Gluten-free and Frugal: An Oxymoron?

I’ve always had a minor wheat allergy. It’s kind of like an irritating acquaintance: popping up when least expected, and always at the most inconvenient times. Every illicit tryst with a grilled cheese sandwich leaves me wanting more, but I am forced to face the fact that my skin does not appreciate that sandwich nearly as much as my brain does. In a way, I am lucky. I am fortunate that I do not have celiac disease; that I can enjoy gluten-filled foods a few times a week without becoming ill.

But I really shouldn’t. I would be so much healthier if I just cut wheat out of my life permanently.

Temptation is all around me, in restaurants and grocery stores, at work, and with friends. And the price for gluten-free foods can be staggering. It’s so easy to just slip into bad habits. So how is it possible to stay frugal on a gluten-free diet?

In short, it’s not. At least, not if  you don’t cook or bake much, and expect to live with the same kinds of convenience food most people have access to for far less money. Gluten-free bread? Five dollars for one twelve-ounce loaf that has a slightly off-putting texture. Regular bread? Two to four dollars for twice as much to a loaf. Gluten-free cookies? Four dollars for two. Regular cookies? One to five dollars for an entire package.

However,there ARE several ways to reduce food bills on a gluten-free diet. It may not be possible to be as frugal as someone with no dietary restrictions, but it is possible to live gluten-free and spend somewhat less than the average person does on food.  Though it can be a time-consuming and frustrating lifestyle, there is an upside: gluten-free products tend to be healthier and often organic. Here are some of the ways to save:

1) Buy naturally gluten-free whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and gluten-free grains (quinoa, rice, etc.)

2) Bake your own bread and other baked goods. Gluten-free baking can be difficult and frustrating, but once you’ve mastered a few recipes, you will always have something delicious to take to a friend’s house for dinner. There are many excellent blogs and books on gluten-free baking.

3) Cook enough food so that you don’t have to cook every night. Prepare grains ahead of time so that you have some on hand when you need a quick meal.

4) Buy in bulk if possible. Costco sells Larabar variety packs, quinoa at two dollars a pound, and amazing gluten-free chips for much cheaper than at other stores. Gluten-free flour, which can cost as much as eight dollars for twenty ounces, sells online for about three dollars a pound in bulk. And yes, I am the girl that carries food home from Costco in a backpack while riding the train.

5) As always, take advantage of sales. Many times, I will buy nothing but sale items in a trip to the grocery store.

6) Eat well. Don’t settle for food that doesn’t make you happy, just because you can’t consume gluten.

It can be so hard to choose the bag of brown rice pasta that costs twice as much as the semolina pasta next to it, but I usually have to make that choice for the sake of my health. Though I’m not always the best at staying on track, I’ve found that it is possible to save money while living a gluten-free lifestyle. And for those times when I absolutely need a cupcake right away, there’s always the Whole Foods down the street.

I’d love to hear of any tips anyone else has for saving money on gluten-free food!


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