When I first started following a gluten free diet, I realized quickly that my graduate student stipend was not really going to get me far. But instead of depleting my body of nutrients and losing fifteen pounds from starvation, I quickly learned how to keep my 3500-calorie-a-day diet steady while not depleting my bank account (at least, not with grocery bills!).
Here’s some more tips for newbie-gluten-free folks to watch the wallet and the ingredient labels.
- Learn how to cook with rice. I can’t say this enough. It’s so cheap. But other than the fact that rice is cheap, it’s typically fortified. Food fortication was set in place by the government to make sure that our food has “minimum dietary requirements”. Adding micronutrients, like Vitamin B and iron, to rice is common and is especially important for developing countries where food stuffs are not very varietal or come with a high cost. The US mandates that all fortified rice contain folic acid, which was adopted due to “public health concern over low folate levels in the diets of young women and related increased risk of neural tube defects in infants born to folate deficient mothers.” 
- Making rice is pretty easy, and if you make a lot of it, it can last the whole week.
- Brown rice has more fiber and protein than its white counterpart, but comes with a slightly higher price. If you buy in bulk and store it well, it’s not much of a problem.
- Use coupons. General Mills does a great job of labeling their cereals gluten free if they are. General Mills also has coupons in the Sunday paper (usually!). Just like you’d be frugal with your grocery shopping if you weren’t gluten free, it helps to do the same when you’re on the diet. Hard to find coupons for gluten free foods? Send an email to the company you buy your stuff from or check out their website to see if they have a mailing list. I am on the Bakery on Main’s e-newsletter “club”, and every month or so get one email from them with a $1.50 off coupon for their granola. Definitely helps! Bob’s Red Mill has product giveaways on Twitter (today their giving away hemp seeds!), as do many other companies. Put your feelers out! You might even score some free samples from companies you’re hesitant to try out. Nothing is worse than spending $10 on a loaf of bread that tastes like cat food (trust me, it happens).
- Plan your meals for the week. You’ll spend less time at the grocery store if you make a list, and you are less likely to get stuff that isn’t on there if you have a plan.
- I like to plan meals that turn into other meals (and make good leftovers)
- I also like to make enough of something that can last a few meals (rice or potatoes that will carry-over to being the base of another meal)
- Making lasagna is a lot of work, but its something that can be enjoyed for a few days (lunch or reheated at dinner). You can make two batches of ‘zag and freeze one, too. Same with spaghetti sauce, chili, and meatloaf!
- Get involved with a CSA. I spent $350 on vegetables from June-October. I basically went to the grocery store for milk, rice, eggs, and meat. Every week from my farmer, I got more than enough spinach to not want to eat any more spinach between October and New Years (or even longer). Plus, I knew where my veggies were coming from, another one of those eco-friendly yet-still-being-cost-conscious things I LOVE about where I live. No CSA (that you know of)? Visit the farmer’s market. Winter usually shuts down markets, but hit the ground running at the first one this spring. Who knows, you might even find a local farmer that can slide you into their CSA for the summer. It’s worth a shot.
- Make hearty (and heart healthy) soups. Especially in the winter, I really like soup. We often make a big stock-pot of soup that will make dinner for a few nights. The bonus part is, starting with water and vegetables, making a really hearty soup is not difficult (it just takes a little extra time). Add some sausage for a protein boost, or egg whites for an egg-drop-soup rendition of veggie soup. Watch the labels on premade chicken/beef stock, though. Sometimes that darned gluten will sneak in there. When in doubt, it’s best to buy stock labeled gluten free (cheap version: Steiner Foods Kitchen Basics chicken stock! Cheapest at the grocery store and labeled Gluten Free).
- Get a crock-pot. Chili = 1 can kidney beans, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1/4 can tomato paste, and 1lb cooked meat (if you like). Add salt, pepper, and cayenne, and let it cook on low all day.