Eat Gluten-Free Without Going Broke, Part 1
If you have been on a gluten-free diet for any length of time, you have likely noticed the explosion of ready-made gluten-free foods available. At my local Red Apple Market, I can now purchase ready-made pasta, cookies, crackers, bagels, macaroni box meals, English muffins, bread, doughnuts and brownies. The freezer cases contain a variety of gluten-free frozen meals, from pizza to macaroni & cheese. I can buy mixes for bread, cookies, brownies and cakes.
Garlic Jim’s now delivers gluten-free pizza to your home from most of their locations in the state. PF Chang’s offers a gluten-free menu. Overall, I consider the increased availability of these foods a positive leap forward for those of us who must follow a gluten-free diet for health reasons.
It is wonderful to have the option to use these foods to create healthful meals when time is short. It is incredibly useful for relatives to be able to purchase foods like this when gluten-free family members come over for dinner. But, there are many reasons to limit consumption of these foods. Today I am going to focus on financial reasons for doing so.
Many gluten-free goods are specialty products that are produced in much smaller quantities than most mass produced prepared foods. Manufacturers should take steps ensure that all the ingredients are gluten free. The products need to be tested for gluten on a periodic basis to ensure that they are safe for individuals who must avoid gluten completely.
Creating these products in a gluten-free manner generally requires a dedicated facility—one that never houses gluten containing foods, although some manufacturers use carefully cleaned shared facilities with wheat products (these foods may not be acceptable for some individuals). The ingredients must be shipped to the manufacturing facility. The food must be produced, packaged and shipped to your grocer. The cost of these processes is ultimately passed on to you, the consumer.
I choose to purchase food that is produced locally whenever possible. One reason for this choice is financial. When you purchase food produced hundred or even thousands of miles away the cost of the food goes up because you are also paying for the additional packaging and transportation. Packaging needs are increased to keep the food intact during shipping with the extra costs passed on to you, the consumer.
Transportation costs include the cost of fuel, maintaining the vehicles, paying the shipping company employees and more. I’m not going to discuss in detail today, but must mention the environmental impact of producing the fuel for transportation and the materials for packaging as well as increased pollution from using the fuel for transportation of food. Because of these factors, it is a good idea to purchase local products with little or no packaging whenever it is reasonable to do so. Purchasing local saves both money and resources.
Most families purchase food on a budget and cannot afford to substantially increase spending on food. Following a gluten-free diet may become an intolerable financial burden if a person tries to follow a gluten-free version of the standard American diet. Gluten intolerance frequently runs in families, so it may be necessary to purchase gluten-free foods for multiple family members, compounding the financial issue. A family where only some members are gluten-intolerant may find that feeding the whole family gluten-free is the best way to ensure a gluten-free diet for those members who need it.
An example, using prices found at a local supermarket:
- A package of 5 gluten-free bagels costs $5.59 while you can purchase wheat bagels for about $3 for 6.
- A 5 oz box of crackers is $4.99 while a 14.5 oz box of Ritz crackers is only $4.11.
- A 12oz package of gluten-free spaghetti noodles costs $3.79 while a 16 oz package of wheat spaghetti noodles can cost as little as $.99.
You can see from that, a person accustomed to a bagel with breakfast, crackers with a snack & spaghetti for dinner runs into a substantial difference in cost over time. This is particularly noticeable when feeding multiple people.
Learning that gluten is not a good food for you or a loved one is an incredible & life changing event. The positives of assuring that your amazing body is fed properly so far outweigh the negatives that it is worth the effort to learn how to feed yourself gluten-free and well.
Adopting a gluten-free lifestyle is a challenge for many people, and reasonably so! It can be difficult to change, especially without adequate support. I believe that learning how to cook & bake healthfully in your own home is a critical step in adapting to healthful gluten-free living on a budget. Preparing your own food does take time. I know people are very busy today, however, preparing extra food takes little additional time and then you have leftovers in your fridge or freezer, ready for healthy, low cost meals on busy days.
Many home cooks choose to set aside a morning, afternoon or evening each week to prepare several dishes to set aside for eating later in the week or month. This is an excellent strategy that cuts down the amount of time you need to spend preparing food on a daily basis.
Next up by Dr. Selena Eon is Part 2 in this three part series, “How to Eat Gluten Free on a Budget.” If you have any questions about celiac disease, you are welcome to ask them in the comments section and they will be addressed in future articles.
Dr. Selena Eon practices in Bellevue, WA and you may contact her at
(206) 228-9537 or visit www.drselenaeon.com