The Secret to Eating Well on a Gluten-Free Budget

Learn the Secret to Eating Well on a Gluten-Free Budget

Our lives have gone through several transformations over the past year.

Due to financial issues that arose from receiving Workman's Comp payments that the state of Utah (after the fact) decided we didn't qualify for, we ended up selling one of our cars and moving out of the house into a tiny basement apartment. That way, we could afford the mandatory repayment plan without being stuck here in Utah for the rest of our lives.

In addition, hubby went through another layoff from work, so things have been rough.

I did manage to pick up a small freezer for our new apartment, making it easier to buy meats and frozen vegetables in bulk, but with everything going on, trying to hunt down something that was glutening me, and wanting to move to Texas to be closer to most of my kids and the new grand baby, eating cheaply got lost in the shuffle.

At one point, I even began wondering if living on a budget was even possible. It seems like the more you plan, the more life rises up to oppose whatever you're trying to do. However, I did finally come to an epiphany, and when I did, I finally realized the secret to making a gluten-free diet affordable.

Changed Shopping Habits This Past Year

Our shopping habits have changed quite a bit over the past year. Currently, we're shopping at Winco, Costco, and occasionally, Smith's Grocery store (called Kroger in Texas and other states), with only minor trips to Walmart when absolutely necessary. Since we are gluten free, we occasionally have to go there for the type of generic Benedryl I use, as well as some non-food items.

For awhile, we were doing the bulk of our shopping at Costco, and just limiting the types of food we ate, but when hubby finally landed a job with a company that specializes in flood and fire damage, we started traveling the extra distance to Winco. That way, we didn't have to buy everything in bulk, and we could take advantage of the cheaper prices.

I had started reacting to the chicken leg quarters we had been buying at our local grocery, as well as the rotisserie pre-cooked chickens at Costco, and the quality of the local pork had gone way down as well. However, even with the store hopping, we still spend more for groceries than we did before. 

The old $65 a week target has definitely fallen by the roadside.

Prices have skyrocketed in our area. Plus, it's been difficult trying to break old shopping habits that always seem to spark to life when hubby is working.

While becoming more aware of where the grocery money is going has helped to tame that snarling beast, somewhat, we are still spending over $100 a week for groceries now. That's an average, though. We don't spend that much every single week. Often, we spend less.

But sometimes, we spend more if we need a lot of higher priced items at the same time, or if I need to place an order online for some gluten-free flour. No matter what I do, we don't seem to be able to do better than $400 a month anymore.

What Does it Take to Set a Realistic Budget?

I don't really know how we compare to what other gluten-free couples spend, but I've decided to stop struggling against what's happening. It is what it is. Spending about $100 a week for two is a realistic budget for us. At least, here in Utah. 

It lets us eat plenty of fresh produce, enjoy a chuck flat-iron steak once a week, and allows hubby the money he needs to nurture and improve his talent at smoking meat.

That budget might change once we get to Texas, and it might not. I have no idea, as geographical area really matters when it comes to setting up a realistic menu plan. 

You can only do what you can do within the parameters of your individual health issues and the foods that are available in your area.

For example, we have no local health-food store now like we had before, so Teff tortillas are out, and we have to spend more for our Horizon organic milk. It's not available in gallon jugs here. While Costco sells organic milk in a box of 3 half-gallon cartons, I react to it, so we buy what is safe for me. 

That way, I can use it for cooking.

We don't confine ourselves to only buying organic. Nor do we only buy nutritious whole foods. I learned a long time ago from the corn-avoidance people that if you put too many restrictions on yourself, all you'll succeed in doing is making yourself miserable.

If you're allergic to corn or you have celiac disease, sometimes those health concerns have to take priority over what health authorities want you to believe is a more nutritious option. Besides, most of the health information we have today originally came from some marketing campaign that the medical community picked up and ran with. The push for eating lots of whole grains is a good example of that.

What are Others Spending on Groceries?

I took a trip around the web over the past couple of weeks to see what other people are spending on groceries. The ranges I ran into were far too wide to be of any use.

Families of 4, with 2 small children, were spending anywhere from $75 a week to $150, so your budget needs to simply be a personal decision based on your:

  • situation
  • tastes
  • geographical area
  • personal priorities

It doesn't have to be something that necessarily compares to or even aligns with anyone else.

What's the Secret to Eating Well on a Budget?

If we were not gluten free, we'd be spending less than we currently do. I admit that. I'd be able to make homemade bread with all-purpose flour, rather than having to buy a variety of flours and starches online and then mix them all together to give baked goods a better texture.

Bread for hubby's lunches would cost less than half of what we pay now because I'd just be able to pick up a large loaf of whole grain bread at the store. However much of what I cook today wouldn't actually change.

While we'd probably eat burritos made with white-flour tortillas instead of burrito bowls made with Spanish rice, and I'd probably whip up a homemade, thick-crust pizza every Friday night again, I don't think that what we eat would be all that different.

I have never been heavy into processed foods, due to my food and chemical sensitivities, so while some things would change, good food is still good food. And good home cooking is still good home cooking, which is why I don't understand the huge adversity coming from the media lately regarding gluten-free food.

There's nothing magical about wheat, barley, or rye. You won't die if you cut it out of your life. 

Neither will leaving it behind make you or your family unhealthy. Grain-free diets have been around for decades. Plus, the processed food industry has been gouging folks for years, manipulating our food with additives and flavorings to the point where I often wonder if its even food anymore.

Making a profit off consumers isn't new. Criticizing the gluten-free food industry for doing that is just something new for the media to scream about, is all. If you talk to real gluten-free folks, they'll quickly tell you that a lot of those products are pure junk. They taste awful, and most products aren't worth the cost.

But some of them are, so we haven't completely left gluten-free products behind either.

Since we don't have the ability to run down the street to pick up a burger after shopping, we often come home and pop a couple of Foster Farms gluten-free corn dogs in the oven for lunch. We keep a frozen gluten-free pizza in the freezer for a fast meal, and we always have Crunchmaster rice crackers and pho noodles or other gluten-free pasta around.

Eating affordably, I've realized, is relative. You can make it work despite your situation.

Even when we were eating mostly fried rice, soup with homemade gluten-free french bread, and some form of tacos, I would still call that eating well because I was only fixing what we loved to eat. The difference was that back then, we were eating the soup for breakfast, the rice for lunch, and the tacos for dinner in order to cut costs. 

I literally went out of my way to only fix cheap things we enjoyed eating.

Not how I do things now, but it worked very well back then, and it worked so well that it got us through the difficult financial times we've been having over the past couple of years without feeling deprived.

The key to making a gluten-free diet work seems to be to have a wide variety of economical recipes and shopping tricks at your fingertips, so that no matter what your current situation is, you'll be able to adapt to those circumstances and still be able to eat well without the gluten.

Wish I would have realized that before. I could have saved myself a lot of unnecessary frustration. 


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