Current economic conditions have challenged many people to look for ways to cut expenses. This problem is compounded when you’re a celiac because gluten-free foods can be expensive. Still, there are ways to trim the budget without sacrificing the foods you need and love.
1. Making a weekly menu plan reduces trips to the grocery store, saving both fuel and impulse spending. Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what foods you can use that you already have on hand (cutting food cost for the week).
2. Scour store ads in your local newspaper and build your meals around weekly specials. Look online for coupons for products you use frequently. Compare prices at different stores. Can you get that can of corn for less at WalMart than at your regular grocery store?
3. Just buy “food” at the grocery store. Paper products are less expensive at a big box store.
4. It’s less expensive to bake your own bread, make your own cookies, make homemade mashed potatoes, and roast your own chicken than buying the prepared versions of these foods. The more prepared the food is that you purchase, the higher the price tag.
5. Compare prices. A bag of dried beans costs $.89 and yields 7 cups of cooked beans. One can of beans costs $.99 and yields 1½ cups of cooked beans – the canned beans are 5 times more expensive. Compare the price of name brand products to store brand products – store brands generally cost less.
6. Bypass “empty foods” (potato chips, ice cream, soda, candy, etc). Bake a batch of cookies at home instead and for much less cost. Forego expensive meat rubs and marinades (which are often 90% salt) and make your own seasoning mix from herbs and spices you have at home. Bottled water is expensive and many sources claim bottled water has no health benefit over tap water, so stop spending money on it. Popsicles and gelatin cups – these are mostly water. Make your own at home.
7. Stop paying for disposable packaging. It’s simple to make chocolate pudding – don’t pay more for pre-cooked pre-packaged pudding in plastic containers. Buy a bag of popcorn kernels instead of the microwave packets. Fold cut-up fresh or juice-packed fruit into plain yogurt instead of buying the more expensive, pre-packaged fruit yogurt.
8. If you can’t get the kids to eat the crusts on a piece of bread, trim them off and store them in a self-seal freezer bag. When the bag is full, let the crusts dry out for 24 hours, then run them through a food processor or blender, adding spices like dried parsley, garlic powder, paprika, and/or Italian seasoning, and make homemade gluten-free breadcrumbs.
9. Use every bit of everything. If you serve a roasted chicken, save the carcass; put it in a pot with chopped onions, celery, carrots, parsley, and a bay leaf to make chicken stock. If you have a leftover ham bone, simmer the bone as a base for bean soup.
10. Save even small bits of leftover food. Chop these leftovers into bite-sized pieces and place them in a self-seal freezer bag. The next time you have leftovers, add them to the bag. When the bag is full, open a large can of gluten-free chicken or beef broth, add the contents of the bag, and voila! You have Recycle Soup!
11. Gluten-free breads are pricey – Save them for packing lunches and find other alternatives for breakfast. Make a breakfast burrito with a corn tortilla, scrambled egg, grated cheddar cheese and a little salsa. Make a smoothie with strawberries (which are less expensive than raspberries or blueberries), milk, yogurt, and a dash of vanilla. For kids, spread a banana with peanut butter and serve with a homemade muffin.
12. Save on lunches. Deli turkey breast costs about twice as much as roasting turkey tenderloin at home and slicing it thin for sandwiches. If you cook a beef roast, pork roast, or meatloaf the night before for dinner, reserve a few slices for tomorrow’s lunch. One pound of lean ground beef can make 8 tacos so it stretches your grocery dollar. One cup of gluten-free flour mixture will go a long way when you add chopped green onion, minced green pepper and shredded cheddar cheese to make waffles to use as a base for sloppy joes instead of expensive gluten-free buns.
13. Cut back on expensive dinners. Take leftovers from last night’s beef roast and vegetables, cut them up, thicken beef broth with cornstarch, add a crust, and make beef pot pies. Or shred the remains of the roast, add a little barbeque sauce and spoon over the cheese waffles mentioned above. Reduce meat serving sizes to 5 ounces; eating less meat is healthier and will save on the grocery bill. You can stretch meat by adding lots of veggies to stews, soups, and casseroles. Make veggie chow mein served over rice noodles, tuna quesadillas or tuna rice casserole. Simmer a large pot of chili (with mostly beans and less meat), then freeze the leftovers to use over hot dogs or hamburgers, on top of spaghetti or rice, over corn pancakes, to stuff a baked potato, or to use in quesadillas or taco salad.
14. Brown rice costs less per serving than gluten-free pasta, so use the pastas sparingly. Tonight make red beans and rice; tomorrow night, add salsa to make Mexican rice. Potatoes and beans are two of the least expensive items at a grocery store. Add beans to salads and casseroles. Roasted potatoes cost less and are more nutritious than making au gratin potato slices with heavy cream and cheddar cheese. If you roasted too many potatoes, recreate the leftovers into a potato salad for tomorrow’s side dish or mash them with a little milk, butter and parmesan cheese to make mashed potatoes. If you have mashed potatoes left over, stir in some shredded zucchini, carrots, green pepper and green onions to make latkes. Cabbage is a bargain, so stuff it, boil it, add it to salads, stews, soups, and shred it for coleslaw.
15. Finally, pinch pennies on dessert. Homemade brown rice pudding costs pennies per serving. In the fall, go apple picking (apples cost must less this way). Make baked apples for dessert one night. Slice a few to make Dutch apple pie. If you picked too many apples and they are starting to go soft, chop them up and make a pot of homemade applesauce. Layer frozen yogurt, cut-up fruit, and crushed gluten-free cinnamon-flavored cereal in parfait glasses. Use up those slices of gluten-free bread that crumbled or dried out by making bread pudding. Puree juices or fruits you have left in the refrigerator and make homemade popsicles.
The budget choices are out there. Eating gluten-free can be fun, safe, healthy and cost-effective with just a little bit of planning.
Author and Speaker Information: Connie Sarros, Fairlawn, OH