The cost of the gluten-free diet got you down? In this post, I discuss 10 tips to eating gluten free on a budget. This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosures.
When times are tough, and it feels like the world is caving in, most of us start to tighten our wallets.
I feel the same pressure to cut back on my spending and focus on my needs vs. wants.
As a small business owner who depends on traffic and sponsorships to support my blog, the last few weeks have been devastating. My traffic has tanked, a few of my clients have pulled work for the foreseeable future, and some of the affiliate programs I’ve been working with are putting a temporary stop on all accounts.
I’m convinced more than ever that, going forward, the world will be and feel like a different place. We are going to remember March 2020 as a turning point for our nation, much like September 11th was a turning point in how Americans went about their day-to-day business.
This can feel like an even more financially challenging time for someone who eats gluten free because gluten-free foods already put a strain on your wallet.
In a study of 56 gluten-free labeled products in Canada, researchers found gluten-free products were 242 percent more expensive than regular products, and that all gluten-free products came at a higher price tag than comparable regular (non-GF) products.
British researchers found in a similar study that gluten-free groceries were between 76 and 518 percent more than their non-GF counterparts.
Even restaurants charge more for gluten-free food. One diner sued PF Chang’s for charging more money for gluten-free dishes (she later dropped the lawsuit).
Related Reading: 21 Struggles Only Gluten-Free People Will Understand
This is why when people say the gluten-free diet is just a fad, or gluten-free people are eating that way for attention, I have to tell them that no one likes to pay more for less food just for the fun of it.
Frugal Gluten Free Tips
If you’re like most of Americans, you are looking for ways to cut back on your spending, and naturally, saving money at the grocery store is at the top of your list.
Below are 10 ways I save money on gluten-free groceries, especially now as I am feeling the financial squeeze. I hope my honest tips will help you save money too.
(1) Take Stock of What You Have
Being gluten-free and frugal means taking stock of what you already have. My pantry is small, so old items easily get lost behind newer items as we try to stuff everything in there.
Organize your pantry and keep it organized, this way you know what you already have and don’t buy products you don’t need or can’t use up before the expiration date.
Just the other day I found a half eaten bag of pistachios in the dark crevices of my pantry. I shelled them and enjoyed them on top of my salad. (Even if a product is past expiry, so as long as it isn’t rancid, it might be safe to consume. Use your best judgement.)
Do the same in your freezer. My freezer has foods from many years ago that need to be enjoyed before they are replaced. Eat through what you have before buying more. You might find that you have enough food to last you a few weeks, if not a few months.
(2) Commit to No Waste
We’re starting to see that food may not always be readily plentiful in times of worldwide distress. While we’re not experiencing scarcity in our food supply (yet), now is a good reminder that we can ensure no food goes to waste.
To minimize food waste, make sure you consume everything you buy.
A good way to do that is, after grocery shopping, eat your fresh produce first. Here are some tips to do that:
- 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 and after writing this article it is inspiring me to pull it out of retirement. 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 a broth. After my family devours a rotisserie chicken, I save the carcass and bones (rinse them off, of course) and make a beautiful broth. Get my recipe here. Portion the broth into two cup containers and freeze.
(3) 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 crockpot with potatoes, beans, carrots, garlic, and onion. The stew has a wonderful meaty flavor, and we each get to enjoy a little bit of meat with our mostly vegetarian 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 has been consumed.
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 a multitude of recipes, they’re filling, and best of all, they come at a lower price tag than meat.
(4) Properly Store Gluten-Free Flour
If you like to bake, you’ll probably go through a package of flour quickly. But if you only bake periodically, store the flour into 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.
(5) Eat Cheap
While gluten-free speciality products, like boxed mac and cheese, packaged cookies and cereals, and gluten-free breads, absolutely cost more money, what doesn’t cost more are naturally gluten-free pantry staples such as rice, dried beans, potatoes, and canned goods.
Incorporate these naturally gluten-free pantry staples in your meals to feed your gluten-free family on a tight budget.
(6) Clip Coupons and Rebates
Believe it or not, coupons for gluten free products really do exist. You just have to know where to look as they are not typically found in the Sunday circular.
Coupons: Visit manufacturer sites directly to see if they have a current coupon available for printing. 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.
Related Article: Where to Find Gluten-Free Coupons and Deals
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.
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.
(7) Eat Out Less
I love eating out and have found that I can still eat out while eating gluten free. I even wrote the 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.
If you do want to continue to eat out, fast casual restaurants offer great, gluten-free options for take-out at a much lower price than a steakhouse. Places like Modern Market, Five Guys, and Zoe’s Kitchen will offer a safe gluten-meal without breaking the bank.
(8) 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. You can find my full list of gluten-free products spotted at Walmart in this article.
Trader Joe’s and Aldi also offer low prices on so many foods, including a huge selection of gluten-free products. If you’ve thumbed your nose to the these grocery chains in the past, give them a second look. You can’t use coupons and there are no discounts or deals, but their everyday low prices are sometimes too good to be true.
Also, take a lesson from the frugal shopper’s playbook by buying things when they’re on sale and stocking up. Store circulars will tell you if your favorite pasta or flour is on sale. Stock up on these non-perishable products when you can.
(9) Plan Your Meals
Planning your meals ahead of time is crucial if you’re looking to save money at the grocery store.
Related Article: 9 Meal Planning Tips for People with Celiac Disease
Dedicate a notebook to writing down what meals you’ll make for the week and only buy those ingredients when you shop (minus whatever you already have in your pantry).
If you need help with meal planning, consider downloading some of my beautifully designed dedicated gluten-free meal plans.
You’ll be able to shave hundreds of dollars off your grocery bill and eat out less when you stick to a meal plan.
(10) Buy In Season
Seasonal fruits and vegetables are cheapest and taste best when they are in season. I guess you could say that when supply exceeds demand, the price is ripe – er – right.
Here’s a quick summary of what fruits to buy in which season:
Winter: This is your 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 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 near you.
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.
Related Article: Easy Gluten-Free Peach Cobbler
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.
Please know that you are not alone in this tough situation… and I am optimistic we will get through it together and perhaps even come out better in the end.
Be well gluten-free friends. I’m hopeful that better days await us all.