FeaturesApril/May 2010 Issue

Eat Gluten-Free For Le$$

Eight ways to cut gluten-free grocery costs and boost your nutritional intake

Does your special diet give you sticker shock? No wonder. Many products that are gluten free and allergy friendly are downright expensive. The tight economy has many of us tightening our belts and that makes stretching the grocery budget to accommodate special-diet items more daunting than ever. If you’re feeling the pinch, try these suggestions to get more nutritional bang for your buck.

1 Consider nutrient count.

Before you purchase a product, think about its ability to actually nourish. How many nutrients does it provide per calorie? Choosing processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, sodium, chemical preservatives and artificial additives fill you up quickly and feel satisfying in the short term—but where’s the value? They provide little real sustenance and do not bolster overall health. Often, just the opposite! You may pay a bit more for nutritionally dense food but you get more nutrient oomph per pound.

Here’s the way to look at it: Think future medical bills. The fact that you’re on a special diet points to absorption, digestion and related health issues. It’s critically important for you to obtain proper nourishment. Feeding your body nutrient-dense meals every single day will save you money in healthcare costs down the road. It’s that simple.

2 Choose single-ingredient foods.

Focus on a variety of fruits and vegetables, seeds, legumes, gluten-free whole grains, lean meats and poultry. These simple, wholesome foods, most of which are naturally gluten free and allergy friendly, are rich sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fatty acids and trace nutrients. They’re also low in calories and easy on the waistline.

3 Buy in season.

Fresh produce in season is less expensive and probably travels shorter distances to your table. This increases flavor. (There’s a better chance your child will eat his veggies if they’re tasty. )

When fresh isn’t available, frozen works. Freeze extra during growing season when choices are plentiful. If you buy frozen products, avoid those with added sweetening and sodium. Read labels carefully as some companies add wheat flour or wheat starch to certain foods, like frozen sweet potatoes.

Make smoothies with frozen fruit, like berries, peaches and melons. Create stir-fries with frozen vegetables, like broccoli, and use frozen spinach as a quick side.

4 Purchase meat and poultry on sale.

Grocery stores cycle sales on these items so you can pick up protein-rich foods at bargain prices to keep in the freezer until you’re ready to eat them. If you can tolerate seafood, keep an eye out for seasonal specials of locally caught fish and shellfish. These foods add important nutrients, like protein, vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids to your special diet.

5 Cook more dishes from scratch.

Use gluten-free whole grains and starches rather than commercial mixes and other prepared products. Whole brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, millet, teff, sorghum and buckwheat are less expensive than processed counterparts and offer valuable nutrition, including B-complex vitamins so often lacking in special diets. They’re simple to prepare and easy to doctor into tasty sides for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These grains, legumes and seeds are also available as gluten-free flours that add flavor, fiber and protein to gluten-free recipes for baked goods.

6 Buy in bulk.

Many supermarkets and natural food stores offer a bulk section where you can purchase grains, seeds, legumes and nuts at reasonable prices, making it easy to stock up. Store these items in solid containers with tight-fitting lids. They'll last for months in your refrigerator and longer in the freezer. Note that scoops and bins can become cross-contaminated. When possible, choose from the highest bins and look for those with hand levers that release the product.

Don’t forget to network with local support groups. Many members partner up to purchase standard baking items, like xanthan gum, saving by buying larger quantities and sharing shipping costs.

Keep an eye out for sales. Since it’s best to be prepared with a snack, buy nutrition bars in bulk at a discount. A case priced $30 to $40 may not seem reasonable but the cost of bars purchased individually quickly adds up.

7 Expand Your Choices.

Eat ethnic foods that tend to be naturally gluten free. For example, use rice noodles (a staple ingredient in Thai cooking) in soups and corn tortillas (Mexican cooking) or teff tortillas for wraps. These products are often less expensive than their specially marketed gluten-free counterparts. And don’t forget about ethnic grocers. You can stock up on ingredients like rice and gluten-free flours at Asian markets.

8 Use Coupons.

Write or call the manufacturers of your favorite products and ask for coupons. You get money off and you let these companies know that there’s growing demand for their items. Utilize companies like Mambo Sprouts (mambosprouts.com), where membership is free and you can access coupons for health-conscious foods. When buying online, take care to use only companies you trust. 

Melinda Dennis, RD, is nutrition coordinator and research investigator at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Kristin Voorhees completed her graduate degree at Emerson College in December 2009.

Comments (5)

As a celiac, I can't buy bulk foods from open bins because of cross-contamination issues. My best recommendation for others when worrying about the high cost of GF foods is to avoid the pre-processed foods. Fresh fruits, veggies, dry beans, fish, poultry, meats are all also GF, but for some reason people tend to forget this. If you don't know how to cook, learn! You'll then not have to worry about the high cost of pre-processed fancy GF foods, and you'll also know exactly what is and isn't in your food----most important for people with food allergies. (Besides celiac, I also have several other food allergies.) I do appreciate the idea of stocking up on kosher non-perishables during Jewish holidays for DF; will pass this onto my diary-allergic niece. Thanks!

Posted by: JEANNE A | February 27, 2013 3:07 PM    Report this comment

We have been thru the job loss thing too. I have 6 allergies, so bulk bin buying is out. Plan your meals around fruits and veggies in season, use store points cards to get discounts and coupons. Get help if you can't make it from local or federal programs. It may seem like you are out of a job forever, but it will change!

Posted by: Peg | February 26, 2013 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Appreciated the article. Knew most of it, but great reminders (ie all the varieties of gluten-free grains and seeds). Chia and flax seed (ground) should have been added as well. Also oats, but read label carefully (gluten-free and organic oats are out there). Does anyone know of a source to receive coupons on gluten-free grains, seeds, and products? How about coupons for organic? The article suggested contacting individual companies, but I find little success (if any) going that route. Mambo Sprouts is good, but would like more sources.

Posted by: CAROLYN P | August 30, 2012 6:35 AM    Report this comment

It may be fine for gluten intolerant people to buy foods in bulk in open bins but this is not advisable for celiacs due to the likelihood of cross contact with wheat and gluten grains in these situations. Otherwise I thought it was an excellent and useful article

Posted by: lauradwight | August 28, 2012 8:14 PM    Report this comment

Thank you so much for your suggestions about how to eat gluten free for less. Very helpful info.

Posted by: Ruby P. | August 28, 2012 11:07 AM    Report this comment

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