Gluten Free on a Budget
Many people are jumping on the gluten free band wagon for a host of reasons. While someone that has been diagnosed with Celiac disease has no choice but to eliminate the stuff, plenty of others find that they have an intolerance and just plain feel better without it in their diet. I have an intolerance and eating it causes me bloating, eczema, and an onslaught of aches and pains that make me feel like a crickety old lady. Every joint in my body hurts. After doing a complete elimination diet a few years ago (courtesy of J.J.Virgin, The Virgin Diet) when I cut out gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, soy, corn, and sugar/artificial sweeteners for 3 weeks, I quickly learned on reintroduction that my body does not handle gluten or dairy well.
The trouble is, eating gluten free can get costly. If you are trying to switch out your normal foods for GF versions such as bread, pastas, buns, crackers, snacks, and other baked treats, you’ll likely blow the budget 3 aisles into your shopping trip. Even attempting to bake your own versions at home is expensive to start up. Buying almond flour, coconut flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, teff, etc can just about force you to remortgage the house!
Now, I have been able to accumulate some GF staples over time but the initial investment is high. What to do if you or someone in your family has to eat this way for health reasons? Surely budget can’t get in the way of your health, right? Well, for many it does. They simply do not have the funds to modify their diets in this way. I am going to give you a list of some of my favorite, naturally GF foods that won’t cost you a fortune. Forget the processed crap! Your body doesn’t need that, GF or not. I’m not saying you can’t ever buy that convenient box of GF pasta. Just don’t fill your cupboards with an arsenal of processed, man-made items. I promise you, your body will thank you for it!
List of Cheap Gluten Free Foods-
- Bananas– Besides being a great source of potassium, B6, vitamin C, and biotin, bananas are so stinkin’ versatile. Smash them up and mix in an egg and some vanilla and you can make GF pancakes. Freeze them in chunks to use in smoothies. Smash them up with egg, GF oats, and honey and make oatmeal cookies for a treat. Or, just eat them the old fashioned way, right out of the peel. At about $.49 per pound, you can’t go wrong.
- Eggs– An amazing little food, the egg. Full of protein, lutein, B vitamins, the egg is an inexpensive staple to have around. I know prices have gone up a bit as of late due to the whole bird flu thing reducing supply, but even at $3 per dozen, it’s still a great deal. Use 6 eggs for “Breakfast for Dinner” omelets ($1.50 for 4 people). Hard boil 6 eggs and make a week’s worth of egg salad for lunches ($1.50 for 5 work or school week lunches). Serve on lettuce, cucumber rounds, or eat straight from the bowl. Not to mention, eggs are great to have around for GF baking to bind ingredients together.
- Zoodles– Oh, how I love me some zoodles! My husband got me a zoodle maker for Christmas ($25 on Amazon) and it has been a GF dieter’s dream. I spirilize a whole zucchini and sauté in extra virgin olive oil for about 3-4 minutes and it provides me with a delicious “pasta” base for ground turkey, meatballs, or even chicken breast. I get creative and add sauces, spinach, diced tomatoes, and lots of seasonings. So delicious! Cost of zucchini varies depending on the time of the year (people are practically giving it away in the summer!) but it’s never outrageous. You can also spirilize up any cheaper, in-season veggie that’s long and firm so don’t be afraid to experiment.
- Brown Rice-Buy this grain in the bag so you get the most bang for your buck. Often a bag will only run you $1.00-$1.50. There is a lot of fiber, B1, B6, manganese, and phosphorus in brown rice so not only does it really help to bulk up your meal (especially if you can’t afford much in the way of meat) but it also fills you up.
- Potatoes– I can get a 5lb bag of potatoes at Sprouts for about $1.50. They often go on sale for $1. Of course, organic is best but when you’re tight on cash that may not be an option for your family. Besides being a good source of potassium, they also contain B6, copper, vitamin C, and manganese. I slice them up like French fries and toss them with olive oil and bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. My kids devour them alongside hamburgers (bun-less or Udi’s if you can afford them). Potatoes also make a great side for breakfast or top with cheddar and black beans for an inexpensive lunch.
- All-Natural peanut butter– As long as no one is allergic, all-natural peanut butter is a great source of protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and B6. Do NOT buy the processed junk! All-natural only. The only ingredients should be peanuts and salt. No added sugars, cheap unhealthy fats, or ingredients you can’t identify. I realize this is a bit pricier but I can usually get a jar for about $3.50 (generic) or $2.50 when it goes on sale (buy a couple at this price). Since you’re eating GF use as a treat on apple slices or bananas, or added to a smoothie for a protein boost.
- Oranges in winter, apples in fall, peaches, plums and strawberries in the summer– If you eat by the season, meaning whatever naturally grows that time of the year, you can stock up on fresh produce on the cheap. I got oranges for $.20 each over the winter at Sprouts and they were delicious! I live in Arizona where many people have fruit trees and they produce way more than they can eat themselves. Often a basket will appear on the break room table from someone’s yard. They are free for the taking and always ripe and sweet.
- Chicken thighs or breast on sale– Chicken thighs are usually about $1.49 per lb so they can be used to make lots of dinners in your weekly meal plan. I will mention that a couple times a month, my local grocery store or Sprouts will have chicken breast on sale for $1.49-$1.67 per lb. These are rock bottom prices in my area and if you find a sale like this you should stock up. The breasts can be cut up and used to make soups, casseroles, enchiladas, etc. Not sitting down to a full breast per person really stretches the meat. Another great chicken deal is when the grocery store deli sells a whole, roasted chicken for $5. You can slice it up for a chicken and mashed potato meal, make chicken salad for a week of lunches, or use it for soup or casseroles. Use those bones for bone broth (free broth!) and you’ll have about 4-5 quart size containers to freeze and use throughout the month.
- Popcorn– Buy a hot air popper if you don’t already have one. It will pay for itself very quickly. You can get a decent hot air popper for under $30. Bags of popcorn are only a dollar or two and believe me- that will hold you for a while! You or your kids can have a GF snack without feeling deprived. Not just for movie time!
- Beans– A great protein stretcher, beans are full of fiber, folate, magnesium, protein, B6, and copper. The most budget friendly way to buy them is in the bag, dried. They will require soaking overnight before cooking (directions are on the bag and it’s not hard). Even canned beans can be a good deal if you get them on sale. If using canned, always rinse them because the liquid they are floating in is full of sodium. Use your beans to make rice and beans, stretch hamburger meat, add to soups, or throw in casseroles or salads.
- Pork rinds– Yes, those crispy fried fatty things most low-carb dieters have tried to satisfy their need for a crunchy snack. Only we are not using them like this. Did you know you can pick up a bag of pork rinds at the dollar store? Did you know that when crushed and added to shredded Parmesan cheese it makes the BEST gluten free coating ever? No, really! You will never miss bread crumb coating again, and to prove I dare you try my “GF Chicken nugget” recipe at the end of this article. You’ll have your fried chicken fix without eating gluten. Now, I’m not saying this is a health food, but for the occasional chicken parm or nugget fix it is a gem!
I had a friend who fell on hard times and to get by, she and her husband ate ramen (with no veggies or protein added to it) every night for dinner so they could feed their kids more nutritious food. They took one for the team and while that was a noble thing to do, your health matters!!! If the parents get sick the whole family unit suffers. As you can see, there are good, healthy, inexpensive foods out there that will get you through the tough times. Even more options exist if you don’t have to eat GF. Let’s get real with our food. Let’s give our bodies the nutrients needed to be healthy and strong. I know how hard it can be when money is tight. Before I learned all of this stuff I can remember cashing in change and going to the dollar store to try to buy a weeks’ worth of something to feed my family for $18. I get it. But please don’t fall into the ramen mentality. You can survive on a GF diet on a budget or even during a financial crisis. With a little planning and preparation you’ll be amazed at the delicious wholesome GF meals you can put in front of your family- no dollar store required!
- 2 Large Chicken breasts; diced into forty 1.5 inch cubes
- 2-3 cups pork rinds; crushed
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 TBS Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp crushed red peppers
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- Pre-heat oven to 375
- In a zip-lock bag, add pork rinds and crush with a rolling pin or heavy glass. Add Parmesan, Italian seasoning, and crushed reds to bag and mix well.
- Rinse chicken breasts and cut up into equal sized chunks. Dredge in egg.
- Drop chicken by handfuls into bag and coat completely with pork rind/cheese blend.
- Oil a metal cookie sheet with 1 TBS of the olive oil. Place coated chicken nuggets on tray (drop more coating on them if needed). Drizzle chicken with the last TBS of olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes, turning halfway.
- Serve with honey/mustard or GF dip of your choice