It is a big fad to be gluten free these days. And I will freely confess that I have gone right along with it! Someday I will write a post detailing why I've done so; for now, suffice it to say that I had seen auto-immune problems in family members and decided that gluten free living might help me avoid the same fate. I do know that I feel healthier and have more energy and fewer headaches since going off gluten over two years ago.
But guess what? Going gluten free can be an expensive business! I've had to learn the hard way about sticking to a budget AND a gluten free diet at the same time. Today I'd like to spare you the expense of the learning curve and share my one simple tip for gluten free living on a budget. It's really very easy! And you know that's what I'm all about! :-)
When I went gluten free, I did not have extra money to put into my food budget. I had to buy special food for me and still feed the rest of the family (who were still thoroughly happy to be gluten-infested, lol) with the same amount of money I had used before. I found out that many of the foods I loved — crackers, breads, cookies (um… just keepin' it real, y'all) are VERY expensive in gluten-free form. So I quickly had to decide what to buy and what to forgo.
The thing that many people who go gluten free don't realize is that much of the food labelled gluten free isn't really any better for you than food that has the gluten. Those crackers, breads, cookies, etc. that I loved are still highly processed food, albeit made with gluten-free flours instead of regular ‘ol wheat flour. And gluten-free flours (for the most part) are just as useless, nutritionally speaking, as white flour.
ANY flour, when you think about it, is far from having the nutritional value of the real food it came from. That once real food (wheat, rice, barley, coconut, or whatever) has been processed within an inch of its life and is now just filler. Breads, cookies, crackers, pasta, etc — no matter what flour is used to make them — are all inferior nutritionally. They are basically empty calories. They taste great! But mostly they just add to your waistline without giving you any benefit.
I mean, if ALL you're trying to do is avoid gluten, then don't assume that you are eating any healthier than you were before. If you're spending an arm and a leg to be gluten free, then you most likely are not any better off nutritionally.
Gluten free macaroni and cheese is still a processed food nightmare, y'all. It is NOT healthy stuff. It's quick and easy, just like its glutenized (New word. I made it up. I like it.) counterpart. But it is NOT cheap.
Same for most gluten-free breads and pie crusts and cake mixes and tortillas. Those things are not real food when they have gluten in them, and they are still not real food without it. Trying to replace all these items with their gluten-free counterparts will definitely put a crimp in your budget, since they are much more expensive.
My advice? My single easy tip for gluten free living on a budget?? DON'T try to replicate these foods. Just go without them.
That's right. No more bread. No more mac and cheese, or cookies, or pizza. You won't be able to buy these cheaply – SO DON'T BUY THEM AT ALL.
Instead, fill up your cart with things that are naturally gluten-free: meats, fruits, veggies, beans, eggs, rice, quinoa, yogurt, etc. Real foods. Whole foods.
Then fill up your plate with large servings of these things, rather than that side dish of starch or bread.
Did you know that meals can be much simpler than we think? A chicken breast with a side of green beans and a salad makes a cheap, healthy, gluten-free dinner. And you can fill up on the salad and green beans to your heart's content! I always pile the veggies on to cover practically half of my plate. They're way better for me than what's in the bread basket.
For snacks, avoid the products that are made to replicate gluten-y (if nobody's created this word yet then the time is now) items, such as gluten-free pretzels or gluten-free cheese puffs. Stick to things that never had gluten in them in the first place, so they can be found cheaply — like potato chips (be careful of seasonings, though; some have gluten and some do not), tortilla chips, and nuts. And fruit! And carrot sticks! You can't get much cheaper than carrots!
For lunch, make a sandwich using lettuce to replace the bread. Or spread some peanut butter on a rice cake. Or make a nice salad — but NO gluten-free-that-you-just-mortgaged-your-house-for croutons!
OK, true confessions here: I DO use gluten free flours (gasp!), but not that often. Everyone likes some yummy cinnamon protein pancakes for breakfast or maybe a piece of corn bread (recipe forthcoming) with their chili at dinner. But it is necessary to be careful. Many gluten-free recipes call for multiple types of flour in one recipe, and you can deplete your bank account just by trying to round them all up. Then there are all the other weird ingredients they want you to use, all in the name of being gluten free. I'm just not into that much effort, y'all. Not to mention that many of these recipes (or the store-bought products) have added salt or sugar to give them more flavor. I will never forget the recipe for flourless cookies I saw that used THREE CUPS of powdered sugar. But because they're “flourless,” they're considered more healthy?? Um, NO. (Cookies aren't healthy no matter HOW you make them. This is a fact, and we'd better just accept it.)
Yep, if you are trying to experience gluten free living while sticking to a frugal budget, it is best to avoid all baked goods and anything else made with any kind of flour, gluten-free or otherwise. Restrict these items to an occasional treat. Your body will love you. Your wallet will love you. It's a win-win!