Saving money on a gluten-free diet

I get e-mail updates from Nancy Lapid’s informative celiac disease site at about.com.  The site is partly blog, with comments enabled, and partly permanent articles. 

One recent article caught my eye, because it was about the link between alopecia areata and celiac disease.  My husband has alopecia, and has struggled with it for about seven years.  (With alopecia, the patient’s hair falls out in chunks, sometimes with entire-body hair loss.  My hubby’s is more of the spot/chunk variety, all on his scalp and face.)  Hmmm… 

Reading more, I saw that Nancy had an article on saving money while on a gluten-free diet.  I must say that all of her suggestions are great;  I personally do most of them.  

I have a few more to add to Nancy’s list:

  1. Instead of trying to find a gluten-free substitute for all of your “normal” gluten-containing foods (like bagels, hamburger buns, dinner rolls, pasta), simply eliminate them, or find a totally different, naturally gluten-free substitute.  In other words, if pasta salad is a regular staple in your diet, instead of buying expensive gluten-free pasta, substitute a fruit salad, bean salad, cucumber salad, or something similar.  Instead of bagels, use Tater Tots at breakfast.  Instead of sandwiches, try making bread-free pinwheels with lunchmeat, cream cheese and green onion, or something similar.  In my experience, the most expensive gluten-free items are the ones that are pre-packaged, copying a usually gluten-containing baked good.  So, if you can adjust your diet to simply not include them (or minimize their use), you’ll save a lot of money.
  2. If at all possible, find a local Asian grocery.  Depending on the selection of your local store, you will be able to find a wide variety of gluten-free flours and rice noodles of all varieties, for MUCH less than you’d find in a natural foods store, specialty store, or regular grocery.  I buy white rice flour and sweet rice flour (both at 69 cents a pound), tapioca starch and potato starch (both 39 cents to 59 cents per 12 oz package), sorghum flour (in the Indian section, usually sold as jawar or juwar flour, $2-3 for a 2 lb package), ALL sorts of rice noodles and rice spring roll wrappers (almost all of which are less than $1 for a pound), and whole grain rices in a wide variety at an inexpensive price (like brown sweet rice for $3 for a 3 lb package).  In addition, I buy a lot of produce at the Asian grocery.  I also recently got a tip from Michelle that bajri flour is actually millet flour, which is great for g.f. baking, so I’ll be looking for that on my next trip to the Asian grocery.  We have found that pasta sauce tastes just as good on 89 cent rice “vermicelli” from the Asian grocery as it does on $3.59 Tinkyada pasta from the normal grocery.  In fact, my husband likes it better.  Many American purchasers are hesitant, because these flours and pastas are not “certified” gluten-free, and usually made out-of-country.  However, I have never had a problem with any of the ingredients I’ve purchased from my Asian market.
  3. Speaking of Asian groceries, another way to save is to expand your cooking and baking skills by learning to make dishes from cultures that typically eat gluten-free.  Thai food is almost ALL gluten-free, so pick yourself up a cookbook, visit that Asian grocery store, and start experimenting.  Much of Indian cooking is also gluten-free;  many parts of India use sorghum and/or millet flour as a staple — it’s not all gluten-containing naan bread!  😀  Also, Indian cooking uses a lot of beans, like lentils, that you may not currently use regularly.  Buying inexpensive ingredients from an Asian grocer makes this a tasty, cheap way to eat.
  4. Instead of buying a lot of food online, search for what is available locally.  I am usually not really thrilled to live in a huge city, but it does have its advantages.  One of them is that there are so many local options available to me, that in 5.5 years of being gluten-free, I have NEVER purchased any g.f. ingredient online.  This saves shipping expenses, and keeps me from over-buying.
  5. Nancy, of course, suggests baking from scratch as much as possible.  I HIGHLY second this.  It saves SO much, and tastes much better.  Along this vein, I also suggest making your own baking mixes.  Gluten-free baking mixes are insanely expensive, typically $5-8 for a 2 lb bag or less.  Simply mixing up your own ahead of time will save time and money, and help you resist temptation when you see them on the store shelves.  I’m fond of many of Bette Hagman’s mixes, from any of her Gluten Free Gourmet cookbooks.  I’ve also made a number of my own mixes, after experimenting.
  6. Also, when you bake, bake extra!  Use the extra the next day, or stick it in the freezer.  For instance, last night I made g.f. hamburger buns from scratch, but made extra, so now we have buns for our lunch today.  Yum!  This is more of a time-saver than a money-saver.  But, I do find that the more proactive I am about baking and freezing, the less I am tempted to purchase those $5.99/4 Kinnikinnick hamburger buns, or the $4.99/6 mini-muffins in my grocer’s freezer, or that $3.29 package of Pamela’s cookies.
  7. Just like with normal grocery ingredients, shop the sales!  In my local natural foods store, where I get many of my gluten-free ingredients, there are probably 15 different gluten-free cold cereals.  I have my preferences, but they’re not always on sale.  I just wait until they go on sale, and content myself in the meantime with my not-favorites that are on sale.  I also do similarly with “regular” gluten-free cereals, like Post Cocoa Pebbles, General Mills new gluten-free Rice Chex, and Dora the Explorer cereal.  Additionally, I can very often use coupons from the Sunday paper on those cereals, saving even more.
  8. If there are gluten-free products you really like, but can’t regularly afford, call the 1-800 phone number of the manufacturer, and ask if they have any coupons they can mail out.  I have done this many times, and usually get $5-10 worth of coupons.
  9. Shop around!  I spread my grocery shopping through about six stores, though I typically go to only one or two per shopping trip.  Depending on what I need, I have found that different stores offer completely different products, and have different kinds of deals.
  10. Read labels, comparing similar products!  If you’ve been gluten-free for even two days, you probably realize that you have to be an expert label-reader.  I have noticed that even my local Kroger-affiliate, Fry’s Grocery Store, has store brand products that are now labelled as being gluten-free.  It’s a lot cheaper to buy Fry’s “tater nuggets” at usually $1.99 per package, than it is to buy Ore Ida Tater Tots at $3.49/package.  More and more “regular” grocery products, from salsa (duh!) to potato chips to frozen turkeys, are now being voluntarily labelled as gluten-free.  For instance, Lay’s Stax are gluten-free (and even labelled as such), while Pringles — a very similar product — are not, as they contain wheat starch.
  11. If at all possible, find a local gluten-free friend.  You can pool your information, and help each other.   Many cities have support groups where you can find people (and other resources) to help you live gluten-free without going broke.  In the Phoenix area, check out www.phoenixceliac.com

That’s all I can think of for now!

Read Nancy’s list, too, and if you have any to add to her list and mine, please comment!!!!          

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on April 30, 2008, in Celiac Disease, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Encouragement, gluten-free, Gluten-Free and Food Allergy Resources, Shopping. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. another non-bread sandwich idea…lettuce leaves for the ‘bread.’ roll up some roast beast, tomatoes and canola mayo…YUM!! wrap it in plastic wrap for easy travel.

  2. You’re right, Amy. Good idea. “Roast beast.” You’re funny. Dr. Seuss fan, are you? Your idea is GFCF, too — although we do our dairy-free kids’ pinwheels with Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese, although since that’s expensive, I didn’t think I would mention it, since the post was all about saving $$. 🙂

  3. I have had bad experiences with foods from Asian markets. They seem like they should be gluten free … like a bag of potato starch that listed the ingredients as “potato starch” … but may not be! I stick with brands that I know are gluten free, but I only find that out by trial and ERROR.

  4. We are going to go gluten-free. I think it will help my son who has asperger type symptoms. My mom owns a grinder which will grind hard beans (like soybeans, etc.) and all manner of grains and rices. I am excited to start and will be checking your site often.
    I have another friend who just started this journey also and I referred her to this site also.
    Thanks for those tips. We have a HUGE asian market close that I will be visiting on a regular basis now.

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