Frugal Gluten-Free Living: Kitchen Tools that Stretch Your Budget and Your Time

By Sonja Stewart on 24 January 2010 (Updated 20 August 2013) 35 comments
Photo: Sonja Stewart

I am a very frugal person. So, when my husband discovered his digestive tract could not handle gluten, I had to figure out how to stay within the budget, while keeping my sanity. I attempted to make my own rice flour, but that just exploded in a soggy, grainy disaster. I discovered very quickly, that I lacked the proper tools to make the transition smoothly. Here are my favorite gluten-free kitchen tools that save me time and money, while saving my husband's intestinal tract.

Bread Machine

This one is a no-brainer if you are like my family and have to have bread. Not only does it save you the time and preparation of waiting for the dough to rise before you throw it in the oven, but it makes a more solid sandwich bread, in my opinion. I got my bread machine at a thrift store for 8 bucks. It was missing the paddle inside, but here's the thing, with gluten-free bread, you don't need the paddle. You mix the ingredients ahead of time so all you have to do is throw it in the machine and walk away. Sheer gluten-free perfection! This one will get used often, especially if you have kids that eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Kitchen Aid Standing Mixer (or equivalent)

This is a big ticket item, I realize. And you absolutely don't have to have it to be gluten-free and frugal. Here's what I've found with the standing mixer: it saves you time, because you can prepare other things while your dough is blending. But more importantly, I'm discovering, the longer you blend certain mixes, the better the texture. Since gluten works like a web to hold all the dough together, when you take the gluten out, you're left with a crumbly texture that falls apart. That's why you have to substitute xanthan gum. It works as a binding agent so your lovely pancakes, biscuits, and cookies don't crumble. When I let the mixer blend a little longer, I find the xanthan gum makes these great webs in the dough, which makes for a fluffier, more “gluten-esque” product. (See also: The 5 Best Mixers)

Pasta Maker

I got a metal hand crank one at Ross for 20 bucks because my husband was desperately craving noodles. It was definitely more than I wanted to spend on the thing, but as much as my family eats the pasta up, looking back now, I'd pay double. I make noodles at least once a week with this machine. The kids love helping and the noodles store for up to a week and a half in the fridge, so you can make a larger batch and save yourself time later in the week. Of course if you're ultra frugal, you can skip the pasta maker and roll out the dough with a rolling pin and cut strips of noodles with a pizza cutter. But the dough lacks consistency, and I can never seem to roll them out as thin as the pasta maker can.

Rice Cooker

I got mine at a garage sale for five bucks. It frees up the stove, makes rice and quinoa just right, and it's one less thing to think about at dinnertime.

Crock Pot

I try to only make one high maintenance item at a time. So, if I'm making fresh noodles, I crock pot the chicken. This is invaluable if you can't spend your entire day at home preparing for dinner and experimenting with different gluten-free recipes. (Don't judge me.)

Freezer

Hands down, this is the greatest money saving appliance ever. If you can cook in bulk, and freeze prepared meals for later, you'll be less likely to shell out extra cash at the grocery store for a “convenient” gluten-free dinner. Also, double, triple, quadruple bread recipes, pasta, casseroles, quiche, sauces, you name it, and freeze it for later.

Just because you have to live gluten-free doesn't mean you have to break the bank, or lose the convenience of packaged foods. With very little planning, the proper tools and an experimental attitude, you can keep your wallet fat and your belly flat.

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Guest's picture
kris

I agree heartily with all of these tips - and lucky you finding the bread machine on the cheap! I actually shelled out the cash for a new bread machine once I was diagnosed and it was still worth every penny.
One thing I haven't had the courage to try is noodles - I've just gone without. Would you mind sharing your recipe?

Myscha Theriault's picture

Outstanding, Sonja!

The only thing I haven't dished out for yet is a standing mixture. I think there are pasta attachments one can buy with those.

I am looking forward to your gluten-free pasta recipes. We technically don't have to go gluten-free at our house, but we are toying with the concept. Looking forward to more articles on this topic, and I'm sure our readers are too.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Trek Hound.

Guest's picture
falnfenix

honestly, gluten-free cooking or not, these are all splendid kitchen appliances. i use my rice cooker every other week, on average (found a Zojirushi for $10 at a kitchen outlet). my stand mixer gets a lot more use in the fall/winter than it does in summer, but i imagine i'd use it a lot more frequently if i had a pasta attachment. our bread maker gets regular use, and is the only one i really complain about - due to the size, that sucker takes up a LOT of space. my Kitchen Aid honestly takes up a lot less space in comparison. our crock pot gets monthly use.

the most expensive item on the list, the freezer, gets CONSTANT use. we shop at Costco for most of our regular grocery trips, and we'll pack that sucker to the gills when we go. it ends up saving us tons of money in the long run since we'll go there MAYBE once a month.

Guest's picture
Jerry

Your money will be wasted on these Kitchen Aid mixers, the problem with the mixers are the transmission covers, made of plastic, the covers will warp because of heat build up, and allow the gears to mesh improperly causing more heat resulting in transmission failure. Kitchen aid offers no solution in fixing the problem. I'm a bread maker and I have used up 4 of the mixers before locating the failure mode. Kitchen Aid flat out lies about the mixers being capable of mixing bread dough.

Guest's picture
Bobbi

How about one of those food saver machines? Anyone have any comments about those? I have been thinking of getting one but am not sure if they really hold up to what they advertise.

Guest's picture
Guest

i bought one thinking i would get so much use out of it, but honestly i used it until the bags ran out, and now buy ziploc bags.. I still have the machine, but it never comes out of the pantry. I am starting to do the once a month cooking. I am doing more like once every 2 weeks cooking..and still havent pulled it out. If some one trys to tell you you'll save money becuase you will reuse the bags, its not true. once they are sealed they dont seem to work the same anymore, that maybe because i tried to use them minimuly. Ziplocs work well, and they are not to much money. one more thing is i tend to only buy what i am going to use, and we tend to not have alot of left overs..that is one big reason we dont have alot of use for it.

Guest's picture
Guest

We love our food saver!! We buy grass fed meats, so whatever is on sale for the week we buy extra and vacuum seal. We also fish. The food saver keeps walleye and salmon good for a year+.

Sonja Stewart's picture

Thanks for the kind comment.  I'll be posting a noodle recipe this week along with a "how to" on how exactly to make them without having them turn into a sticky disaster.

We are Italian food afficianados in this house and absolutely cannot go wothout pasta.

Sonja

Guest's picture
Ziggy

I am not sure I understand why you need those things. I am gluten intolerant and we simply do not eat bread, pizza, baked goods, etc. It is healthier to eat veggies instead. Discover squashes, get creative with potatoes, etc. It is a wonderful world without gluten, unless you go out to eat--then it is a real bummer finding food, especially if you are also dairy intolerant.

Guest's picture
Guest

Well, the answer to what you state that you don't understand is this: simply not eating bread isn't an answer for most people. Glad that works for you, but most gluten intolerant people would prefer to do the work and have something that tastes like bread.

Sonja Stewart's picture

I agree with you and have discovered the fun of spaghetti squashes.  It is definitley healthier.  Having said that, I know that if I didn't find a way to bring bread and pasta into our lives, my husband would go back to offending his intestines with gluten.  Sometimes you gotta do what's best as a whole.  I've been having fun exploring and getting creative with ways to make this as normal, and inexpensive of an endeavor as possible.  If you are able to live gluten free with fresh vegetables, I think that's fantastic and I admire you.

 

But we are recovering foodies who need to have cheesy noodles from time to time.  Thanks for your comment!  Good health to you!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for the ideas and inspiration. I'm going to go get a rice cooker after you reminded me that pot I have to watch can be a lower-maintenance cooker.

The reason for cooking "normal-looking" foods like gluten- free bread and pasta is to satisfy all the members of the family and not make one person have to eat a special diet all by himself. Good work making that enormous adjustment!

Guest's picture

Our family just went vegan, so I think we have some similarities. Some foods are much more expensive, others are less.

I think that you just have to shift your "frugality" to search out savings on other products.

There are out there to be found.

Guest's picture
ctreit

Sonja, we could have written this post. We have the same kitchen tools but not just because we are also frugal. Gluten-free stuff tastes so much better when you make it at home, doesn't it?

Guest's picture

Very informative, Our family has been trying to go gluten free for some time now. About 90% of what we eat is organic so it is already hard enough to stay within the budget. I have read that going gluten free has some positive affects with kids whom have ADHD. This is all good stuff and I like your idea with the mixer.

Thanks

Sonja Stewart's picture

We did a lot of research  on the mixers before we bought the Kitchenaid.  I heard about the problem with the plastic transmission covers.  We were very concerned when we heard about people, (bread makers, in particular,) who had to throw out their Kitchenaid after a year or so of use.  What I learned was, they replaced the plastic with some sort of metal.  But people were complaining about those as well, saying they were very fragile and flimsy.  While this is not really an endorsement of Kitchenaid, (I believe if you are a serious breadmaker, doing a lot of kneading, I think a more industrial strength mixer is in order,) the thing with gluten-free bread is that you don't need to knead it.  So that's why we finally settled on this.  If you do need a lot of kneading, everything I read seems to steer you away from the Kitchenaid brand.  I think I recall Hobart being a good brand, but I'll have to look into that.

We got the Kitchenaid with the strongest motor possible as well, (thank you, Costco, on a super sale,) so, we'll see how this works out.  If it fails, I promise to write about it.  So far so good.  I believe in reading every review you can get your hands on before you make any big ticket purchase, (for me, that's over twenty bucks.)

 

Guest's picture
Guest

Hobart made the original kitchenaid mixers, and they are gems. You can check with a local restaurant equipment repair shop and see if they have any "smaller" industrial units... some are counter-top models, and more than capable of all that you need.

Sonja Stewart's picture

I have no idea how they work and how well.  They come across as gimmicky to me.  But, if anyone has good experiences with them, let me know.  Research is neverending.

Guest's picture
Aryn

Kitchenaid mixers can easily stand up to the task for GF bread dough. Unlike traditional bread dough, GF bread dough (and most other GF doughs) are closer in consistency to cake batter. Rather than using the dough hook to knead the dough, you use the paddle to whip air into it.

Guest's picture
Paul Nielsen

Shortly after I was diagnosed with celiac we discovered that many of my favorite commercially-available spice packets had ingredients that were prohibited. In response, we now custom-mix our own spices in a small, hand-held coffee grinder. This is a great tool that no kitchen should be without - even if, like us, you don't drink coffee. I think we paid less than $20 for the one we use.

The spices can be purchased cheaply in bulk and we found that the flavors in the spices are actually revitalized by the grinding process! By the way, it works great for grinding small amounts of rice or (gluten-free) oats into flour for recipies.

Guest's picture
Laurie

I'm sure making your own pasta is lovely, but did you know you can get delicious rice pasta at Trader Joe's for $1.99 per pound bag? That's a great deal, especially for someone, like me, who doesn't have time to make my pasta from scratch!

Guest's picture
Marla

I have always enjoyed your posts on parentingsquad.com and am glad to see you here!

I, too, have a Kitchenaid . . . and a breadmaker . . . and a pastamaker (were we separated at birth?). I especially love the Kitchenaid and the breadmaker. The breadmaker gets used every three or four days. It's just so easy to make high-quality, healthy bread in it. Be careful doubling recipes in the Kitchenaid - while it is a powerful appliance, it does struggle with big batches.

Good luck with your new eating adventure!

Sonja Stewart's picture

Thank you for the sweet comment!

Funny you should post this today...I was just using my Kitchenaid tonight to make a huge batch (triple) of noodles....and it acted really weird. Really, really weird. So weird, that both my husband and I took a step back like it would come unhinged and take off one of our arms, or a nose or some other important extremity.

So, I will take your advice as a legal waiver and watch my doubling on recipes. Thank you, Marla...I am very attached to my nose and arms.

Guest's picture
Amy K.

I love the list! I haven't used my pasta maker yet because I'm not sure how to clean it, but I love the idea of making my own linguine.

My father-in-law has Celiac disease, and I wanted to make sure you're aware that the difference in cost between gluten-containing and gluten-free items is usually FSA eligible. FSA (flexible spending account) money is pre-tax. It won't reduce your expenses as much as making your own food, but it helps take away some of the sting of the larger grocery bill if you don't have the time/can't find a recipe for some of the items.

Guest's picture

Since my wife cannot eat dairy wheat or yeast we have gotten to know corn chips really well. A toaster oven is our most used appliance.

Guest's picture
Keagan

I have found that the GF mixes don't beat on the kitchenaid nearly as much as regular mixes. I find it to be a great tool for the kitchen. I also have the extra freezer, toaster over, coffee grinder, crock pot; but I had these before GF. I'm looking into getting a rice cooker, just a small one and nothing fancy. I would love to get a bread machine. Bread is a major staple in this house and can't go without. As healthy as it is to just eat veggies it doesn't jump out at me - I like bread! If you can make it without the gluten, then why not! I'm not too sure about the pasta maker. Right now I just get some at Trader Joe's, I'm the only one who eats that anyway so the pasta maker probably wouldn't be a wise investment for me at the time.

I just started to make GF breads not long ago, still experimenting with different recipes to find just the right one. I made one tonight that finally didn't resemble a very large brink, but it didn't quite have the taste I was hoping. I'm still keeping it and made PB (sunflower) & J sandwiches, put them in the freezer so I can take them for lunch. I found a recipe for a wrap and it is awesome -
http://glutenfree.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/gluten-free-sandwich-wrap-tak...

I made wraps with chicken, rice, shredded carrots, lettuce, sprouts, cilantro, onion, garlic and olive oil!

Nice post, thanks!

Guest's picture
Chandra

Please be cautious of used appliances, particularly bread machines and mixers which can harbor microscopic gluten even when you think you've got it all out. It is impossible to get every trace of gluten out of a nonstick finish (such as some bread machine pans as well as nonstick cookware) and especially the synthetic gasket around the paddle holder.

We recommend, if you purchase a used bread machine, make at least 4 or 5 loaves of gluten free bread in it that you will give to non-celiacs before anyone with celiac disease eats bread from the machine. This way, any trace gluten in the pan, gasket, and/or paddle will hopefully come out in those first loaves and not remain in the machine to poison your gluten-free person.

Good luck!

Chandra

Guest's picture
Jenna

Really a great article - one of the most disheartening things I've been wading through since I was diagnosed with celiac is the "well, of COURSE you have to spend gobs of money now, there is no choice in gluten free eating" attitude. There needs to be a lot more of this type of material out there - that you can make it at home, it can taste good, and it doesn't have to mean you skip paying the electric bill that month!

I luckily have (and use) pretty much everything on the list - but the one item that screams out for anyone these days? The freezer! The local resale shops often have models in good condition for well under $100. I love mine so much (current model - used and lovingly given by an elderly aunt when she went into assisted living) that I tend to pick them up as wedding presents for friends. I haven't dropped more than $75 on one (several for far less) and now I have friends telling me more than a year in advance they are considering getting hitched to get on the list!

Sonja Stewart's picture

Thanks so much for the tip on the used bread machines.  Very good point.  I like the idea of giving out your first 5 loaves of gluten free bread to non-celiacs for another reason as well: it will truly challenge you to make something that tastes authentic.  Plus the more practice with different recipes, the better!

 

I didn't even think of that cross contamination.  Strange since I had to de-glutenize my entire house after we found out about poor dear hubby's digestive dilemma.  Thanks for the heads up!

Sonja Stewart's picture

I would die without my freezer.  Die.  That is being very dramatic, I realize, but seriously, it is the greatest purchase I have made to my home to save money on groceries.  I got mine off craigslist for $40.  What a steal, huh?

 

So funny you should mention the utility bill...I was just finishing up my next article and almost commented that a gluten-free life doesn't have to mean choosing between the electric bill or groceries.  Thanks for the encouragement.  I have a lot of articles lined up in this frugal gluten-free vein.  I am so glad you're finding it helpful.  Really, thank you for the kind words.

Guest's picture
Kathy Hart

Hey Sonja!

Enjoyed your article! That's great! I'm sure it'll help many people with the same problem! :)

Guest's picture
PJ

Even though you wrote this a while ago, can you say more about using a bread machine for gluten-free bread? We have one, but I'd put it away because it's too old (though works great) to have any gluten-free settings. Help?

Guest's picture
Guest

My husband has found he is better avoiding wheat/gluten, so he and I have decided to eat gluten free, I have been doing a lot of reading about recipes, tips, etc. I appreciate reaping the benefits of what others have learned from their mistakes! I plan to get busy trying some of these recipes. We never were really big bread or pasta consumers, since we also try to keep fairly low carb. But, so far the gluten free bread I have tried has been not that great. I love to bake - so will be trying some things. I make a lot of apple pies in the fall, so would like to know if there is a good and flaky gluten free version of pie crust.

Guest's picture
Christina

One appliance that I highly recommend is a pressure cooker. I have two that I use constantly made by Fagor. If I am pressed for time I can do a roast with vegetables in 15 to 20 minutes and it tastes like I have been slaving away all day. The meat falls apart, so it can be used on tougher (cheaper!) cuts of meat. I also have all of the above tools and love them!

Guest's picture
Guest jackie

Bread was wonderful