By Cindy Rice
Anyone who follows a gluten-free diet knows how costly a trip to the supermarket can be. Exactly how much more expensive are gluten-free foods? In the February 2019 edition of Nutrients, Anne Lee, R.D. and fellow doctors at the Celiac Disease Center, Columbia University Medical Center, published an article titled, “Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten Free Diet.” In it, they explained findings such as “the overall cost of GF products was 183 percent more expensive than their wheat-based counterparts.”
They also found that “the largest difference between GF and wheat-based products was for crackers (snack food category) which were 270% more expensive”. Additionally, shopping for other gluten-free basics like bread and pasta can also feel extravagant with prices that are “229 and 227 percent more expensive for these items, respectively.”
Couple these sobering facts with inflation and today’s tighter pocketbooks and it’s enough to make you think hard about what you put in your shopping cart and your mouth. With this in mind, we share with you ways to maximize deliciousness and nutrition and minimize expense while enjoying a GF lifestyle.
Eat whole, naturally gluten-free foods.
What they say about shopping the perimeter of grocery stores is true—it’s where you’ll find all the whole ingredients and the cheaper prices as well as avoid the more processed/less healthy foods.
What you lose in the convenience of readymade (processed) foods, you make up for in wholesome flavor and nutrition. Yes, you may need spend a little more time in the kitchen, but we’ve got enough recipes to keep you busy with fruits, vegetables, lean meats, chicken, fish, tofu, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), and eggs, all of which are naturally gluten-free and comparatively well priced.
Embellish a mostly whole food diet with healthy additions.
Venturing to the center aisles of the grocery store, there are great, economical gluten-free foods that are equal parts delicious and nutritious—as well as some treats that deliver without extreme cost. For example, dried beans are a very inexpensive and excellent source of protein and fiber; buy them in bulk, make large-batch bean dishes, and freeze them in airtight containers for future meals. Check out just a few fantastic dishes featuring lentils that you can make. Ditto delicious dishes using canned beans, which are slightly more expensive but still very reasonably priced.
Rice and quinoa are also wonderful, inexpensive whole ingredients that can round out a meal or be spruced up for a low-cost, hearty main course. They are also nutritious and have a long shelf life if stored properly—perfect for purchasing in bulk.
Snacks aren’t as straightforward in cost or nutrition; most processed gluten-free snacks are super-expensive. But if you need ready-to-eat items around the house, consider options like nuts and popcorn; while bagged popcorn seems relatively cheap, it’s way more expensive than making your own and is a good alternative to costly crackers and chips.
For desserts, stick with items that are common and never include gluten, such as ice cream (check the label to be sure it’s GF).
Be a smart shopper.
Buy in bulk: Pretty packaging and brand names result in higher prices. Instead, buy gluten-free favorites in bulk where you can; some stores even have GF baking flour offered in their bin-foods section. However, if you have Celiac Disease or are very sensitive, avoid bulk bins as they are a potential source of cross-contamination.
Also, reach for larger-sized items, multi-packs, online discounts, and sales at big box stores.
Shop online: Try websites like Vitacost and Nuts.com that offer excellent prices on many gluten-free products. Vitacost is a great source for gluten-free flours and pantry staples and they have fast shipping and frequent promotions and coupons. Nuts.com has many certified gluten-free products, including but not limited to nuts, that are available in bulk and shipping is very quick.
Shop around: Get to know the supermarkets in your area like Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Costco, etc. and learn where to find the best prices for specific foods you enjoy. Some stores might have gluten-free store brands that are much more affordable. Watch for sales and stock up on pasta, crackers, cookies, baking mixes, etc.
Shop locally and seasonally at farmers’ markets and farmstands: While produce at these markets can sometimes be a bit more expensive, there are deals to be found especially if you can buy in bulk at the end of the season. For example, buy a case of tomatoes and can them or blanch, remove the skins and store in airtight bags in the freezer, or buy a case of winter squash or sweet potatoes and store in a cool, dark place. We often ask the strawberry producers if we can buy a flat of the slightly bruised berries, which they would otherwise throw out. We get them for $5, freeze the berries, and have smoothie makings at the ready!
Store ingredients properly: Some gluten-free items have a shorter shelf life than the gluten version, so make sure to store foods properly to maximize the value of your purchase. Gluten-free flours can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge; breads and baked goods that won’t be eaten immediately should go in the freezer.
Cook for yourself!
Use great recipes: We work hard to bring you delicious, doable, well-tested recipes in every category.
Here are some examples of cravable dishes that won’t break the bank:
Winter Minestrone with Parsley Pesto
Fettuccine with Roasted Squash, Bacon, and Red Onion
Chickpea Tabbouleh Salad
But also, browse our recipe section and sign up for our newsletters for regular inspiration delivered to your inbox. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see what we are up to and excited about.
Follow reliable gluten-free bloggers: Find the people who share your tastes, lifestyle and dietary restrictions for more motivation and ideas of what you can cook yourself. Two of our favorites are Bojon Gourmet and Cannelle et Vanille.
Try new cuisines and techniques: You might find many new favorites that are budget-friendly and fit your diet and taste preferences.
Slow cookers and Instant Pots can be your best friends on busy nights.
Many international cuisines are rich in flavors, use whole ingredients, and tend to be mostly naturally gluten free—Thai, Mexican, and Indian are mouthwatering examples.
Do your research.
Some financial assistance is available. Depending on your income, there could be tax deductions available for GF food according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. There are lots of other resources available depending on your individual needs and situation. For example, if you are experiencing financial hardship or have been impacted by a natural disaster, do some thorough internet searching, and reach out to nonprofit organizations like GIGCares or Mend Hunger to apply for assistance.
It might take a bit more finesse, creativity, time, and legwork to make your gluten-free lifestyle more affordable, but if you are proactive and smart, a bountiful, varied, and cost-efficient gluten-free diet is totally possible.