I get a lot of questions about this topic. Gluten free meals can be quite costly, and many people who are newly diagnosed don’t know how to get around it. Unfortunately, part of being gluten free means that you will have to cook a lot more. This can mean that you need to try new foods, or even new cooking methods. The reason for this isn’t just for monetary reasons, but for health reasons. Usually people who cannot eat gluten have related health issues, such as inflammation, vitamin deficiency, or other chronic conditions. All of these can be healed with a balanced diet.
I never advise people to shop for a month- but sometimes they live far away from gluten free food availability. Therefore, its important to create a plan in this situation, possibly for the entire month, until you can anticipate what your family needs are. I advise in that instance to shop for non-perishables on the long distance trip, and then make weekly trips for produce to the local market or farmer’s market.
Here is how we budget for our family.
First, make a list of meals you want to have for the week and examine the holes. Are you filling breakfast time with cold cereal? Are you forgetting to budget snacks? Are you relying too heavily on leftovers? Remember that if you’re going to plan for leftovers, you need to plan for the correct amount. For one week’s time, I typically plan 10 meals for lunch and dinner (which you see includes leftovers), and plan breakfast by budgeting in oatmeal or porridge, or the items to make muffins or waffles, and about 4 different snack items that aren’t fruit or vegetables. Here is what that might look like:
Meals: Not chicken pot pie (we like ours over rice), chili and cornbread, stir fry (frozen stir fry mix is great too), spaghetti with chickpeas, minestrone (sans cheese), tacos (you can make these in plain corn tortillas), miso and mochi (or rice), baked potatoes with broccoli (we make our own cheesy sauce using this recipe), beans and rice with corn, and black bean burgers with a side of steamed veges.
Breakfast: Blueberry muffins (replace strawberries in this recipe), oatmeal with raisins, Bob’s Redmill Mighty Hot and Tasty hot cereal
Snacks: Pretzels, popcorn for the air popper, rice cakes
How did I come up with this?
- I broke down my starches. Since pasta only feeds about 4 servings per bag and costs a lot, having it more than twice a week is too costly. Heavy reliance should be on potatoes, homemade breads, rice, gf oats, and other gluten free grains like quinoa, sorghum, and amaranth.
- I replaced meat protein with beans. They’re cheaper, literally costing a dollar a pound, and easily soaked and cooked. One pound of dry beans makes 4 pints of cooked beans, which can be frozen in mason jars. Mushrooms also pack a punch, and portabella caps can replace steaks- they’re fun to grill, great in wrap sandwiches, and are great in soups.
- I use veges that can be bought frozen because they are cheaper, or home canned veges. For tomato dishes, canned organic tomatoes can be bought for a reasonable price compared to most other canned veges.
- I plan meals that will make enough to freeze a couple extra servings (like chili), for days when I run out of time.
- A lot of the components to make things (like rice or miso) will stretch into other weeks to make other meals from a single purchase (ie a 5lb bag of rice or oats, large tub of miso, etc.).
- I have appliances that help me save money. We have an air popper and a yogurt maker, crock pot, dehydrator, and toaster oven. Air-popping organic popcorn is $2.99/lb when it’s not on sale, which equates to way more than you can get out of store bough micro-popcorn, and yogurt can be made from organic soy milk for $1.50/quart.
- I don’t rely on sandwiches. The components of sandwiches are not often healthy, filling, or cost efficient. In the event the children have peanut butter sandwiches, it’s usually a snack, with homemade jam. For homemade lunches, we get a thermos.
- Our non-fruit/veg snack choices that aren’t yogurt (pretzels, etc.) are rationed to a serving a day and are inexpensive choices. Be creative with snacks- hummus is made easily in a food processor with home-cooked chickpeas, and pb goes great on apples and celery.
- Stop all-day grazing. Children should be filling up on meals, with only one snack in-between.
- Experiment with soup making. Asian rice sticks (which are super cheap) go in everything, and soups can be jazzed up with interesting things like leeks, tamari, kelp flakes, and spice blends.
Second, evaluate your fruit needs. By evaluating the above list, one can deduce that blueberries are necessary, but snack needs will demand at least 2 servings of fruit per person per day. The cheapest fruits on the market will always be bananas and whatever fruit is in season. Things like single serving fruit cups and pre-made applesauce are no-no’s. Canning/food preservation can be crucial in this instance, in which freezing fruit properly in season or canning it (like applesauce) can save a LOT of money. So start now. A fruit list might look like this:
Fruit: 20 bananas, 3lbs cherries/grapes on sale, frozen blueberries
Third, I set time aside once or twice a week to bake staples like bread or muffins. We use english muffins as bread, buns, pizza, and snacks. I use this recipe by substituting the eggs with flax meal eggs (2T flax meal and 6T boiling water mixed in a separate bowl and set for 5min), using soy milk, and substituting the oil with applesauce. They’re very versatile, take 30min start to finish, and can be made in wide-mouth canning jar lids, which are cheaper than english muffin tins. In times when it is hard to do this, you can take a half hour or so to make the flour mixes in jars ahead of time, in which wet ingredients can be mixed in later.
Fourth, I buy in bulk with things I know for sure I’ll use. Items include frozen veges, oats, flours, maple syrup, sugar, beans, nutritional yeast, rice, potatoes, apples and carrots (cold cellar items).
Fifth, I don’t buy luxury items unless it’s a special occasion. Our family doesn’t drink things like juice or soda, as I’ve mentioned before. Rather, we drink water or herbal teas. My small child drinks soy milk once a day. Non-dairy milks can be made by hand, but drinking milks are major calorie bombs and appetite killers. We make homemade popsicles, and for casual “ice cream” consumption on hot days, I get creative and put frozen bananas in the food processor with flavorings (cinnamon and vanilla, peanut butter and chocolate, or strawberries), and mix in some milk to make soft serve. I specifically refrain from eating chips, but have been known to buy them on sale. A lot of folks ask about fruit snacks, which to me, are essentially candy. It is much healthier to dip fruits in homemade yogurt and freeze them, or encourage the children to prepare their own fruit and experiment drying them in a dehydrator (homemade fruit leather anyone?). Don’t give in to the fancy gluten free foods- alphabet fries might seem cute, but sliced up potatoes hit with a little organic pam, sea salt, and garlic powder will be just as delicious and healthier.