounted (particularly if you’re willing to buy in bulk), and some even have digital coupons attached to them. Prime members get free shipping, and the discounts increase as you buy more. If you shop at Whole Foods, be sure to scan your Amazon Prime code at checkout for a discount.
Shop Thrive Market: Thrive Market is a membership grocery store that carries hundreds of discounted gluten-free products. Sign up for $20 off your membership HERE.
(6) Eat Out Less
I love eating out and have found that I can still eat out while eating gluten free. I even wrote a book about eating out gluten free. However, in times that call for spending less, I find myself eating out less and cooking at home more. Restaurant food is much more expensive than anything I can make at home (and the gluten-free upcharges suck too). Eating at home is safer too.
If you want to continue to eat out, fast casual restaurants offer great, gluten-free options for take-out at a much lower price than a fancy steakhouse. Places like Modern Market, Five Guys, and Zoe’s Kitchen will offer safe gluten-free meals without breaking the bank.
And when you’re craving that fancy steak, buying steak on sale at the grocery store and preparing it yourself will always be the cheaper option.
(7) Shop Around for Deals
When you’re trying to save money, it’s important to shop around for deals. This might mean you wind up at a few grocery stores, and that’s okay. This is your hard-earned money and you should spend it as freely or frugally as you want.
You may not think of Walmart when you think gluten free, but Walmart has a fantastic – and growing – selection of gluten-free products.
Trader Joe’s and ALDI grocery stores also offer everyday low prices on many foods, including a huge selection of gluten-free products. If you’ve thumbed your nose at these grocery chains in the past, give them a second look.
As always, be sure to buy items when they’re on sale and stock up on non-perishables. Store circulars will tell you if your favorite pasta or flour is on sale so watch for sales and buy these expensive items when they’re offered a deep discount.
(8) Buy in Bulk
I find Costco and Sam’s Club to be great places to shop for gluten-free products, produce, and meat in bulk.
When buying meat in bulk, be sure to divide a package of chicken, for example, into 2-3 freezer-safe bags for safekeeping.
I’ve spotted Canyon Bakehouse bread for $8.99 for two packages at Costco. While this is still much more expensive than regular bread, buying two loaves and freezing what I don’t need offers big cost savings. One loaf of Canyon Bakehouse bread at Safeway is $7.99, so $8.99 for two loaves is a big deal.
Remember, however, when buying in bulk, avoid the bulk bins. It’s safer to buy rice, beans, and lentils from packaged containers than risk gluten exposure inherent in bulk bins. Read my article, 5 Hidden Sources of Gluten at the Grocery Store.
Tip! Costco’s rotisserie chicken is gluten free and only $4.99. This is Costco’s loss leader, an item they use to lure you into the store. You can use the rotisserie chicken for several meals because it’s so big! And don’t forget to save those bones for making bone broth.
(9) Plan Your Meals
Planning your meals ahead of time is crucial if you’re eating gluten free on a budget. To help you plan your meals for the week, be sure to read my nine meal planning tips.
(10) Buy Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
Seasonal fruits and vegetables are cheapest and taste best when they’re in season. I guess you could say that when supply exceeds demand, the price is ripe – er – right.
Winter: Winter is the time to load up on cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. Also, winter is meant for enjoying citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, all of which give you a boost of much-needed Vitamin C.
Spring: Spring is the season for artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms, pineapples, mangoes, and strawberries. You’ll also see many berries starting to make their way into grocery stores at this time.
Summer: Summer is when all those delicious summer berries, including cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, are in season. Summer also is the perfect time to enjoy apricots, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, fresh corn on the cob, and of course, peaches and plums. As for vegetables, peppers, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and Swiss chard are plentiful in the summer months.
Fall: The bountiful fall harvests includes winter squashes such as acorn and butternut squash, eggplant, grapes, persimmons, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, spinach, and cranberries. You’ll also find kale, carrots and other wonderful winter vegetables in plenty.
How Do You Save Money?
In times of struggle, we should all strive to save money where and when we can. In fact, tough times offer us a chance to access and reset our spending habits and remember to waste less, shop smartly, and eat in season.
If saving money is top of mind for you, remember that buying good-for-you-foods is essential, and if we need to tighten our belts, we may want to consider if we really need those new electronics, new shoes, or Starbucks coffee. A good friend of mine once told me she can’t afford the organic produce as she was sipping on her $5 Frappuccino.
Eating gluten-free on a budget is all about priorities. I believe you’ll either pay now in the form of healthy food, or you’ll pay later in the form of medications to treat disease. The choice is yours.