Many people are making the switch to a gluten-free diet due to food allergies, sensitivities or dietary preferences. Luckily, shopping for gluten-free food has become easier and is less expensive than it was five years ago, but it can still add up. Here are some tips about how to keep your food budget reasonable while eating gluten-free.
Focus on naturally gluten-free foods and buy them on sale.
Meats, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, nut butters, potatoes, beans, rice, quinoa, corn, vegetables and fruit are all naturally gluten free before processing. While you should always check the ingredients on any packaged food, this also includes most corn tortillas, tortilla chips, salsa, yogurt, potato chips (check flavoring), rice pasta and ice cream (with safe add-ins). While oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often found to be contaminated during processing, so you may need to buy specific gluten-free oats if you have an allergy or have reactions to regular oats. Stock up on these basics when they are on sale.
Read product labels.
Since you probably are going to want to eat packaged or processed food sometimes, you need to learn to read labels. Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley and barley malt. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that the eight top allergens are listed on labels for all food that is regulated by the FDA. To quickly read a product label, first look for the “contains” statement that will list any of the common allergens if they are present in the product. This is usually toward the bottom of the back label, under the list of ingredients. For example, it may say “Contains: dairy, soy, wheat, peanuts.” This method isn’t fail-proof, because while barley malt contains gluten, it isn’t one of the top allergens, so it won’t be listed in the “contains” statement. I use the statement as a means of elimination: If it contains wheat, I put the product back without reading the ingredients. If wheat isn’t listed as an allergen, I scan the ingredients to make sure barley, barley malt or another forms of gluten aren’t listed.
Shop in the regular aisles versus the gluten-free aisles.
You pay more for condiments, dressings, and sauces if you shop in the specialty section for gluten-free brands. Popular food brands realize that the market for gluten-free foods is growing and some will specifically state “gluten free” on the label. Many national or store brand condiments, dressings and sauces are gluten free. For example, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce is gluten free, as well as many Kraft dressings and barbecue sauces. Since these are national brands, coupons may be available and the products are more likely to be on sale. Be sure to read the ingredients every time you purchase the item, as formulas can change.
If you are highly sensitive to gluten, you may need to purchase processed items from companies that only make gluten-free foods, so there is no chance of cross-contamination in processing. However, most people with wheat senstivities are fine as long as the individual product doesn’t contain gluten.
Seek out coupons for gluten-free brands.
Go to websites for gluten-free brands and sign up for newsletters and coupons. Some companies will send coupons if you write or email them to compliment their products or simply ask if any coupons are available.
Make bread and baking items yourself, or buy them only on occasion.
Gluten-free breads and baked goods can be very expensive, have texture issues and questionable nutritional stats. To keep costs down, skip those items, eat them very rarely or make your own.
- Bread: I don’t find the effort to make it or the expense to buy it worthy, so I usually skip it. When I see gluten-free bread on sale, I’ll buy it and freeze it for occasional use. Learn to roll up your sandwiches in corn tortillas, spring roll wrappers, lettuce leaves or potato skins, or just serve fillings like pulled pork or sloppy joes in a pile on a plate. Gluten-free Wonder Buns are easy to microwave individually and are perfect for summer cookouts if you really want your burger on a bun.
- Baked goods: Cookies and brownies are easy to make and much cheaper than store-bought varieties, and quite a few don’t require expensive gluten-free flour blends. I buy an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix and skip recipes that require mixing different types of flour. Get a couple of gluten-free cookbooks from the library and follow gluten-free bloggers for other recipes. My favorites are these three gluten-free sweets recipes that use only simple ingredients and no flour.
- Baking mixes: If you don’t want to bake from scratch, figure out which baking mixes are worth the money. Sometimes I make cake or cupcakes from scratch; other times I’ll use a mix that I bought on sale. Pancakes are simple enough to mix up from scratch, but I usually keep a box of the gluten-free all purpose baking mix on hand in case I’m feeling lazy. Good gluten-free pizza is hard to find and expensive. We make pizzas using Bob’s Red Mill Pizza Crust Mix or Chebe Pizza Crust Mix. The mixes usually equal out less than $3 per pizza, which is cheap compared to restaurant or take-and-bake gluten-free pizzas. We cook ours on the grill, but they are good made in the oven as well. Both of these mixes make a chewy crust instead of the cracker crust that is so common when dining out or with frozen pizzas.
Switch your drink.
If you imbibe, beer is out. Gluten-free beers and ciders exist, but they tend to be more expensive, are higher in calories and lack a real beer flavor. My drinks of choice have become wine, vodka and soda and the occasional margarita.
Shop at specialty and discount stores.
Specialty grocers, like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and health food stores offer a wide variety of gluten-free goods and may have special deals, like case discounts. Some stores even list all gluten-free products online to help you choose safe foods. Discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s often offer gluten-free goods at reduced prices. Aldi also offers a line of gluten-free products that are cheaper than brand name gluten free mixes.
I tend to find the best deals for gluten-free packaged food and mixes online and stock up when I find discounts on products that I love. I comparison-shop between the following sites to find the best deals.
- Amazon has a gluten-free store that offers subscribe and save, sales and manager’s specials.
- Nuts offers gluten-free baking mixes and flours that you can buy in one pound packages or in bulk to save money.
- Vitacost also offers a wide variety of gluten-free goods, specials, and Set and Save pricing on certain items. (receive $10 off your first $30 purchase with this link)
- Soap has a lot of gluten-free items and offers sales and free shipping over $35. Use referral code cbuscheap to get 20 percent off your first order.
Eating gluten free doesn’t have to wreck your grocery budget, but you may need to adjust how and where you shop to keep things affordable. You’ll save more money if you’re willing to eat mostly whole foods, bake from scratch and employ careful shopping habits.