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Going Gluten-Free Without Going Broke: Five Ways to Lower Your Gluten-Free Grocery Bill

This post is part of an editorial series, “Money Matters.”

The first time I heard the phrase “gluten-free” was on a morning show interview with Elizabeth Hasselbeck — this was way back when she was still a guest on daytime TV, not a hostess. She had just come back from her stint on the show Survivor and talked about how after months of eating a very primitive, gluten-free diet, she realized that THIS was the key to better health. What I heard was; “blah, blah, blah look at my rock hard abs (cue picture of a shirtless Elizabeth in the wilderness) blah, blah, blah you should all eat gluten-free and buy my cookbook.” Awesome! I could do that. I could go gluten-free for those abs! This would be a gluten-free piece of cake! But, it wasn’t, and I didn’t. I don’t exactly remember why — I probably got distracted by the next fad diet or a pizza, who knows? 

grocery, bananas, food, grocery storeFast forward several years and my youngest son is now living with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that over time causes intestinal damage when you eat gluten or wheat. His doctor confirmed the only “treatment” would be for him to adhere to a strict, gluten-free diet. There goes that phrase again. This time I had no choice but to educate myself on what it meant, how to follow it, and, most important, how to afford it. 

Sometimes GF labels are not necessary. First of all I will never know everything that contains gluten or wheat, like never, EVER! But, I do know what does NOT: fresh fruits; vegetables; eggs; dairy; nuts; seeds; and any meat, fish, or poultry that has not been processed. Some grains, such as corn (I know right?! Yes, it is a grain, and it made the switch sometime after Pluto became a star and before Prince became a symbol), rice, oatmeal, and a few others are also gluten-free. So, when it comes to any of these items, as long as they are not processed, you don’t have to look for a gluten-free or GF label. In fact, it will only cost you more money.

ALDI offers big savings (especially in May). Now for the processed stuff. ALDI stores have a great selection of gluten-free products under the label “Live G Free.” Pricing is really competitive, so even if you don’t love the pasta (which I don’t care what the package says, rinse the pasta after boiling; trust me on this one), you won’t feel terribly guilty for tossing it away. Also, a little known fact: May is Celiac awareness month, and during that month, ALDI runs some great specials, so stock up on non-perishables and take advantage of specialty items like frozen gluten-free General Tso’s chicken and fried onions. 

Bulk shopping can really pay off. It’s no secret that buying certain foods and snacks in bulk can save you money. The same rings true for gluten-free options. And Costco does not disappoint when it comes to gluten-free snacks and meals. Fruit cups, hummus, cheese sticks, Milton’s gluten-free crackers . . . those are just a few of the things we bulk-buy at Costco to help fill lunch boxes and hungry after-school tummies. But don’t skip the frozen and deli aisles. Its gluten-free chicken nuggets are a deal as is the Sugarhouse Maple sausage double pack! GF options are in abundance at Costco, and the savings can be too when you purchase in bulks.

Money Matters 2017 logoNot everyone has to go completely gluten-free. Another reason it actually benefits my family to shop Costco’s gluten-free items in bulk is because we all enjoy them . . . but that doesn’t mean we all HAVE to enjoy them. Sure, I may say my whole family follows a gluten-free diet, but that’s only partially true. While I’m certainly not cooking two different meals for dinner — one gluten-free and one not — I’m not making everyone’s sandwiches on GF bread either; that would be incredibly expensive for a family of five. No, the rest of us still use regular bread, flour tortillas, and hot dog and hamburger buns made with wheat flour. I do however, make sure to always have the gluten-free comparable on hand for my son. (Freezing his favorite GF breads, buns, and tortillas makes that possible by stretching its lifespan and my dollar.) 

Sprouts for the win! But wait, hear me out . . . . When it comes to the bulk of my “gluten-free” shopping, Sprouts definitely takes the (reusable) bag. They have the most variety and some of the tastiest treats — you’d never know they were gluten-free! Glutino’s salted caramel pretzels (I die!) are among our favorites, along with the donuts. Yes, donuts, they’re frozen and they’re fan-freakin-tastic! While Sprouts prices might not be the lowest, its return policy paired with its online coupon system makes it my favorite stop for gluten-free shopping. Don’t like the pie? Return it. Already ate two slices? Return it! And while you’re there be sure to grab a “Gluten-Free” magazine. It is loaded with coupons, and it never hurts to have a couple new recipes to throw into the rotation.

Whether by choice or medical necessity, following a gluten-free diet can be IS very costly . . . period. If you have savings tips you’d like to share, leave them in the comments. And just in case you were wondering, since adopting a gluten-free lifestyle (you know, in solidarity with my son), I’m sad to report that I do NOT have Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s abs, but happy that my son and my wallet are adjusting well to our new way of life. 

The Fort Worth Moms Blog hosts 20 Neighbor Groups via Facebook, including the Fort Worth Food Allergy Moms. These groups are free to join and offer online and offline opportunities to build relationships and gain resources from other moms in the area.

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