Gluten Free Eating and Cooking On A Budget: Solutions For Eating Well At Home and On The Go

A lot of people are living gluten-free. I know that some people are skeptical about the whole gluten thing. I am not sure if it is the gluten. Wheat is a lot different than it used to be. I loved to eat the stuff, but I had to start trying to figure out why I was having such terrible stomach pains keeping me up at night. I was concerned I had an ulcer or something like that. It is not the first time that I had to stop eating something I enjoyed. Liquid milk and other uncultured dairy products was a tough one. After a few days of not eating wheat, it was pretty clear that I was not having the issue anymore. It was easier to lose weight too.

Gluten-free is not an inexpensive way to eat

The one problem is that gluten-free is not the cheapest way to eat. The ingredients used are more expensive to produce and for awhile not that many people were consuming them all the time. Gluten-free has got to be a little less costly due to a lot of store brands coming on the market. I wanted to share with you some of the ways I have discovered to eat gluten-free without spending a fortune.

You need to learn how to bake your breads and crackers

Premade loaves of bread that are gluten free cost a lot and the selection is very limited unless you go to a fancy bakery or specialty store. $5-$7 for a loaf is a lot. Gluten-free baking is not as hard as you might think. I recommend getting some premade mixes like those listed below. They helped me gain confidence when I had to learn to bake again in my mid-30s! Sure they are not much cheaper than buying loaves, but they taste better because they are fresh and allow you to learn without having to stress about every little detail.

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I love this stuff because it performs like regular flour in recipes. It can be a bit expensive especially if you are used to conventional wheat flour. I try to find online coupons from Vitacost to buy it in multiple smaller packages. I recently found it on Amazon in a 25 lb bag. It is not the least expensive gluten-free flour, but I have to say when you are trying to mimic a favorite recipe and want a good texture there is no better than I have found. It is still a lot cheaper than relying on pre-made baked goods that lack good flavor.

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If you get this set up on Subscribe and Save, you can get it for under $2 per lb. Even without the 15% savings, it is the best deal out there, and it performs well in recipes although I am not as big a fan of this flour as Bob’s Red Mill. Pamela’s is fine for pie crusts, crackers, dumplings, etc. but at the moment I don’t do as well with bread loaves when using this as I do the Bob’s. I think this is mostly my fault for just not experimenting with it enough so far.

Look for store brand gluten-free mixes

With so many people being forced to give up wheat or just doing it voluntarily, a lot of stores have started carrying their brand of gluten-free mixes for baking. Matt and I have found that the Ingles brand Laura Lynn Gluten Free Pancake and Baking Mix is good. If you love desserts like cookies, I recommend trying some of the generic gluten-free mixes for good results when you are just starting out learning how to bake or learning the art of cooking gluten-free.

Learn to love corn chips

I eat more tortilla chips than I used to because I can get organic ones for $2.20 at my local grocery store. They are good for putting on salads, snacking, nachos, or used in place of a lot of things you would use a cracker for.

Tips For Eating Out

Mexican restaurants are a great way to deal with eating out

You can always ask for corn tortillas at a Mexican restaurant if most of the entrees come with flour. We don’t eat out much, but Mexican food is always a winner.

Look at appetizers and a la carte items on the menu and create your plate

Order salads if you must eat at fast food restaurants

I don’t eat at fast food restaurants myself, but there are salad options and fruit and yogurt cups at many of them. French fries are gluten free too. The menu options for those on gluten-free diets are minimal at fast food restaurants so you may find that you avoid them more after going gluten-free.

Find creative combinations of meat and vegetables

It is easier for me to maintain a better weight eating a lot of protein and veggies. People can try to say that eating too much meat is wrong, but there is a big difference between some meats. Grass-fed meat is better for you overall.

A chicken and veggies in a crockpot can be done for under $10, and it will feed four people easily. Today Matt and I are making a big pot of beef soup using a soup bone and a bunch of veggies.

Less expensive cuts of beef can be made tender and delicious by marinating and cooking slowly. The crock pot slow cooker is your friend. I sometimes make our own corned beef. To see how I do it, please check out my post “How To Cure & Preserve Your Own Corned Beef”. Beef brisket is the traditional cut used but it is possible to make corned beef with other cuts too.

Store delis offer a lot of options

I know that some people live in areas without exceptional grocery stores, but if you have one with a deli, then you should take a look at what they got there. We have Ingles Markets in my area, and they have a huge salad bar, cold cuts and cheeses, pickles, hard-boiled eggs, sandwich spreads, and sushi. They even have house-made gelato, but I can’t partake in that because of the uncultured dairy.

Cornstarch makes an excellent thickener, or you can even use Garbanzo Bean Flour!

All you need to do is mix some cold water and cornstarch or garbanzo bean flour and add to your favorite soups, stews, or gravy. Cornstarch is excellent for using to coat items to deep fry. We discovered a recipe online for frying very fresh oyster mushrooms in strips. They taste almost like calamari, or it at least makes a great replacement.

Egg substitute powder reduces calories and helps cut the cost of baking

Gluten-free baking often calls for a lot of eggs for binder and texture. You can use egg substitute powder. Bob’s Red Mill is the brand that I am most familiar with, and it is very reasonably priced. I believe a single bag is equal to 36 eggs and it fits in a very small space.

You may also want to consider starting in on that chicken tractor project you have been thinking about! I know that we are glad we started a new flock of chickens out on our place.

Buy a big container of Xanthum Gum for baking from scratch

Xanthum gum is a common thickening agent in canned foods. If baking gluten free from scratch, you need to have some of this on hand. A lot of recipes call for the addition of a small amount so do yourself a favor and buy 1/2 lb or more. It keeps well, and a little goes a long way!

Don’t make more than you need for a few days

This sounds a little like nagging, but it can be hard to not waste food, especially when you are only cooking for 1-2 people. When you have to be on a more expensive diet, waste can take a bigger chunk out of your budget. Don’t beat yourself up over a little waste when you are changing such a big part of your life but do take steps to improve efficiency!

Also, keep in mind that learning how to deal with leftovers helps out a lot. I am fine with cooking a meal and eating the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day, but there are some dishes that are not as tasty if reheated or if not consumed quickly. Sushi seems to get pretty mushy if you leave it in the fridge overnight for example but I eat it anyway, and it is still pretty good.

Create your soups and save money on processed foods

There are plenty of soups that have no gluten in them, but if you like soups that usually have pasta as an ingredient, I advise using the following ingredients list to make your soup in a hurry.

  • Gluten-free elbow macaroni
  • V-8 or other vegetable juice
  • Frozen, canned, or dried mixed vegetables. I prefer the frozen organic Cascadian Farm because they are the perfect size pieces, so there is no prep. They are about $2.50 for a whole pound in my area, and that will make a pot of soup big enough for a family, or you can get a bunch of meals out of it for a single person or couple.
  • Meat or vegetable broth
  • Your favorite canned or frozen meat.
  • Canned beans. I throw a can of kidney beans in a big pot of soup to add some protein.
  • Powdered or liquid milk
  • Mashed potato flakes
  • Cornstarch, gluten-free flour, or garbanzo bean flour for thickening.

You can create a lot of combinations with the list above and save a lot over the $2-$ three it costs for a can of quality soup at the grocery store. They charge a lot for that canned convenience.

Be on the lookout for sales and coupons and stock up when you can

While I utilize Amazon for its convenience and wide selection, they are not always the best for everything.  For some items I use Vitacost. This company has a lot of gluten-free foods and they have very good coupons and incentives. Since I am in North Carolina, I sometimes get my orders the day after they are made! Yep, they offer free 1-2 business day shipping if you go over $49 or buy certain items. If you order less it is a mere $2.99.

The holiday season is a good time to stock up on items at your local grocery stores. This time of year stores often has incentive items that get people in the door where they tend to buy a lot more. For example, I saw $0.78 per pack store brand cream cheese, so I bought four packs. I know they are not making any money on that product, but I also bought an additional $300 worth of groceries, so the store benefited a bit from me coming in.

Cheap turkeys are another item that is on offer this time of year.  It is pretty easy to spend $25 at the grocery store, but that means I can buy a turkey for $0.50 a lb or something in that range. You can keep turkeys frozen and cook and can them later.

If you are a friend or family member of someone that is on a gluten-free diet, please don’t feel like everything you serve has to be gluten-free.

If I could eat some wheat without getting horrible stomach pains and indigestion, I would do it. I don’t expect everyone to change their diet and consider me for every single dish they prepare. As long as there is something that I can eat I am fine if everyone else eats cake, pie, or stuffing. Sometimes it easy to forget you have someone eating with you that has dietary restrictions. It is not the end of the world if we can’t eat absolutely everything at a potluck or gathering.

At the same time, everyone needs to realize that so many people have allergies and food sensitivities that no one should be offended when someone asks if a dish contains something. I have been to a dinner party where one of the guests had to leave suddenly because the hostess was not aware of their nut allergy and they did not say anything about food sensitivities before dinner. Just a few pine nuts chopped up in pesto can cause trouble for those with a nut allergy.

Finding gluten-free pasta that has a good texture is a lot easier  and less expensive then it used to be

I found a pasta company that only makes rice pasta. There is something to be said for a company that dedicates their whole business to doing only one thing and doing an amazing job!

Tinkyada Pastas have never disappointed. They are not the cheapest pasta but they make me not miss wheat pasta at all. I don’t think a lot of people can tell the difference when putting in a dish like lasagna or fettuccine alfredo.

Tinkyada Brown Rice Fettucini Gluten Free, 14-Ounce (Pack of 6)

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Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta, Lasagne, 10 Ounce (Pack of 12)

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I love these lasagna noodles. This pasta is just plain tasty, and it makes it easy to make a really good lasagna. I usually make my lasagna in a Lodge loaf pan since I am often just cooking for two. I can get two loaf pans of lasagna out of a single package.

Be sure to use these noodles dry. Layer with sauce and cheese that is runny enough to add moisture to the noodles.

I made the mistake of boiling the lasagna noodles instead of using them dry my first time. That experiment resulted in noodles that fell apart when I handled them and stuck together. After I tried it dry, there was no going back.  It takes about 45 minutes to bake on 325 F as long as the sauce and meat are hot that you are using. If starting with cold ingredients, it may take a little longer. I don’t preheat my oven so you may have a shorter cooking time if you do.

Remember that if you do not put a lid or aluminum foil over your pan, there will be some evaporation that you need to account for. Take the covering off for the last 10 minutes of baking or stick the lasagna in the broiler for a minute just long enough to brown the cheese on top.

Some other gluten-free brands I like for snacking and convenience

I have learned to look for certain brands when shopping. I also realize the definition of cooking can vary for some folks. There are plenty of convenience foods out there for when you are super busy and don’t want to do a lot of prep. Here are a few to keep in mind when shopping online or at your local store.

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You can also get if you need something fast during the work day.

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Kind Granola and Breakfast Bars

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A lot of the varieties offered by Kind are gluten free and have no dairy either. Just be aware that some do have nuts, dairy, or both when picking out flavors.  I like to take a Kind Breakfast Bar and smear it with peanut butter. For a treat, I use Peanut Butter and Co Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter. It makes an excellent quick breakfast with a lot of protein. If you like sweets, it makes you think you are getting a sweet treat for breakfast. Kind has a lot of good coupon deals on Vitacost and Amazon.

Chef Anthony Russo’s Gluten Free Frozen Pizza

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Ok, I know that $9-$10 for a frozen pizza can sound like a lot but eating out costs a lot more. Matt and I will split one of these pizzas for dinner sometimes. We gave up on frozen pizza before due to saltiness and quality of ingredients.  We decided to try some gluten-free versions, and they were lacking so I started to make my own.

One time we were tired from working all day and decided to give some new brands a chance. This is the best gluten free pizza I have ever gotten out of the freezer section. I sometimes add some extra mushrooms to it or add a salad on the side if we are really hungry. There are six different styles of this pizza. At the moment our store only carries 2-3 types but I am hoping they get others in!

It gets better

Gluten-free gets easier so if you are struggling with the switch, I hope this post helps out a little bit. I will try to do more cooking and baking articles and include gluten-free and traditional versions for those that can enjoy wheat.

Those of us that can’t eat wheat are lucky that there are so many options out there for great food because it used to be harder.

Do you have any tips for avoiding wheat that I haven’t covered? Any good recipes or substitutions you have discovered? For those with kids that cannot eat wheat, how do you deal with that? A lot of kids are out and about with friends or due to extracurricular activities. Do any readers know if schools offer gluten-free options for students or do you have to pack a special lunch every day?

 

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected].

  1. Samantha, just read this article this evening. Really good info. I have a granddaughter who has issues with wheat, so, now that they live close by, we’re learning alot about it. One thing she loves is pizza. Well, we have these stores called Papa Murphy’s. They sell prepared uncooked pizzas and they offer one size of gluten free crust. You can have any of their menu items on the gluten free crust. My wife and I like these stores because when we do want pizza, it’s pretty inexpensive compared to getting one already cooked. So, if you have Papa Murphy’s close to you, that’s an option.

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