Frugal Gluten-Free Living: Budget Friendly, Gluten-Free Grocery Staples

By Sonja Stewart on 3 February 2010 (Updated 29 March 2010) 26 comments

If the thought of making your home gluten-free is overwhelming, this list will help you gather the frugal gluten-free groceries that will become staples.

Xanthan Gum

This necessary little ingredient is the only thing that will keep your fresh baked, gluten-free goodies from falling apart at the seams. Each recipe only calls for 1-2 teaspoons, so don't gag when you see the price tag (my Bob's Red Mill brand was around twelve dollars) — it goes a long, long way.

  • For breads and pizza doughs, add 1 teaspoon for every cup of flour.
  • For cookies and cakes, and every other delectable gluten-free treat you can concoct, 1/2 teaspoon for every cup of flour.

Eggs

Not only are these perfect orbs of deliciousness yummy and diet-friendly, they are used in almost every gluten-free baking recipe. (If you can't have eggs, I am so sorry. However you can substitute flax seed oil and water.) I have a half dozen boiled in my fridge at all times for snacks and emergency food when I have to eat right away. Also, they make the perfect gluten-free breakfast food. I never buy a dozen — I always go for the 5 dozen, and I always run out before I think I should.

Gluten-Free Cereal (like Chex)

I only buy these when they go on sale, and I collect every coupon I can to add to the savings. I refuse to pay 4 dollars a box when my family can easily go through a box and a half a day. These are great not only for cereal, but for making gluten-free marshmallow treats, and for toddler hand-sized gluten-free snacking. Tell your friends to be on the hunt for any Chex coupons. You can pay them in the fruit cakes you get at Christmas.

Gluten-Free Snacks

These are my go-to for survival. When my husband comes home from work and he needs something right away, he grabs the Frito Lays. On road trips, I feed the kiddos Pirate's Booty. While these snack food items aren't essential, they are nice gluten-free items to have around. Just be certain to read and re-read labels. Mono sodium glutamate (MSG) is in quite a lot of packaged foods, and will absolutely affect your gluten allergy. And just because an item is Gluten-free one day, doesn't mean they always will be. Manufacturers are constantly tweaking their formula, and sometimes throw gluten back in. When in doubt, look for products that state, “Gluten-Free,” or avoid it altogether.

Gluten-Free Flour

I only bought the pre-mixed, all-purpose gluten-free flour once. It was pricey. Then I wised up and made my own mix. I found a fantastic all purpose flour mix that you can substitute, cup for cup, with regular recipes (as long as you remember to add xanthan gum) at Gluten Free Cooking School. Here's her well-researched mix:

Delicious Gluten-Free Flour Mix

  1. Three parts brown rice flour
  2. Three parts cornstarch
  3. Two parts soy flour
  4. One part masa flour (In the Mexican food section)

If you can't have soy, you can substitute sorghum flour. Also, if you want to add fiber and protein, add a bean flour, like garbanzo or fava. It adds iron as well.

Beans

If you are as cheap as I am, buy your pinto beans in bulk and make your own refried beans. It's relatively easy because you can make it in the crock pot. Here's the recipe for refried beans without the refry. After I learned how easy and inexpensive this was, I had a hard time shelling out the cash for the canned beans. But either way, refried beans are a staple in our lives. We use them to make nachos on those nights I just can't pull it together enough to make something from scratch. Also, with the gluten-free flour tortillas I make, we have delicious burritos for lunch.

Rice

This easy to make staple will save you time and money if you cook it in your rice cooker and serve it alongside your dishes. It can be spiced up to match the most exotic dishes, or you can always serve it the way my three-year-old loves it: a la butter and salt. Gluten-free cooking doesn't mean your small kids have to hate you. Save the angst for adolescence.

Quinoa

This is nothing like rice, except that you can cook it in your rice cooker. The texture is much different. There is a nutty flavor to it that makes for a heartier dish. If you cook it with a tablespoon of tomato paste, some extra virgin olive oil and crushed garlic, it will stand up to a nice lamb or ground beef dinner. I use the exact same measurements as I do rice in my rice cooker. The grain should look translucent when it's finished. My daughter calls it “snow rice.” As long as it stays on the plate, that's fine.

Yeast

You don't have to be a fantastic baker to be a successful gluten-free bread chef. Trust me on this one. However, it's good to get familiar with how yeast works. I go for the jars rather than the packets because it's easier to measure for recipes. Also, I find yeast lasts longer when I store it in the coldest part of my fridge. I'll write more about this lovely, live food product when I write about baking your own frugal gluten-free bread.

Potatoes

These are cheap, cheap, cheap! I got a ten pound bag for $1.78. Also, if your family likes french fries and you buy them frozen, it may contain gluten. Seasoned fries often contain flour to add to the crisp-factor. Making your own is the easiest and the healthiest option. I cut a bunch up, toss them with a splash of worcestershire, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, I throw them in the oven at 350 degrees until they are “good and done.” (You have to say that last part in a redneck accent to get the full effect.)

Oats

I left this one for last because it's the most controversial. Some people with gluten allergies are fine with oats and some aren't. Some can only have the oats that are “virginal” and have never come into any contact with any other grain...ever! To the latter, those virgin oats can be mighty expensive. It's your call. To those that can have oats, happy day. They are cheap and great for mornings when you just don't feel like eating another omelet. Also, you can throw the oats in the blender and make your own oat flour. Making your own flour? Look how fancy you've become!

I hope you're getting the picture that being allergic to gluten is not a life sentence of spending your utility budget on your grocery bill. This is a very cohesive way to gather your frugal gluten-free groceries. I realize most people have very busy lives and don't want to spend all their time and energy figuring out this gluten-free thing. So relax. Take a couple of tips where you can and learn from my disasters. (There are so many to learn from.) This list should be good for your bottom, and your bottom line!

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Guest's picture
Guest

You can also use one heaping tablespoon of soy flour and one tablespoon of water as the substitute for an egg in any recipe for baked goods. I use it consistently in breads, cookies, and cakes and everything always turns out beautifully.

Guest's picture
Lori

What a help you are to making living gluten free less of a barrier and more of enjoyable, doable and frugally possible!
I know so many people that struggle with creating gluten free meals and incorporating it with ease and frugality in their lives, can't wait to forward this to them!

Lori

Guest's picture
Guest

Enjoy life a little more! Have a real cookie once in a while. My pf blog about living debt free kind of helps my put life into perspective. Dollars not debt.

Guest's picture
A

Great info, great post. Still in the learning phase.

@guest (dollars not debt)--if I have a "real" cookie, I will soon have the sensation of dull rusty blades cutting through my guts. I don't consider that "enjoying life a little more." That's what puts my life into perspective.

Thanks again, Sonja!

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

Sonja, I'm really enjoying this series and I'm looking forward to more

Guest's picture
Beth

@ Guest (debt for dollars) -- I'm going to try to put this nicely: If you're going to plug your blog, avoid undermining your credibility with an uninformed comment.

Not eating "a real cookie" isn't about cost, it's about avoiding foods that make you physically ill (and have serious consequences in the long run). For those of use with wheat and gluten issues, learning how to cook gluten-free is enjoying life more because it means we get to enjoy more foods. (In fact, wheat is actually quite boring compared to the wealth of other grains out there.)

Sonja, keep up the good work! I'm looking forward to hearing about bread. (And cookies, I hope? hint hint)

One of my favourite gluten-free staples is millet. It's cheaper than quinoa (though I love it too!), and great as a hot cereal (with your favourite fruit or sweetener) or anywhere you'd use rice or couscous.

Guest's picture
Aryn

I discovered that Costco sells 1 pound vacuum-sealed bags of Red Star yeast for about $3. I keep the yeast bag in a gallon-sized ziploc in the freezer to reduce light exposure and keep it alive longer. It saves me a bundle vs. the $8 jars at the grocery store! Even if I don't use it all before it dies, it's still a money-saver.

Sonja Stewart's picture

I had no idea!  I will definitely be buying yeast at Costco from now on.

Thanks for the heads up!!

Guest's picture

One thing I would like to add is that rye flour while not gluten free can be tolerated by many people who I know who do not tolerate wheat flour (rye has less than 10% of the gluten of wheat). This can make life a lot more tasty. Rye flour can also be very cost effective.

Guest's picture
gfb1

sorry gang. rye contains proteins that are (nearly) chemically identical to those found in wheat and barley -- the antigenic portions are exactly identical. it is true that there is less gluten in rye flour than in wheat flour.

however, that's like saying, if one is allergic to peanuts you can eat one peanut and still be ok. untrue.

further, just because there is less gluten/prolamin in rye and you APPEAR to tolerate the exposure -- you are exposing your intestinal tract to a potent antigen which will eventually cause intestinal damage and increase the severity of your immune response.

Guest's picture
Guest

Good info for all of us wending our way through the gluten-free forest. I also saw your article on kitchen tools for the gluten free life. Next: a book on frugal gluten-free living? I'm for it!

Guest's picture
finance

good stuff are on the list and gluten free. I'll add that to my list.

Guest's picture

It seems that being gluten free is not so hard after all. I guess I just had it as a mental barrier all along.

Guest's picture

It seems that being gluten free is not so hard after all. I guess I just had it as a mental barrier all along.

Sonja Stewart's picture

@DaddyPaul: Unfortunately our household can't have rye. (sad face.)  But I had no idea it contained less gluten than wheat.  I love reubens....mmmmm..seurkraut.  Seriously, every time I'm away from my home by myself, I feel like I'm cheating on my husband with gluten.  Such a toxic fling...but man...yummy stuff.

 

@Beth:  I'll be researching the millet.  Thanks for the new grain to explore.  I do love quinoa, but it is pricey.  I validate it just because it has protein and fiber...excuses, I know.  I just love it.  But I'll have to try the millet.

 

@guest"great post": You must be my mother.  Thank you for the kind words.

Guest's picture
Beth

@Sonja -- Millet's great! I find two cups water to one cup millet is the way to go. Simple bring it to a roiling boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes. (just like rice).

Cooking it straight out of the package will yield a softer texture, perfect for hot cereal (I like it with honey, yum!). I followed a tip I read somewhere to toast the millet first if you want the grains to retain more of their shape. Just stir the grains around in the pan over heat for a few minutes before adding the water. It's more like cous cous that way.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you write next :)

Guest's picture
Kimberley

I recently started attempting a gluten free lifestyle, not because of a diagnosed allergy, but because when I stop eating gluten as part of the first couple weeks of the South Beach Diet I felt GREAT!!!

Guest's picture
Em

Sonja, try making a plain GF bread with caraway seed mixed in and a sprinkle of salt on top as a substitute for rye in reubens. A gluten-free sourdough starter is nice.

Guest's picture
Margie

Someone told me to look for anything that has gluten in it.I had colon cancer in 1998 and am having troulble with fruits & veggies 5 minnutes after I eat them. They go straight thru. Is it because they took 2 ft of my lg intestine out & had chemo? I can't seem to get any answers so I'm waiting to see your answer. Thanks. Margie

Guest's picture
Kitty

I recently took gluten out of my diet after a one year period of detoxing off of fast food and prepackaged convenience foods (years of travel and long hours away from home in a stressful job). It was a long journey to break cravings and old habits but I finally was able to isolate that there was a specific problem that wasn't exactly food intolerance. I was afraid it might end up being one of those vague medical diagnoses like fibromyalgia, ibs or chronic fatigue. I tried taking out gluten as a last resort before surrendering myself to the medical establishment. Yea! Finally I can be healthy again! Its so exciting to be in control and know I can depend on my body from day to day!

Thank you so much for the frugal ideas. I have implemented almost all of them already (in a week!) and no one can even tell the flour has been switched out. This is so easy! I only spent an extra $80 switching out the pantry and my mom was more than happy to give me her counter top mixer that she never used. I would hate to guess how much I might have spent on prescription meds and drs visits if I hadn't been able to access info like yours Sonja! Thank you!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks so much Sonja! I am in the very beginning stages of my family going gluten free and I was searching the internet for how to do it and stay frugal...I found you! Please post more or get your own blogspot...that would be great! =) That is if you have time.

Sonja Stewart's picture

Thanks guest! I'll be posting a lot more on here. I have another gluten free article I'm writing today and am aiming to do at least one a week from now on. Summer had some unforeseen business, but I'm back and will, hopefully help you on your gluten free journey. It's really fun.

Guest's picture
Casherie

Sonja,

I would add sweet potatoes to the list! I eat this often for lunch, for dessert, anytime really. I have been working on writing tips on how to eat out g-free, the trouble is that it's so hit and miss, some places are good about cross contamination, while others certainly aren't. My lifestyle is too hectic to not eat out 2-3 times a week. We'll see what happens.

Guest's picture
sarah grace

i dont trust non-GF-certified oats myself (tho i do indulge in other "iffy" foods...). what i like to have for hot cereal is cream of rice cereal. yep, the same stuff you feed to your baby when he's starting to eat solid food. the box will tell you to mix 1/4 cup cream of rice with one cup water--and believe me, that's more than enough! mix with something to give flavor, like honey, maple or other syrup, coconut flakes, raisins, whatever. then round out your breakfast with protein and fruit and coffee :)

cream of rice cereal is definitely cheaper than certified GF oats, or other GF hot cereal. that's why i eat it :)

Guest's picture
Tonya

Any tips for a college student with only a toaster and a microwave to cook? She can not eat at the dining hall because they do not understand contamintation. The bacon is gluten free yet they cook it on bread to absorb the grease. yikes!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thank you so much for this list! As someone who feels completely overwhelmed with learning the gluten-free thing, on a budget, this was really helpful. Plus, I love the way you wrote it, very funny comments...a much needed laugh!:)