The Gluten-Free diet is financially challenging. After a celiac diagnosis, one of the biggest shocks is your grocery bill. The boxes of crackers and pasta get smaller and the loaves of bread shrink, all while the prices increase. More money for smaller quantities.
These specialty products are generally more expensive for manufacturers to produce. They use costly alternative grains, pursue important gluten-free testing and certification, and often include less-processed, quality ingredients that are pricey.
For many with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it is a food crisis. Celiacs on social media have reported having nothing left but gluten-containing food in their pantries at the end of the month, not sure whether they should join the gluten-eaters in their family and eat what’s left or eat nothing. There are organizations working to assist with these needs:
- National Celiac Association, Feeding Gluten-Free”s List of Gluten-Free Pantries
- Gluten Intolerance Group, GIG Cares
This is not just a financial issue, this is a matter of health. For many, the gluten-free diet is not a choice, but a medical necessity. Currently, it is the only treatment for celiac disease.
Eating gluten-free on a budget is possible. As you read through my best tips, you’ll see that it is also better for your overall health!
We’ll cover saving money every step of the way, from the grocery store to the kitchen.
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Gluten-Free Diet Money-Saving Tips: Before You Shop
Meal planning saves you money. It prevents overbuying and wasting ingredients. You will reduce impulse buys and the inevitable last-minute fast-food dinner with a meal plan. Try it and watch your grocery bill go down.
Scour Pinterest for gluten-free recipes or adjust your own favorite recipes, putting them in a weekly meal plan to save money.
My favorite meal-planning service is eMeals. I use the eMeals app to select each week’s recipes, sync the grocery list with my grocery delivery service of choice (Amazon Fresh, for me), and then return to the eMeals app cooking screen when making dinner.
eMeals has a Gluten-Free Meal Plan option. If you are comfortable modifying recipes to make them gluten-free, you can choose another meal plan like Budget Friendly or Quick & Healthy. My family loves the Mediterranean Meal Plan. eMeals offers a free 14-day trial.
Choose to Shop at Discount Stores
Stores like Target and Walmart carry many of the popular gluten-free brands, and at an everyday price that is often lower than chain grocery stores.
Discount Stores like Trader Joe’s and ALDI carry their own store brands of fabulous gluten-free products, like Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Everything Bagels, Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancake Mix, and LiveGFree (ALDI’s store brand) General Tso’s Chicken.
Costco is a great option for large families. While products and brands come and go, Costco usually has a wide variety of gluten-free favorites, from ready-made meals to gluten-free bread. Earlier this year, I found a killer deal for Schar ciabatta rolls.
Find Local Farmers Markets
Your local Farmers Market is a great place to snatch up deals on bulk buys and imperfect and in-season produce. Plus, many Farmers Markets serve as a launching pad for gluten-free mom-and-pop businesses. I’ve found deals on everything from fabulous, hearty gluten-free soups to gluten-free bundt cakes.
It may be old-fashioned, but it still saves money. Check grocery stores’ weekly circulars and Sunday newspapers. Better yet, use online coupon aggregates like coupons.com and lozo.com to search for coupons from your favorite gluten-free brands.
Sign up for Grocery Store Rewards Programs
Your regular grocery store and favorite big box store probably have a rewards program. Get the app, so you can quickly download savings before you head to the store.
Pay attention to seasonal sales that affect gluten-free products.
May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month when many stores discount gluten-free items. No store does this better than ALDI where a slew of gluten-free products are released only during the month of May, the only time of year you can buy the popular Live G Free Gluten-Free Cheesecake Sampler. Yum!
Occasionally, a grocery store will have a sale focused on its gluten-free products. Sprouts had a sale earlier this year on all of its gluten-free items, and it lasted a few weeks. Keep an eye out of these opportunities to grab your favorite products.
During the holiday months of November and December, baking items, including gluten-free baking staples, are on sale. This is an excellent opportunity to stock up on gluten-free non-perishables at lower prices. Double-check expiration dates to make sure you can use the products during their shelf life.
Sign up for Manufacturer Emails
Gluten-Free manufacturers know they have brand-loyal customers. Check the websites of your favorite gluten-free products. There are often coupons online and the opportunity to sign up for an email newsletter with discounts, recipes, and new product announcements.
Canyon Bakehouse, the company that makes the best (IMO) gluten-free sandwich bread has coupons on its website.
Get Rebates with the Ibotta App
Before you go to the store, download the Ibotta App. See which items on your grocery shopping list are available for rebates, submit receipts, and cash out!
Gluten-Free Diet Money-Saving Tips: At the Store
Stick to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods
This tip is probably the most important one on the list. It will save your pocketbook and your waistline. Shop the perimeter of the store, where you will find whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and meats. Avoid basing your diet on gluten-free pre-packaged food, which is nearly twice as expensive as gluten-filled versions.
Buy in Season
Produce is cheaper (and better) in season. Sales on fresh fruits and vegetables are an indicator of them being in season. When making your meal plan, choose recipes that use these seasonal ingredients. It’s the secret to better-tasting food!
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk can save you money, but this tip has a few pitfalls to avoid:
- Buy in bulk, but not from bulk bins. Gluten-free and gluten-containing ingredients are often side-by-side in the bulk bin section of the grocery store. Customers can move scoopers from bin to bin and ingredients can fall from one bin into another. They are rife with cross-contamination risks. Stay away from bulk bins, but you can buy bulk quantities of pre-packaged items.
- Check the cost per unit (CPU) which is often on the store shelf label. Usually, bigger is cheaper, but not always. If the cost per ounce is higher in the bigger package, the bulk product is not a good deal.
- Be careful of impulse buys. Just because a bulk package is cheaper, if you don’t like the product enough to use all of it, and to use it before it expires, you aren’t saving money!
Buy Costco’s Rotisserie Chicken
Costco’s Rotisserie Chicken is labeled gluten-free and is one of the best deals out there. For less than the cost of roasting one yourself, you can pick up a fully-cooked, whole chicken at Costco. Be careful, though, or that affordable chicken could cost you $200 in impulse buys!
Shred or cut up your Costco chicken, for an inexpensive protein in everything from tacos to soups and salads.
If Buying Organic, Learn the Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen
Buying organic produce can get expensive. Stretch your grocery dollars by understanding which foods you should buy organic (the Dirty Dozen, produce with the highest pesticides) and which are safe to buy conventional (the Clean Fifteen). I keep an updated copy of both of these lists in my kitchen, to help me shop wisely.
Stick to Your List
Make a grocery list and stick to it. Shopping hungry can lead to several packages of snack items in your cart. They add up quickly.
Buy Value Packs of Meat
Value packs of meat are a great bargain. Make sure that extra meat doesn’t go to waste, leading to lost dollars. Instead, incorporate the meat value pack into two or three dinners in your meal plan.
I have a weakness for online shopping. Not only is it convenient, but it can save money by cutting down on impulse buys. When meal planning, I add items immediately to my cart and purchase only the items I need. It’s very easy to stick to your list when shopping online, rather than roaming through the expertly marketed aisles of your grocery store.
When you have your groceries delivered, tipping and delivery fees add to the cost. Although, they are offset slightly by the gas savings, and certainly time savings. Order online for grocery pickup to eliminate extra charges.
Gluten-Free Diet Money-Saving Tips: Choose Wisely
Swapping out meat in favor of high protein alternatives, like beans, lentils, eggs, nuts, quinoa, and seeds can save you money at the grocery store. Start the tradition of Meatless Mondays to cut down on expensive meats at least once a week, and try out new gluten-free, vegetarian recipes.
Prep Your Own Ingredients
Choosing prechopped fruit and veggies can save you a little time in the kitchen, but the costs are steep, often twice the price of unchopped produce. Save money by prepping your own fruits and veggies.
Use Cornmeal to Coat Chicken and Corn Starch to Thicken Sauces
Use corn-based products in lieu of costly gluten-free flour blends, in recipes where corn products work just as well. For example, cornmeal makes an excellent coating for chicken, and it adds a nice crunch. Corn starch is regularly used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups in restaurants. It has twice the thickening power of flour and is very inexpensive.
Opt for Less Expensive Bases in Your Meals
“Cheap” food like beans, brown rice, regular and sweet potatoes, quinoa, and lentils are filling and pennies on the dollar compared to prepackaged gluten-free products. They don’t have to be bland and boring. Compliment these bases with flavorful herbs and spices, and hearty, in-season vegetables to make affordable and delicious gluten-free meals.
Buy Inexpensive Corn Tortillas
Gluten-free flour tortillas have come a long way over the last few years, but really good ones can cost as much as $1 per tortilla, really adding up when making tacos for a large family.
To save money on tortillas, purchase corn tortillas. Most brands of corn tortillas are gluten-free. Always double-check the label, to make sure they are not a combination of corn and wheat flour, but most corn tortillas carry a gluten-free claim on the label. They are inexpensive, versatile, and made to feed a crowd! Use them in tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. Brush them with oil and bake them into tostadas, or fill them with eggs and veggies for breakfast tacos.
Gluten-Free Diet Money-Saving Tips: In the Kitchen
Eat at Home
Dining out is expensive for anyone, but even more when eating gluten-free.
For celiacs, we can’t trust every restaurant to safely feed us, so the pool of affordable restaurants is even smaller. There are often additional charges for gluten-free menu items (which are more expensive to the restaurant) or cross-contamination protocols (which are also more expensive to the restaurant).
Plus, the kinds of restaurants that put the time and money into training employees on allergies and special diets tend to cost more overall than comparable restaurants.
You can save so much money by learning to cook well. As the mother of a child with celiac disease, learning how to cook is one of the most important skills I can teach her. The more you cook gluten-free, the better you get at it. You will soon learn that there is a way to make anything you love gluten-free!
Bake Your Own Gluten-Free Bread
Gluten-free bread is expensive. Consider buying a gluten-free bread machine, if your family eats a loaf or more per week. I recommend the Hamilton Beach Artisan & Gluten-Free Bread Maker, along with the Gluten-Free Bread Machine Cook Book to navigate the uniqueness of gluten-free bread making and an affordable kitchen scale, so you can measure your flours by weight and get the best results.
Explore New Recipes
This part can be so much fun! When my daughter was first diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of three, we used to play a game where we would take turns naming all the things she could eat. That attitude served me well when I was diagnosed a few months later and has helped both of us not feel the least bit deprived on our gluten-free diet in all the years since.
Exploring new gluten-free recipes can help you get excited about all you CAN eat! A great place to start is Becky Excell’s How to Make Anything Gluten-Free, which is all the rage in gluten-free circles, and for good reason!
The more you enjoy the food you make at home, the more you will save by not buying pre-packaged, gluten-free products and by not eating out.
Explore ethnic cuisines that are affordable and lend themselves more easily to a gluten-free diet.
Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil, don’t have wheat as a primary ingredient in their diets, as they are more corn, cassava, and rice-heavy.
Some Asian cultures, like Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, and India, have many popular dishes that are naturally gluten-free. Chinese food is a bit more challenging with gluten-containing soy sauce, but can be easily transitioned to gluten-free with a few tweaks to sauces. Meals often incorporate rice or rice noodles.
While Mediterranean dishes are often accompanied by bread or gluten-containing grains, the bulk of the diet is fresh, grilled fish, meats, and veggies, making it easy to modify recipes to make them deliciously gluten-free.
Make All-in-One Meals
Set-it-and-forget-it dinners, like casseroles, one-pot/skillet, sheet pan, slow cooker, and instant pot meals save time and money. Start with simple ingredients, wonderful herbs, and spices, and let the flavors combine beautifully in one dish.
Making dinner fast and easy will also help motivate you to continue cooking from home, your best money-saving tool!
Make a Double Batch and Freeze Half
To get the most out of your grocery budget, use those meat value packs and bargain bulk purchases to make a double batch of your dinner. For nearly the same work, you’ll get twice the food. But freeze half, and save it for dinner on a busy weeknight down the road instead of ordering pricey gluten-free take-out.
Serve Breakfast for Dinner
Breakfast foods are cheap: eggs, fruit, hash browns, breakfast tacos or scrambles, and homemade gluten-free pancakes. When you’re feeling uninspired about making a complicated dinner or maybe didn’t keep up with your meal planning, “Breakfast for Dinner” comes to the rescue! This easy and affordable dinner is a hit with kids.
Make Your Own Cookies
Gluten-free, store-bought cookies are significantly more expensive than homemade cookies. This is an area where you can save a lot of money by baking at home. Cookies (and cupcakes!) freeze beautifully. Bakeries do it all the time.
Even better than freezing cookies is freezing the dough in ready-to-bake balls. You can serve warm cookies out of the oven whenever you wish!
Make Your Own Pizza Crust
I’m going to straddle saving money and quality here. Gluten-Free Caputo Flour makes THE BEST gluten-free pizza crust. I discovered this wonderful flour while marveling over amazing gluten-free pizzas in Italy. Gluten-Free Caputo Flour is admittedly a pricey flour, but compared to a comparable quality, gluten-free pizza from a restaurant, you will save money. And unless you live in New York, Chicago, or Italy, you will otherwise struggle to find a gluten-free pizza this good.
One bag makes four crusts, to the tune of just under $5 per pizza crust. Prices change frequently on Amazon, but according to my current calculations, you can get that down to a little more than $3 per crust, if you buy in bulk (4 bags to make 16 pizzas) and use Amazon’s Subscribe & Save feature.
That is a lot of pizza! But like cookie dough, you can freeze your dough and thaw out a round of pizza dough anytime you are ready for pizza night.
Soup for dinner or lunch is an excellent value. Flavorful broth and seasonings, mixed with filling vegetables (fresh or canned), rice, quinoa, noodles, beans, or potatoes, make for a wonderful meal.
The options are endless, hearty, affordable, and flexible. One night, you can serve bean soup for lunch. Two days later, repurpose that bean soup into a spicy, chicken soup with a Costco rotisserie chicken and gluten-free taco seasoning.
Gluten-Free Diet Money-Saving Tips: Reduce Food Waste
NOT throwing away expensive, gluten-free food is one of the easiest ways to save money on a gluten-free diet. Repurpose leftovers for another meal. Leftover ham is a wonderful addition to soup, and leftover veggies can be added to your meatloaf mixture.
If members of your family turn their noses up at leftovers, no worries! Quickly move leftovers to the freezer and they can reappear a few weeks later when no one will know the difference.
Shop Your Pantry
Have you ever cleaned out your pantry only to toss out way too much, expired food? This is particularly devastating when you are tossing out expensive gluten-free products.
Keep an organized pantry, clean it out regularly, and “shop your pantry”. Take a peek at what you already have (especially the stuff in the back) and incorporate pantry items in your weekly meal plan.
Freeze Fruits and Veggies Before They Spoil
Fruits and veggies freeze well, with the flavor “frozen in time”. You’ve already saved money following the earlier tip to buy your fresh produce when it’s in season. Hang onto those savings by freezing your fruits and veggies before they spoil.
You can learn everything you’ll ever need to know about freezing produce here.
Repurpose Leftover Cracker Crumbles, Cookie Crumbles, and Bread Heels
Gluten has wonderful binding properties that are difficult to replicate in gluten-free products. This often leaves us with crumbles at the bottom of the bag. Those crumbles can be regularly collected and repurposed into some of the best ingredients in your favorite recipes.
Cracker crumbles can double as breadcrumbs for meatballs and meatloaf. They also make an excellent shake-and-bake-style coating for chicken.
Cookie crumbles get new life as ice cream mix-ins and toppings or as the crust of a cheesecake.
Broken pieces of gluten-free bread, slices that ended up with holes too big to make a sandwich (if you’ve been buying gluten-free bread for a while, you know what I mean), and the heels nobody will eat can all be transformed into bread cubes for croutons or stuffing. The first half of my Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Recipe walks you through making gluten-free bread cubes.
Store Gluten-Free Bread and Baked Goods in the Freezer
Gluten-free baked goods spoil quickly and dry out if stored in the fridge. To maintain fresh taste and texture and avoid spoilage, keep your gluten-free bread (slice first) and baked goods, like muffins and cupcakes, in the freezer.
Eat Dinner Leftovers for Lunch
When you make a delicious gluten-free dinner, you can look forward to leftovers for lunch. Save money by skipping take-out for lunch and bringing your fabulous gluten-free leftovers. In addition to saving money by skipping take-out, you can enjoy a healthier lunch and cut down on the risk of gluten cross-contamination from a restaurant.
If you don’t have access to a microwave, pick up a Thermos Vacuum-Insulated Food Jar to keep your food warm until lunchtime.
I hope you are inspired to stay healthy and gluten-free while sticking to your budget!