Eating Gluten-Free on a Budget – Groceries and Meal Plans

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Dietitian Tiffany Torok discusses why gluten-free on a budget is so challenging and gives ideas for grocery shopping and cooking at home. Whether you live alone or with a family, you will find practical solutions in our article: Eating Gluten Free On A Budget – Groceries and Meal Plans. We even included affordable gluten-free snacks.

Family Cooking In Kitchen Gluten-Free Meals

What is a ‘Gluten-Free’ Diet?

The gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This way of eating eliminates all dietary sources of gluten, a protein complex found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats contaminated by wheat during processing and storage. This protein is responsible for an immune response in celiac disease that destroys the small intestine lining, leading to malnutrition and malabsorption. In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten is thought to elicit more of an inflammatory response that isn’t a true allergy nor an autoimmune disease but can still significantly affect the person’s life.

Gluten-Free Diet Can Be Expensive

However, one common complaint is that the gluten-free diet, mainly processed gluten-free food is too expensive. During these challenging times, the high costs of gluten-free eating can deter people who have celiac disease from being compliant with their gluten-free diet, thus exposing themselves to short-term and long-term health consequences. But the good news is that there are some easy ways to save a lot of money at the grocery store.

Stocking a gluten free pantry


Why is processed gluten-free food so expensive? 

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease 17 years ago, processed gluten-free products were costly and primarily available at Whole Foods or health food stores. Over the years, the cost has come down some, and the availability of the products has exploded in every major grocery store in the country. However, the cost remains high for many of these gluten-free products compared to their gluten-containing counterparts. This is due to several factors. 

  • Gluten-free products claiming to be gluten-free on the label must be tested to contain less than 20 ppm of gluten.
  • Manufacturers must source grains from growers who use suitable preventative measures to avoid cross-contact with gluten-containing grains.
  • Processed gluten-free items require more stabilizers and preservatives than gluten-containing items.
  • If a gluten-free food is made in the same factory as a gluten-containing food, additional measures such as cleaning and segregation of the gluten-free products need to take place, slowing down the production line.
  • Some companies take the added step of obtaining a “certified gluten-free” label, which costs additional money.

Ideas for Purchasing Affordable Gluten-Free Food 

While eating gluten-free can be expensive, an affordable gluten-free diet is possible by planning and using some cost-saving tips. A great way to save money on gluten-free food is to shop around and stock up on shelf-stable gluten-free items when they are on sale or if they are less expensive at one store vs. another store. For example, I have three grocery stores on rotation because they select my favorite gluten-free brands for the best prices.

Another great option is purchasing items at a warehouse store such as Costco. I have found that the best way to save money on my grocery bill is to make and follow a shopping list. Doing this will prevent you from buying all those tempting gluten-free specialty products at the store that are always expensive. 

Man working in Box Store

Tips To Eat Gluten-Free On A Budget At Home

  1. Make large portions of your meals and save the extra portions for the next day or two.
  2. Cook soups in bulk and portion them in gallon Ziploc bags to save them later in the freezer.
  3. Eat less processed foods and focus more on a whole foods approach to eating, consuming naturally gluten-free foods.
  4. Make a meal plan for the week and make Sunday your meal prep day
  5. Invest in an instant pot or a slow cooker to make meal prep a breeze.

Eating Gluten-Free Budget-Friendly Meal Plans

7 Gluten-Free Breakfast Ideas

  • Gluten-Free Oatmeal with Sliced Bananas
  • Cornmeal Porridge with Maple Syrup and Bananas
  • Strawberry Cheesecake Smoothie made with frozen strawberries and cottage cheese.
  • Scrambled Eggs with Gluten-Free Toast
  • Mango Chia Pudding you can meal prep with frozen mangoes
  • Almond Butter or Peanut Butter on Gluten-Free Bagels or Toast
  • Peach Smoothie is made with fresh or frozen peaches and Greek Yogurt.
  • Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Granola (make in bulk and freeze) Kids love this!

7 Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas

7 Gluten-Free Dinner Ideas

Budget-Friendly Gluten-Free Snacks

  • Pop your Popcorn or buy Bagged Popcorn at Costco.
  • Peanut Butter on GF Crackers
  • Fresh fruits or fruit salads – naturally gluten-free
  • Nuts
  • String Cheese
  • Carrot Sticks with GF Bean Dip
  • Salsa with GF Tortilla Chips
  • Homemade Granola
  • Yogurt with fruit
Woman in kitchen feeding her child

Stores That Have Affordable Gluten Free Food

A great place to find affordable gluten-free items is Trader Joe’s. They have lower prices than most stores for gluten-free bread, pasta, and prepared frozen convenience foods. Another great option is to check with your local supermarket. With their increased purchasing power, they might stock one of your favorite items so you don’t have to go to their competitor down the street. Online Shopping on sites like Amazon, Walmart, or Target for the best deals on gluten-free products can also save you money.

Basic Gluten-Free Food List:

  • Gluten-free bread
  • Gluten-free pasta
  • Fresh fruits
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Canned or dried black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Gluten-free pizza crusts
  • Block mozzarella cheese 
  • Pizza sauce
  • Eggs
  • Milk or gluten-free alternative milk

Final Gluten-Free Tips:

One thing I love about modern grocery shopping is that you can easily order your groceries on many store apps, making it easy to delete costly items before you check out. This also helps when comparing prices between two stores. It makes it possible to shop at two stores at once, thus saving you time and money in the long run. My experience from having celiac disease for the past 17 years, as well as counseling families of newly diagnosed children who have celiac disease, is that an affordable gluten-free diet is possible if you stick to the basics, plan, and save the treats for special occasions. I hope you find eating gluten-free on a budget a little more accessible.

I hope you liked this article about Eating Gluten-Free On A Budget. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below.

Here are some delicious gluten-free recipes you might enjoy!

References:

1. Lee AR, Wolf RL, Lebwohl B, Ciaccio EJ, Green PHR. Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten Free Diet. Nutrients. 2019; 11(2):399. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11020399

2. Joseph S. Woomer & Akinbode A. Adedeji (2021) Current applications of gluten-free grains – a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 61:1, 14-24, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1713724 

3. Prakriti Jnawali, Vikas Kumar, Beenu Tanwar, (2016) Celiac disease: Overview and considerations for development of gluten-free foods. Food Science and Human Wellness. 5, (4), 169-176. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fshw.2016.09.003.

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