21 Delicious Ways to Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget

Photo (cc) by heylovedesigns

If you have tried going gluten-free or cooking for someone who needs to eat food without gluten, you probably know that this diet can be seriously unhealthy for your budget.

However, as I learned after switching to a gluten-free diet 12 years ago, spending wads of money just isn’t necessary to avoid foods with that protein, which for some people can cause health problems.

I’ve gleaned these 21 tips from my experience and that of others, including gluten-free author-bloggers Annalise Roberts (The Food Philosopher) and Nicole Hunn (Gluten-Free on a Shoestring):

1. Accept it: Your world has changed

Gluten-free eating becomes easy when you accept there’s really no substitute for wheat. Just let it go. Store-bought gluten-free baked goods aren’t just expensive, they’re also:

  • Disappointing. It’s crushing to spend $15 on a pie “that tastes like gravel,” says Roberts, author of several acclaimed gluten-free baking books. A few local artisan bakeries are setting the bar higher these days, but “not bad” is still high praise for most store-bought gluten-free products.
  • Fattening. Fat, sugar, eggs and salt are used to pump up the blandness of rice flour, a primary ingredient in baked goods.
  • Prone to go stale fast. These baked goods dry out much more quickly than wheat-based foods.

2. Embrace new habits

Stop trying to replace all the bread, bagels, muffins and cookies you used to eat. Make bread and cookies occasional treats. Eat burgers and sausages without a bun. Switch to open-faced sandwiches, lettuce wraps and crackers. Enjoy dips, hummus and peanut butter with vegetables and fruits. Cornbread (read the labels on mixes) is a quick, easy bread substitute.

3. Cut back on restaurants and takeout

Eating at home saves tons of money and reduces your chances of accidental gluten poisoning. I once got ill from a chicken dish the waitress had assured me contained no wheat. I later found out that she’d known the dish had flour, but she hadn’t realized that flour (typically) is wheat.

4. Cook from scratch

Most rules for budget eating apply, with gluten or without. Cooking from scratch is one of those rules. It eliminates the premium on restaurant and takeout food. Author Mark Bittman’s soup tutorial is a thrifty, easy way to start (omit the croutons and bread). Our creamy polenta is another good starter dish. The Web and public libraries have loads of recipes and guidance.

Start gradually. Personal finance expert Donna Freeman advises cooking just twice a week at first, making the meals “big ones so you’ll have leftovers to carry to work.”

5. Freeze

After a day — or maybe two — wrap fresh gluten-free baked goods tightly in plastic and foil and store in the freezer so they won’t dry out. Slice breads before freezing so you can thaw slices separately. Roberts told me in an interview that she microwaves frozen slices for 6 to 8 seconds before popping them into the toaster.

Gluten-free flours have a short shelf life, so buy in small quantities or keep out enough for four or five months and freeze the rest.

6. Use whole ingredients

The biggest expense in a gluten-free diet is the cost of specially processed foods. Fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, beans, rice, quinoa and corn are naturally gluten-free, are healthier and cheaper than processed foods, and help you avoid products with hidden gluten.

7. Bake

From Roberts’ “Gluten-Free Baking Classics,” I’ve produced cakes, cookies, muffins and scones far better than store or bakery products and usually indistinguishable from wheat-based goodies. Oh, and they cost a fraction of store prices.

I haven’t tried much bread-making, but with the right recipes it’s not difficult, Roberts says. “Gluten-Free on a Shoestring” shares top 10 secrets to bread-making.

8. Find your favorite flour blend

Most gluten-free baking requires a balance of several flours (grain, bean and legume), starches (potato, tapioca, corn and arrowroot), and gums (guar gum and xanthan gum). To bake bread, you’ll use different blends (known as flour mixes) from those used for cakes and cookies.

Popular flour blends are made by King Arthur, Authentic Foods, Cup4Cup, Better Baking and Bob’s Red Mill.

While you can substitute rice flour for wheat in a few recipes, you won’t find a single flour or blend that works dependably as a “cup-for-cup” substitute for wheat flour, says Roberts. Hunn blogs here about the problem.

Each grain, each company’s milling techniques and each flour blend absorb moisture differently, creating divergent results. Roberts says you should find a bread flour mix and pastry flour mix you like and stick with them for dependable results.

9. Make your own flour blends

Cut costs even further by blending your own flour mixes. It’s easy. Hunn, author of the “Gluten-Free on a Shoestring” books, also tests and reviews commercial flour blends. She’s even developed formulas for replicating two commercial blends.

Roberts shares recipes for her homemade flour blends here.

10. Use gluten-free-tested recipes

Use recipes developed for the flour blend you’re using, Roberts says. Milling companies offer plenty of tested recipes on their packaging and websites. When following recipes developed by cookbook authors or bloggers, use the flour blends they recommend.

11. Stockpile

I’ve splurged and spent $7 a couple of times on awesome gluten-free crackers (Raincoast Oat Crisps). But for daily consumption, I stock up on my favorite cheaper grocery store brands when I find low prices.

12. Use sales and coupons

Some of my favorite gluten-free foods are on sale frequently. I use grocery store coupons or download coupons from manufacturers’ sites to compound the savings.

13. Shun specialty stores

High-end grocers charge high prices, and they excel at tempting shoppers into making pricey impulse buys. Budget shopping is simpler at a regular grocery store. Bring your list and stick to it. Here’s About.com’s celiac grocery list.

14. Avoid inside aisles

The perimeters of grocery stores are the places to find unadulterated whole foods. Just be sure to read labels — especially on processed meats. Aside from canned and frozen vegetables and fruit, inside aisles contain mostly expensive mixes, junk food and packaged products.

15. Raid your cupboards

Making meals with food in your pantry and fridge will keep you out of stores. Get inspiration and recipes at Cook With What You Have.

16. Make stock

Save vegetable peels in an airtight bag in the freezer to make flavorful stocks to use in soups and other dishes. Here is Ina Garten’s (no-gluten) chicken stock recipe.

17. Cook ahead

When cooking soups, stews and casseroles, make plenty. Then, eat some and freeze the rest. Hunn’s “Gluten-Free on a Shoestring” suggests quick weekday meals using basics like the gluten-free pizza dough, pasta dough, stocks and black beans she makes on weekends. (The book has recipes.)

Once a month, Hunn makes and freezes uncooked macaroni and cheese, cookie dough, potato gnocchi, biscuits and rolls.

18. Go online

About.com suggests comparing prices online. Doing so helps you recognize a good price when you see one in a store, and buying online may even be cheaper. (Remember to include shipping costs.)

19. Don’t buy for the whole family

Many gluten-free guides suggest taking your entire family gluten-free. That’s up to you. But if you do, limit the expensive store-bought gluten-free items to those family members who actually need them.

20. Collect favorite books and blogs

Going gluten-free is a bit research-intensive at first. But identifying your favorite sources for tips and recipes saves you time later.

21. Use your stale bread

With ingredients this expensive, you can’t afford to throw out food. Use stale bread and crackers and baking goods to make bread crumbs, croutons, strata, meat loaf and meatballs. About.com has more tips for using stale gluten-free bread.

Do you have any tips for making a gluten-free life easier? Share them in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2020
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2020

Follow these tips to save — so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

20 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money
20 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money

From your closet to the beach, the trash you find may be someone else’s treasure.

7 Reasons Not to Move When You Retire
7 Reasons Not to Move When You Retire

Sunny skies and warm breezes sound great. But in reality, you might be better off retiring closer to home.

Grow Your Savings in 2020 With These 5 Tricks
Grow Your Savings in 2020 With These 5 Tricks

Saving money doesn’t have to be painful. Here are some ways to game yourself into stashing more cash.

11 Small Money Moves That Will Make a Big Difference
11 Small Money Moves That Will Make a Big Difference

These small money moves will pay off big in the long run.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.