March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
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 and canned fruits and vegetables, without added sugar or salt, are as nutritious as fresh produce. Also, shop locally at farmers markets for the best deals on fresh produce.
Low-cost protein sources are critical for sticking to your budget. Great choices for protein while staying under budget are dried beans, lentils and peas. Alone or used as a substitute for ground beef dishes, these are options 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. Corn and rice are good 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, buy 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.