I’ve been working on a project these past couple of weeks that has forced me to pay even more attention to the cost of food during these tight economic times. This article on what a modern depression would look like suggested a possible upswing in eating fast food and starchy, processed food because they are cheaper, and I couldn’t help but think even more about the future of healthy eating.
As a patient with celiac disease, I’ve grown used to the fact that eating gluten-free is expensive. Whether it’s dining out or cooking at home, there’s no way around the fact that many of the cheaper items out there are off-limits.
The trade-off, of course, is that fresh and/or whole foods are healthier, and my meals are higher in fiber, lower in sodium, and much more diverse than they would be were I not gluten- (and dairy) free. While sticking to this lifestyle will never be inexpensive, there are definitely lots of things GF shoppers (or anyone with a limited diet) can do to maintain their diets without breaking the bank. Here are some strategies to keep in mind as budgets shrink and costs increase—none of them are earth-shattering and they certainly aren’t the only ones out there, but they are things I think about and try to practice regularly:
1. Personally, I try to stick to foods that are naturally gluten-free, rather than buying specialty pre-made items (bread, pizza crusts, pasta, etc) that approximate products with gluten and cost more. I’d much rather buy a bulk bag of brown rice or risotto and have that with my stir fry or as a side dish. Same thing with polenta—it’s cheap when you buy it in bulk and is really versatile in terms of spices and mix-ins.
(Note: I’m not much of a bread/baked goods kind of girl, but I know celiac patients get good results with breadmakers, and that it’s cheaper than buying pre-made GF bread).
2. We like to make soups and turkey chili a lot, and buying dried beans and lentils makes a lot of sense if you’re going to use those ingredients often. Certainly store-brand canned beans aren’t too expensive, but they can have more sodium than I’d like and they’re still not cheaper than dried beans. (Just make sure you give them plenty of time to soak. The infamous “crunchy” turkey chili of July 4, 2008 taught me that lesson.)
3. Plan meals around vegetables in season—not only does it make for more creative meals but you’ll spend less. If your recipes call for vegetables not in-season, frozen vegetables are more affordable and have many of the same health benefits as the fresh kind.
4. Make the most of every ingredient you buy and purchase items that can work in several different meals/recipes. For example, we’ll buy a whole chicken when we see it on sale and roast it, using some meat for that night’s meal and setting aside portions to use in soup and on salads later that week. Then we take what’s left and make a huge pot of chicken broth out of it. We use some of it for soups that week, and depending on how much we make, we freeze containers of it to use when we make risotto or polenta and want the depth of flavor broth adds over water. (You can find store-bought broth that is gluten-free but it’s often too salty and I really prefer the taste of homemade broth.)
5. Lastly, it sounds obvious, but pay attention to sales and specials. If you’ve planned out meals with one type of protein and another is one sale, think about substituting. And of course if you see GF specialty items or proteins on sale, stock up on them and keep them in the freezer. Take-out can really add up and is often limited in terms of GF-availability, so give yourself options.
While they are not major changes they can really make a difference for anyone dealing with dietary restrictions. If you’re looking for more ideas, Gluten-free Mommy has a great post on eating gluten-free frugally.