Information about gluten-free diets is everywhere these days, with some people calling it a fad and others claiming the health benefits.
The reality is that some people require a gluten-free diet for health reasons, and others prefer a gluten-free diet because they feel and function better when they avoid gluten. Some of the children and young adults I work with have significant allergies or sensitivities to gluten, and their symptoms greatly improve when gluten is removed from their diet.
While most parents want to be supportive of diet changes that will help their child, it can feel daunting. One of the biggest fears people have is cost, especially if they have a large family. The truth is, going gluten free doesn’t have to be expensive. My family of 6 has been gluten free for many years, so I have some personal (as well as professional) experience with this issue. Here are a few ways you can give up gluten without breaking the bank:
- Reduce or Eliminate Fast Food: Eating fast food is expensive, and in the end our kids feel and look worse for it. Processed food has additives, extra calories and more than its share of gluten. Even when gluten-free options are available at fast food restaurants, they are often made with poor quality ingredients that include chemicals and extra sugar. Why spend money to have your kids be hyper, cranky and potentially overweight? The average family of four spends $30 on one drive through a fast food window. That money can be much better spent on quality meats, fruit and veggies.
- Get a Good Cook Book: As obvious as this sounds, it’s not. Parents who are used to cooking “off the top of their head” may not realize the wealth of resources available in a great recipe book. Some parents aren’t used to cooking at all, in which case cookbooks are even more important. To save more money you can borrow one from the library, buy a used on Amazon, or simply search online. By following a recipe you’re more likely to make amazing meals that your kids will love and that won’t cost a lot. And if you’re new to cooking and baking gluten free, tried and true recipes will help you avoid some of the beginner’s mistakes people make when substituting gluten-free flours and other ingredients.
- Reduce Consumption of Bread: Gluten-free breads can be expensive (especially if they are made with quality ingredients), so going without bread is more cost-effective. Bread is not necessary for a healthy diet, and most kids are eating too many bread-type products anyway. However, if your kids are used to eating bread often then you may initially want to find a gluten-free bread to substitute for things like toast and sandwiches. Over time you can continue to reduce the amount of bread you serve, and after a while none of you will even miss bread anymore (you might not believe me, but it’s true)!
- Shop at Local Asian and Other Ethnic Markets: If you live in an area with ethnic markets you can find great deals on gluten-free items to cook with. For example, visit an Asian market and stock up on inexpensive rice noodles. You can also pick up a wide variety of veggies, fruits, and spices that you can incorporate into your new diet at a fraction of the cost of traditional grocery stores.
- Create Your Own Sauces: Broths and many flavored dressings have wheat flour in them (not to mention lots of chemical preservatives) so they need to be avoided. It’s easier than you think to boil water with celery and carrots, and use the carcass of your chicken to make a delicious soup base. Rub your meats and veggies with salt and pepper, coconut aminos, or roasted garlic and onion, instead of expensive store bought marinades.
- Avoid Gluten Free Desserts and Snacks: Eating a gluten-free diet can be just as unhealthy as a diet with gluten in it, especially if you’re eating lots of processed cookies, muffins, and snacks. Not to mention, gluten-free cookies and other packaged items can get expensive – often double the cost of gluten-filled options. When you do want to have a sweet dessert or snack on hand, make them yourself to save money and improve the quality. For example, you can make gluten-free oatmeal cookies that are much healthier and cheaper than what you might by at the store (and your house will smell delicious!).
Get the Family Involved
If you’re going to spend more time in the kitchen (and you will be) why not involve the family? Make dinner together. Roll out those cookies together. Shop and find new ingredients together. Just as important as what you serve is how you serve it. Cooking and baking can be a period of beautiful bonding. And just think – the extra time you spend in the kitchen means less time you’ll be spending money out of the house. If you’re going to be there anyway, make the most of it!
Going gluten free may seem expensive initially, but with some planning it can be much easier and less expensive than you think. If you’ve gone gluten free please share tips you have for saving money in the comments below!