The United States may be pulling out of the Great Recession (slowly), but let’s face it—times are still tough for many Americans. That’s especially true for the gluten-free community, where we’re nearly constantly told that the gluten-free diet is expensive. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 11 steps you can take to reduce your gluten-free grocery bill.
1. Focus on naturally gluten-free whole foods.
Naturally gluten-free whole foods including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, gluten-free grains, eggs, meat, fish, and dairy cost the same whether you’re on a gluten-free diet or not. Make them the core of your diet. (They’re healthier for you, anyway.)
2. Eat fewer gluten-free specialty foods.
This goes hand-in-hand with #1. Eat fewer gluten-free specialty foods … the store-bought GF breads, cookies, crackers, cereals, and other foods that carry the infamous GF premium. They’re typically more expensive than their glutenous conventional counterparts. Cut your consumption of these foods back, and your bank account will thank you.
3. Make your breads, cookies, and other baked goods from scratch.
If you are craving some gluten-free baked goods, such as breads and cookies, take the time to make them yourself from scratch at home. It’s gratifying and time well-spent in the kitchen, plus it’ll save you money.
4. Meticulously track your expenses and take the gluten-free tax deduction.
If you’re gluten-free for a medically diagnosed reason, and you don’t mind some meticulous record-keeping, track your expenses, save your receipts, and take the gluten-free tax deduction (as part of the write-off for eligible medical expenses) when you file your annual tax return.
5. Stock up on staples during sales.
One secret of thrifty shoppers is capturing maximum value from sales. Deriving full benefit usually requires the flexibility to purchase whatever brand happens to be on sale in any given week. As gluten-free consumers, we don’t have that luxury. When we find a gluten-free company that we know, love, and most importantly, trust, we remain fiercely loyal, buying that company’s product week in and week out. Besides, in our experience, gluten-free products don’t go on sale all that often anyway. But staple foods do—butter, rice, olive oil, chicken. And when they do go on sale, stock up. Store the extras in your freezer or pantry, and plan to use them throughout the coming weeks or even months.
6. Plan your meals each week.
And speaking of planning, plan your meals each week. According to a recent NRDC study, Americans throw away roughly 40% of their food (yikes!) each year. That’s $165 billion of wasted food annually, or $2,275 per year for an average American family of four. It’s shameful (and costly). By planning your meals each week, you’ll use what you purchase and end up throwing away less food that doesn’t get used and goes bad.
7. Make creative use of leftovers.
Sure, you could just eat leftovers as they are. But by making creative use of leftovers, you’ll give meals new life and help those foods stretch your budget that much further. Turn stale bread into breadcrumbs for meatballs or chicken fingers, or make French toast casserole. Pick the leftover bits of meat off a roast chicken and give it new life as chicken soup. Transform leftover steak into delicious beef stroganoff.
8. Make compromises.
If you’re like us, you prefer organic produce and ethical animal protein (pastured eggs, grass-fed meats, etc.). Sadly, those foods can be expensive. Conventional produce and meats will almost certainly cost less. And if you’re willing to compromise on your ideals for the sake of budget, you can save more than a few dollars over the course of a year.
9. Eat more veggies and less meat. Maybe.
Once upon a time—just one or two generations ago—meat was expensive. It was a luxury item, and families ate it a handful of times per week at the most. If you wanted to save money on your grocery bill, you switched to a more vegetarian diet, and your wallet thanked you for it. For a variety of reasons, in recent decades the cost of meat has dropped, and American meat consumption has soared in kind. Just consider this: in 1940, U.S. per capita meat consumption was around 100 pounds per year; by 2004, that number peaked at 184 pounds per year, an 84% increase. So, the economics aren’t as black and white as they used to be, but there’s still a good chance that by shifting away from meat and toward a more vegetarian diet you can save a few dollars.
10. Eat less. Seriously.
Depending on your perspective, this advice may sound either a) ridiculously obvious, or b) obviously ridiculous. But hear me out. Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods, rather than superficially inexpensive junk food with high sugar and fat content and empty calories. You’ll get the nutrients your body needs, feel satiated, and not keep going back (and back, and back) for more and more snacks that fill you with yet more empty calories while draining your wallet and ultimately leaving you less satisfied.
11. Skip the restaurants and dine in.
Sure, it’s fun to go out to restaurants. But if you want to be kind to your wallet—just as with making GF baked goods from scratch at home—you’re better off staying home and cooking in your kitchen. This is largely true no matter what diet you adhere to, but it’s especially true if you’re on a gluten-free diet, for many restaurants charge a similar premium for gluten-free versions of their dishes.
And so there you have it. Eleven tips to reduce your gluten-free grocery bill. You needn’t adhere to all 11 to reap the benefits. Pick a few tips, implement them, and watch what happens to your food costs over time. Eating gluten-free shouldn’t break the bank, and with these tips, it doesn’t have to.
Image courtesy befehr / SXC.hu