A stroll down the gluten-free aisle at your supermarket can quickly put you over your weekly food budget. With a few tips and some planning, it's easy to prepare healthful, gluten-free meals for your family without breaking the bank.
Foods recommended for those following a gluten-free diet are similar to healthful foods suggested for the general population — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, eggs, plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts and seeds, fish and lean cuts of poultry and meat. The only difference is that the gluten free have to steer clear of wheat, rye and barley when making their choices.
Focusing on naturally gluten-free foods and limiting highly-processed specialty items is the key to healthful, cost-effective meal planning.
Fruits and Vegetables
Think beyond fresh to meet your family’s fruit and vegetable needs. “Frozen is about equal to fresh on nutrient quality, and low-sodium canned vegetables and fruit canned in their own juices are a close second,” says Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She also recommends shopping locally for the best deals on fresh produce.
Low-cost protein sources are critical for sticking to your budget. “Dried beans, lentils and peas are a great option for protein and to stretch the food dollar,” says Dee Sandquist, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They can stand alone or be used as a substitute for ground beef dishes to keep the protein but reduce the expense of meat.
Eggs also are a cost-effective high-quality protein. Canned salmon and tuna can help your family meet the recommended two servings of fish per week at a fraction of the cost of purchasing fresh seafood.
Ancient grains are all the rage, but tried-and-true favorites cost less while offering great nutrition. Sandquist recommends corn and rice for everyday options. Supermarket sales and buying in bulk allow you to supplement with more expensive gluten-free grains such as quinoa, millet and buckwheat.
When it comes to saving on milk products, what is important is how you buy. For yogurt, purchase the plain variety in bulk to save money. For additional savings, Lemond recommends buying generic milk brands, purchasing blocks of cheese in lieu of pre-shredded and using powdered milk for recipes.
Meal Planning Tips
- Make gluten-free versions of convenience foods, including breads, baked goods, sauces, dressings and soups. Cook in large quantities and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
- Save specialty gluten-free items for true convenience needs and special occasions. When possible, buy in bulk.
- Invest in a few gluten-free cookbooks. You’ll overcome the cost by saving money on groceries. You can also check out cookbooks from your local library and see which ones you’d like to buy.
- Plan gluten-free meals for the entire family and avoid purchasing both “regular” and gluten-free versions of the same foods.
- Seek out your local supermarket registered dietitian nutritionist who can share gluten-free recipes and steer you toward inexpensive purchases.
Reviewed April 2013