Beginning in 2013 my husband was unemployed for more than a year. We went from earning six figures to below the poverty level while living in one of the most expensive areas of the country. Our family grocery budget was slashed to $300 a month. It was a painful experience, but here is what I learned about eating gluten free on a budget during that journey.
1. Use cash
Determine how much you have for your grocery budget and take that amount from your account in cash. This is the most important step in learning to keep your grocery budget under control because you are guaranteed to not exceed a set amount. You will also be forced to pay attention to prices. Your budget will be key in the next step, making a monthly meal plan. When you shop, bring a calculator to prevent overspending. If your running total starts to exceed the budgeted amount, decide what you can do without that week.
2. Plan meals monthly
Planning a month in advance will help you use your groceries efficiently by reducing both waste and expensive dashes to the supermarket for last-minute items. Create a spreadsheet detailing all meals and snacks, and base them on fresh, whole foods that don’t have the gluten-free mark-up of packaged products. Put a copy of your meal plan for each week where you can see it. This will keep you on track and is especially helpful in reminding you what needs to be defrosted for dinner.
3. Make a list
Without a grocery shopping list you will buy more than you need, so make a list based on your meal plan and stick to it. Aim to go shopping only once a week. The more often you go to the store, the more you will spend. If possible don’t bring the kids because having them along will always bring up the cost of groceries. When I was a single parent, I discovered it was less expensive for me to use an online grocery service for a $9 delivery fee than it was to bring my daughter to the supermarket due to impromptu purchases.
4. Shop ethnic markets
My favorite is the Indian market where I buy a gluten-free lentil, chickpea, millet, rice and buckwheat flour at a reasonable price. International markets also have a wider variety of produce at lower prices. You will be able to explore new and interesting foods.
5. Eat less meat
When our budget was really tight, rather than having a “Meatless Monday,” we ate meat on Monday and had meatless meals the rest of the week. I also realized that I did not have to buy as much meat when I did include it in a meal. A serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Keep that in mind when grocery shopping. It’s better for your wallet and your waistline to eat reasonable portions. Stretch any meat you do buy into several meals. For example prepare a whole chicken and use the breast meat and legs for dinner. Cut any unused chicken from the bone,
put it in a plastic bag with other chicken leftovers and refrigerate. Use this to make quesadillas for lunch the next day. Meanwhile, place the chicken bones in a slow cooker, add vegetables and make stock, then refrigerate. Transfer the cooled chicken stock to freezer bags and freeze. Thaw it for a chicken soup and salad dinner the next week. Buy cheaper cuts of meat such as chicken thighs, which work well on the grill, and skirt steak or cubed steak, which work best in a slow cooker. You can also stretch meat by making stir fry, soup, stew and pot pies.
6. Save scraps
Keep the cut-off ends of your vegetables and place them in a zipper-top freezer bag. When it is full, fill your stock pot up with water, place the veggies in it, and begin a broth. Broccoli doesn’t work well in stocks, but it can be stored
separately and used to make stews and soups such as cream of broccoli. Meat scraps other than chicken can also be used to make broth. And bone broth is popular now. Allow the broth to simmer on the back burner or in your slow cooker, skimming off the fat as it cooks down. Freeze the broth to use as a quick way to add flavor to your meals. If you can’t finish a glass of wine or have only a tablespoon of tomato paste left in the can, freeze it in an ice cube tray. These little cubes of leftovers add flavor to stews, stocks and dinner dishes.
7. Shop your own kitchen
Once a month inventory what you have on hand and go to supercook.com. Click on “Restrictions” and highlight the “gluten” button, then enter the items you have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. You’ll get a list of recipes you can make based on what you already have, plus recipes that need only an additional ingredient. This is an efficient way to reduce food waste and save money. If you save a little each month, you can put that part of your food budget toward groceries for birthdays, holidays and other special events. We’re all trying to save money on groceries. The gluten-free diet can make it a little more challenging, but it’s possible if you follow these simple steps.
Mary Herrington and her 9- and 18-year-old daughters all have celiac disease.