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Cost-Saving Tips for Gluten-Free Shopping and Food Prep

Is the cost of gluten-free goods getting you down? If so, you’re not alone.

Food cost is a top concern for people eating gluten-free as gluten-free substitutes tend to be pricier than their gluten-containing counterparts. Research shows that the cost of the gluten-free foods is 183% more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts. You could avoid gluten-free versions of traditionally gluten-containing items like bread and pizza, but leaving out these foods altogether makes it harder to stick to a gluten-free diet. While certain gluten-free foods may be pricier, there are things you can do to reduce grocery costs overall when you’re living gluten-free.

Before diving into tips for cutting costs, let’s step back and acknowledge other key factors, in addition to cost, that generally influence the foods you choose when shopping:

Taste/Satisfaction: We tend to buy foods we like to eat. Eating less of the foods you like could lead to cravings and making less healthy food choices. Enjoying your food is important to your overall well-being, and helps you stick with eating gluten-free.

Convenience: Foods that are processed — frozen meals, packaged mixes, or even pre-prepped produce — can make putting food on the table more convenient, especially if you have a busy schedule or are unable to cook.

Health: Our health can dictate the food choices we make as we walk up and down the grocery style aisles. Whether you have diabetes, high cholesterol, or celiac disease, there may be foods you are better off selecting and others you should probably avoid.

Culture: You may be buying foods that fit your cultural upbringing or religious beliefs.

No matter the reasons why you choose the foods you do, it is important to realize that there are many factors that affect how you shop, and some can be expensive. Balancing these factors, along with your budget, can be overwhelming. We're here to help.

Gluten-Free Living Cost Cutting Tips

With the goal of putting food on the table that’s satisfying and tasty, convenient, healthy, and culturally familiar, let’s move on to tips for saving:

  • Don’t waste. When it comes to cost, we immediately focus on price tags. Another important way to save money is to minimize waste. Research has found that, on average, approximately 30% of food is wasted in the U.S. alone. That’s a lot of food and a lot of money. Reduce waste by re-purposing ingredients and using perishable items before they go bad.

  • Plan meals. Plan your meals, even loosely, for about a week at a time. Whether you put things together based on knowledge and experience or cook by a recipe, write down your meal ideas for the week to be more strategic about the food items you buy.

    • Group meals by ingredients. Plan a few meals per week that use some of the same basic ingredients in different ways to reduce food waste, save money, and make things simpler. What does this look like? Start with a roast chicken; then plan for a meal of chicken tacos; and finally, make a soup from the leftover bits and bones.

    • Use fresh produce with a longer shelf-life. Incorporate longer-lasting produce into your meal plan, like sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and onion, to give yourself more leeway on when you need to use them up. Plus, this allows you to buy in bulk at a better per unit price.

    • Freeze meals for later. When you have the freezer space, plan a meal or two each week that freezes well. Make a double batch, and freeze one or two meal-size containers for future use. When you don’t feel like cooking and are tempted to order in, turn instead to your own freezer supply. Freezing pre-cooked meals saves both money and energy.

    • Add beans where you can. Include beans and/or lentils in your weekly meal plans. Beans are one of the most budget-friendly and nutritious additions to any meal. Cook a batch of beans, and use them in different ways throughout the week: in chili, in soup, added cold to a salad at lunch — get creative! Cooked beans freeze well, too.

  • Think “out of the box.” Think about new approaches to eating gluten-free by trying different cuisines and making clever substitutes when you can.

    • Try new foods and dishes. Explore ethnic cuisines and dishes like lentils with Indian spices or Latin American-style beans and rice. Foods from different cultures can offer delicious, nutritious, and less costly possibilities. Look for authentic recipes online.

    • Make healthy swaps. Instead of always turning to pricier gluten-free substitutes for traditional gluten-containing items, make some healthy swaps instead:

      • Slices of cucumber in place of crackers with cheese.

      • Spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini with your favorite pasta sauce. (Consider making a big batch of homemade sauce and freeze what you don’t need.)

      • Polenta in place of lasagna noodles or pizza crust.

      • Romaine lettuce leaves wrapped around your favorite sandwich fillings.

  • Make lists. Based on your general meal plan, make a list. Check on what pantry staples you either have or need, then make your detailed shopping list. Organize your list according to the basic layout of the store where you shop, instead of by recipe:

    • vegetables and fruits

    • meats/fish

    • dairy

    • shelf-stable pantry items

List-making will not only make your shopping more efficient, but will also minimize the possibility of making pricier impulse purchases. Be a little flexible once you get to the store to take advantage of sales and specials, or to modify meal plans if something is out of stock.

  • Assess your space. Double check your fridge and freezer space before you shop. When items you regularly use are on sale, particularly ones that freeze well like certain kinds of fruits and veggies, meat, and gluten-free bread, it makes sense to stock up as long as you have room in your freezer and budget. Write the date you put items into your freezer, and try to use older items first.

  • Take advantage of coupons. Watch for, and use, coupons on specialty gluten-free items. Stock up on shelf-stable items you regularly use when they’re on sale.

  • Don’t shop hungry. Avoid shopping on an empty stomach. When your appetite is talking, you’re more likely to end up with additional – and often pricier – items in your cart.

  • Cut it yourself. Some pre-prepared and pre-cut foods are more expensive than doing it yourself. For example, buying pre-cut fruit in a container is pricier than buying the entire watermelon or pineapple and cutting it at home. Buying ground beef and seasoning it at home is cheaper than buying the pre-shaped and seasoned meat products. If the idea of doing extra prep work seems daunting, break up the tasks when you have a few spare minutes. Managing food prep in bits and pieces feels less of a chore and makes dinner prep in the evening simpler and quicker.

  • Pick less packaging. Often, the less packaged and processed a food is, the lower the cost. Of course, be sure to double check the prices with any item you’re buying. A few examples include

    • Cheese. Instead of sliced packaged cheese, save money by slicing blocks of cheese yourself. Parmesan or other types of cheese that are typically grated are usually more expensive than a whole wedge or piece. Buy the whole piece, grate it up yourself, and freeze portions for future use.

    • Yogurt. Choose a larger container instead of smaller, single-serve ones. Buy plain yogurt and then flavor each serving as desired with fresh, frozen, or dried fruits and top with nuts. Making your own yogurt can be pretty easy – and cost-saving – as well.

    • Loose Produce. Instead of buying packaged produce, pick what you need for each week from vegetable bins for foods like carrots, green beans, mushrooms, and other similar foods.

  • Freeze DIY desserts. If members of your household like to have a little dessert now and then, make a batch of your favorite gluten-free cookie dough, and bake enough for a couple of desserts. Form the rest of the dough into balls and freeze. When you’re craving something sweet, thaw out a few and bake them up. Freezing dough is less costly than buying packaged treats and usually tastier, too.

With a little bit of creativity and some care, you can shop for, and prepare, tasty and healthy gluten-free foods without breaking the bank.

Here are some tips when shopping for produce:

  • Buy seasonal. In season is usually, but not always, cheaper, and generally more flavorful.

  • Strategically select produce. On items that can get too ripe, choose carefully. Don’t get a huge bunch of bananas, for example, that will all ripen at the same time. Split up bunches so they’ll ripen at different times.

  • Know what you need. Don’t buy more perishable items than you’ll be able to use before they go bad. Including some frozen or canned produce can be helpful because they’ll last longer.

Here are some tips when shopping for meats:

  • Buy cheaper cuts. Cheaper cuts of meat may be tougher, but you can tenderize them and get delicious results by cooking slowly at low temperatures, physically tenderizing them with a meat tenderizer, marinating them, or cooking them in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

  • Reduce portion size. Think of meats as being an add-in or “side” dish to your meal rather than the main component. This approach is generally recommended for health reasons in addition to lowering your grocery bill.

DIY HERB TIP: How many times have you bought a bunch of parsley or cilantro just to use a small fraction of it before it went bad? Why not try growing your own! That way, you’ve got a ready supply for taking a pinch whenever you need it. Plant a small herb garden either outdoors or in your kitchen. Fresh herbs are delicious and healthy, too.

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