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teacherkd

Eating Inexpensively But Still gluten-free

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I'm the main shopper in my family and I share the kitchen with my non-gluten-free family [my wife and two kids, ages 4 and 5]. I do a lot of cooking, too, and lately I've been trying to trim my grocery costs as a way to reduce spending overall.

Here's my main rules:

1. Avoid little money wasters. Mostly this means little to no drive-thru's, no more Starbucks, and limiting grocery runs. Since I eat gluten-free, avoiding drive-thru's is not as big of a deal as it could be.

2. Read ads before shopping and plan meals and lists from them. This saves time later in the week, too.

3. Shop at more than one store. The stores that have the best loss leaders [sales designed to get you in the store in the hope that you stay with your whole list] generally have the worst overall prices. Read the ad, run in, get the sale items you need, and leave. 15 minutes, tops. The stores hate it, but it's their system. No one can make you stay.

4. Limit convenience food [again, easier done as a celiac since a lot gets taken out already] and make your own where you can. A convenience food is anything that has had any measure of preparation made on it before sale. Where I really save here is that I don't buy nearly as many mixes as I used to. I learned to make my own Mexican mix, which works for tacos, burritos, or chili, and I know there are recipes to make other mixes, too. My only question is when the mix calls for flour as a thickener-- I know corn starch can sub in for it, but is it a 1:1 ratio? The consistency always seems to be a bit different.

5. Limit snack foods and soda. This is one of the biggest markups the stores have.

6. Store brands are not evil.

7. Coupons are not a panacea. Use them, but only when they give you the best overall deal, and not when they are an excuse to buy convenience foods. You can still get about 10-12 dollars a trip out of them, but you probably aren't going to ring up 200 bucks, hand over coupons, and walk out having paid 13.85.

8. This one I'm still working on: have a written reference for prices on items you buy often. This will let you compare prices from store to store and sale to sale.

9. Bring a calculator and figure out the unit prices on items.

10. Grocery stores are for groceries. Walmart or similar for non-groceries like shampoo, garbage bags, and such.

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Do you have a freezer? If so, you can buy bulk meats and repackage them. Even if you don't have a big freezer you can buy some meats that you eat a lot of and repackage them.

We buy as much as we can at Costco. That saves us a lot. I have to be careful though because much of what they sell comes in packages that are just too large for us.

I was never one for buying mixes, although I do buy Italian seasoning. I did have some Mexican seasoning that was good, but not sure where I bought it. I don't see those things as wasting money though because they don't cost any more than plain seasonings.

When I first started with this diet, I used a lot of gluten-free pasta. Not only did I soon tire of this, but I realized that although regular pasta could be cheap, gluten-free pasta really wasn't. So now we have it once or twice a week at the most (if that) and use rice or potatoes instead. Much cheaper! Especially the potatoes which I buy in bulk.

I try to make soup several times a month. That's a good cheap meal. And it uses up the vegetables in the fridge.

This week we are trying to use up what we have. Why? I kept buying ground beef. Too much of it. No problem. I'd just cook up the extra and put it in the freezer for later. Ah but there was a problem. I'd keep forgetting I'd done this and suddenly the freezer was full of it. Then daughter went off of beef. Only wanted chicken!

So I bought her two packages of grilled chicken strips from Costco. Yes, it would be cheaper if I cooked the chicken myself but she doesn't really like the way I cook it. And I don't like chicken so I can't judge. She will eat this stuff though. I told her this will be her meat for the next couple of weeks, with the exception of a lone meal here or there that involves beef. Spanish rice was one such meal. She'll eat it but it's not a favorite. I'll eat the beef. I cooked up the rest of it in patties and put it in the freezer.

Tonight she had macaroni and cheese and baby carrots for dinner. I had a turkey sandwich. Gluten is not a problem for me, but I have a dairy allergy. We can't necessarily eat the same things so that complicates things. Most of the time I do try to make meals we can all eat.

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I think the single most important thing is to have a budget that you have to stick to. All of the above tips are how you make that happen, but the budget is the impetus.

When I was in college, I had exactly $18 a week for groceries and household supplies. I made the best of it.

Since going gluten-free, I've started spending ridiculous amounts on groceries because I want to try every new gluten-free bread, muffin, or snack I come across. That's over. This month, I have exactly $100 to spend on groceries, and I'm going to stick to it. Shopping trip #1 went well because I paid attention to the price of everything I put in my basket -- I've got plenty of food, but it's healthier, it's all tied to specific meals I'll be making, and I didn't do any impulse buying.

I'd gotten lazy about my budget and was using money from other things to pay for my gluten-free foods (money that I save for vacations, for example). I like traveling, so I've got to get over that.

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I tend to spend way to much at the store but I have recently started doing a couple of things that are healthier plus save money!

First up every week I buy a roasting chicken. The night I roast it we eat chicken with baked potatoes and a salad. Then I take the rest of the meat from the bones and use it to make casseroles, soups, or chicken salad. This usually gives us two dinners and two lunches per week.

I also love fruity yogurt but don't want a lot of sugar or chemicals. Each week I buy one big container of organic plain yogurt and one bag of frozen raspberries. Mix a bit together each day for fruity yogurt with breakfast! I can usually spread it over 5 days! I think it's sweet enough, but if it's too tart you could add honey.

I'm loving the other tips because I waste a lot of money at the store!

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Freeze leftovers, no matter how small. I periodically have 'no-shop weeks' wherein I only eat what is in my house (frozen leftovers, that package of turkey meat you forgot about, the can of soup way back in the cupboard, etc).

This clears older stuff out, and sometimes requires a lot of creativity to come up with something to eat.

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For me the secret is avoiding processed food as much as possible and buying mostly produce. gluten-free food is expensive! I have two staples which are the yellow cf/gluten-free chebe packets and the nature's path buckwheat waffles.

Unfortunately, my sig. other recently discovered Sam's Club and he cannot resist the deals! He is from a country that does not even really have supermarkets in our sense of the word and I think it is very exciting for him to see so much available.

So I might ask for 2 yellow onions and he will bring back a 10 lb bag! Or a couple of tomatoes for salad and he will bring home the 5 lb. box of cherry tomatoes. It is very hard for two people to eat the 10lb bag of grapefruit, for example before they go bad. But he seems unable to resist, even though I explain this over and over.

And it is a little time-consuming to preserve stuff like that. To make it worse, he is from a culture that abhors throwing away any food at all. "5 dollars!" he will cry, as he places a multi-color rotten cucumber from the dreaded Sam's three pack into the trash. So the pressure is on! He will reprimand me mildly like this (the irony of this is lost on him) if we have to throw out some tomatoes (or whatever). Sigh.

So in the interest of domestic harmony, I do stuff like this:

-pickle beets (once the man brough a 40lb bag home from a frmer's market. he said the man selling them looked poor-- probably because he was dirty from the field) or bell peppers

-fry an entire 10 lb bag of onions into onion rings and then freeze these to cut up and use in curries later. He likes to help. This also uses a ton of eggs.

-make vegetable rice or vegetable curry to use vegetables that are endangered

-make tomato soup or tomato sauce and freeze it

-juice oranges and grapefruit that are endangered

-cook spinach and freeze it (he loves those giant tubs!)

But I still don't know how on earth to avoid the last dreaded multi-color cucumber from that three pack!

Any advice on dealing with Mr. Eyes Bigger than his Stomach?

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Here's a tip Teacher:

Shop at Wal-Mart for more than just non-grocery items. A lot of the Great Value products actually say gluten-free on them, and they are MUCH cheaper (one of the best GV gluten-free products is soy sauce).

And I cut my costs WAY down with another more controversial method. I live in Chicago and there is a sizeable Indian population here. They stock their stores with a lot of alternative flours, like sorghum, rice, millet, etc. I buy my flours from the markets at a MUCH lower cost than at stores like Whole Foods and use them in my baking. The problem is that many of the flours have allergy warnings on them, that they are either processed in shared facilities and/or equipment that wheat is on. It's a gamble that some rather not take in the gluten-free community, but I've been on the diet for longer than a decade and consuming those flours for much of that time and I've rarely had a problem.

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I ran into trouble with the produce. I was getting a box from my CSA. It was cheap but we could never eat it all and I was always throwing stuff away. Finally I realized that the only two things my daughter and husband would always eat were sliced apples and baby carrots, neither of which was in that box! So I buy those all the time now. Apples from Costco, but not the carrots because theirs seem to go slimy. I get those from the grocery store.

I do get too many apples once in a while. Then I make an apple crisp.

I also buy potatoes in bulk from Costco and occasionally onions. I do sometimes have to throw these things out.

Some things I buy freeze dried. These are celery, carrots, tomatoes, red bell peppers and onions. That way I always have them for cooking.

Other things I buy on an as needed basis and I try to buy only what is needed. For example, I might buy some things from the salad bar for a pasta salad. Yes, I am paying a lot more but I'm getting the right amount and won't then have to try to deal with a ton of veggies that we don't want.

Not sure what to tell you about the cucumbers. Perhaps you could put a small amount in a soup.

One thing you could do with them while they are still fresh is to make hummus cups. Cut in large chunks, then hollow them out, leaving cups and fill with hummus. If you don't like hummus you could use tuna, chicken or even egg salad. You can use the middle that you hollowed out, chopped up and in some sort of salad. Or make a gorilla sandwich. In this case you use a long handled small spoon or melon baller to hollow out from one end to the other, leaving the bottom intact. Then fill it with chopped salad of vegetables, or vegetables and meat. Wrap in plastic until ready to eat, then eat out of hand.

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Thanks for the cucumber ideas! I like the hummus cups. We both like hummus a lot so i will attempt these today. It is kind of like cucumber sushi!

If you make the hummus yourself, what kind of tahini do you use? I have been skippimng it and using sesame oil instead, but its not quite the same texture-wise.

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Not only are store brands NOT evil... if you read labels (and we have to)... there are often more natural ingredients in there and less things like high fructose corn syrup! We're huge store brand fans!

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I make meatless chili sometimes, its great.

I planted a garden last year so I froze zucchini for stir frys, pizza and zucchini bread.

We picked wild berries and froze them. I have been using them up this winter in breads, crisps and muffins. Good in zucchini bread.

I picked all the green tomatoes and as they turned red I froze them. Now I am making pizza/pasta sauce.

I also froze chopped onions, peppers and jalapenos.

I shelled my MIL's walnuts and she shared 1/2 with me (17lbs).

I put cabbage or beans in soups. Put rice or beans in your taco meat to stretch it.

You can freeze those extra egg yolks or whites for future use. Just remember to label how many and use them up ;) If you get a few too many just add them to fried rice. I used to throw them out...duh!

I freeze ripe bananas for waffles and smoothies besides using them for breads and muffins.

Turn those leftover breads or flops into croutons for your salads.

I bought a pressure canner so I can make my own salsa this year and canned tomatoes for soups etc. Excited to learn how, we love tacos/nachos and chili.

If your family drinks lots of milk you can stretch it by adding some water to it. Lots of people don't drink all the milk in their cereal bowl.

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Not only are store brands NOT evil... if you read labels (and we have to)... there are often more natural ingredients in there and less things like high fructose corn syrup! We're huge store brand fans!

I always get my canned food at Wal-Mart. It costs less and Great Value, their store brand, is sometimes a dollar less than Marsh, our high priced store here. Also, our Wal-Mart has a gluten-free section that is GREAT!

One thing you all have reminded me of, is I need to find out where the closest Asian supermarket is now because the one near me moved. I am still using cumin that I bought probably six years ago for a ridiculously low price from the Asian grocery store. It is still fresh and tastes good. I'll write that in my planner right now to find one and check out their flours.

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Thanks for the cucumber ideas! I like the hummus cups. We both like hummus a lot so i will attempt these today. It is kind of like cucumber sushi!

If you make the hummus yourself, what kind of tahini do you use? I have been skippimng it and using sesame oil instead, but its not quite the same texture-wise.

Sorry, I buy my hummus. My mom made it once but it had an off flavor. I don't know if it was bad tahini, too much tahini or what.

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TOday was the first time I did this and I am SUPER proud of myself!

We order food from Angel Food Ministries (check them out! www.angelfoodministries.com)where we get about $60 worth of groceries for $30! We don't do it every month- only the months where we like the menu's. THey actually offer a Gluten-Free special with a huge variety of Gluten-Free breaded meats that is very good, I think it's only $28!

ANYWAYS we got bone-in chciken breats with some rib meat on them that I didn't know what to do with because I have always been a boneless, skinless snob! WELL I cooked the 6 breats in my crockpot with some water and italian seasoning on high for 5 hours. I removed the chicken and picked it apart getting about 4 cups of pulled while meat chicken!!! I then strained the brother in my crockpot, added about 2 cups of the chicken shreds backs in, and added chopped cellary and carrots! (Also added some B Vinegar, a bay, leaf, and some other spices). I cooked this together for about 3 hours and I now have AWESOME chicken noodle (will add 20 min. before we eat) soup and leftover pulled chicken for a meal later this week...maybe chicken salad.

So I guess my "tip" is to always use everything...as best you can. And dont be afraid to try something a little scary ( I hate bones ).

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We tried AFN in November, through our church. Some of the items were a no-go, but still wound up getting passed on to my in-laws or to a food pantry. The Allergy-Free box was good, not great. I liked the chicken nuggets and the chicken burgers, but the steak fingers were mediocre and the bone in chicken wings were somewhat nasty [and there were only six]. I haven't tried the chicken strips yet. If I could get a box of just two bags of the chicken burgers, and three bags of the chicken nuggets, I'd be more impressed.

I mentioned the Mexican Mix above. Here's the recipe:

In a food processor, add 1/4 c. cornstarch, 2 T. chili powder, 1/4 c. onion powder, 2 tsp garlic powder, 4 tsp. salt, 4 tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. cumin, and 2 tsp. oregano. Pulse for 1 second five times. Do not over blend. Keeps 6 months in an airtight container [i use an old Argo cornstarch canister]. I use 2 T. to replace 1 packet of taco or chili seasoning. You can adjust the heat by raising or lowering the amount of cayenne.

[adapted from "Healthy Meals for Less" by Jonni McCoy, Bethany House, 2009.]

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We tried AFN in November, through our church. Some of the items were a no-go, but still wound up getting passed on to my in-laws or to a food pantry. The Allergy-Free box was good, not great. I liked the chicken nuggets and the chicken burgers, but the steak fingers were mediocre and the bone in chicken wings were somewhat nasty [and there were only six]. I haven't tried the chicken strips yet. If I could get a box of just two bags of the chicken burgers, and three bags of the chicken nuggets, I'd be more impressed.

I mentioned the Mexican Mix above. Here's the recipe:

In a food processor, add 1/4 c. cornstarch, 2 T. chili powder, 1/4 c. onion powder, 2 tsp garlic powder, 4 tsp. salt, 4 tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. cumin, and 2 tsp. oregano. Pulse for 1 second five times. Do not over blend. Keeps 6 months in an airtight container [i use an old Argo cornstarch canister]. I use 2 T. to replace 1 packet of taco or chili seasoning. You can adjust the heat by raising or lowering the amount of cayenne.

[adapted from "Healthy Meals for Less" by Jonni McCoy, Bethany House, 2009.]

Thanks for this. Hub & 1 teen are wanting chili & favorite seasoning has wh$@t (banned word). We were going to wing it but its nice to have a place to start.

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Check this website out. You'll get a kick out of it i'm sure.

www.refundcents.com

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Thanks for the cucumber ideas! I like the hummus cups. We both like hummus a lot so i will attempt these today. It is kind of like cucumber sushi!

If you make the hummus yourself, what kind of tahini do you use? I have been skippimng it and using sesame oil instead, but its not quite the same texture-wise.

Hi Lisa,

Sorry for the delay - I just now happened to read this topic.

I've been trying to make hummus from scratch for quite a while, as I eat a lot of it these days, and my kids really enjoy it. I've never quite gotten it as good as the pre-packaged stuff... until recently.

I like reading Cooks Illustrated, and had been meaning to try their hummus for a while, but hadn't bothered before. I wish I had. I made it for the first time about 2 weeks ago, and have had to make it a couple times since - it's really the best homemade hummus I've ever had.

I do think they use too much tahini, and will probably try varying it next time I make it, but the texture is great.

Most recently, I used Krinos brand, which Cooks Illustrated recommended, and was also recommended by the local gourmet grocery store as the "premium" brand. Personally, I find it a bit on the bitter side, and will probably try another brand next time, but it is fresh and has good texture.

Here's a copy of the recipe, as CooksIllustrated.com won't let you see it without a trial subscription:

Restaurant Style Hummus

Cook's Illustrated

1/4 cup water

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

6 Tablespoons well stirred tahini

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 15 ounce can drained and rinsed chickpeas

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin

pinch of cayenne

about 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the water and lemon juice in one bowl, and the tahini and oil in another. Set aside about 12 of the whole chickpeas for a garnish.

Put the chickpeas, salt, garlic, cumin, and cayenne in a food processor and process for about 15 seconds. Scrap down the sides of the processor. Then add the lemon water mix through the feed tube with the processor running for about 1 minute. Scrap down the sides several times. Then add the oil and tahini, with the processor running, until the hummus is fluffy.

Put the hummus in a bowl, garnish with the cilantro and whole chickpeas, and drizzle with some olive oil if you want.

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Being a broke resuming college student, I already have good survival skills for the grocery store.

My strategy tries to balance the optimal healthiest foods with staying in budget. That's a hard one sometimes, because organic produce can be more expensive. I won't eat GMO pesticide-laden foods. My intestines have been through quite enough already! :)

So I've scoped out the best places to buy various products in my area. Sadly, the farmers markets here in the bay area seem to be more expensive than the grocery stores, so I don't go there. I get some processed items, like hummus or brown rice tortillas from the Trader Joes down the block from me. I get my produce and bulk bin foods (yay for bulk bins!) from another grocery store that has a huge produce section with tons of organic foods.

I'm all about soaking my own beans and making whole foods from scratch to be healthy and same money at the same time. I love making a big vat of stew and eating it once a day for a few days, or saving time by pre-cutting veggies and sticking them in tupperware for easy snacking.

My next goal is to bake more and learn to make my own gluten-free breads. :)

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Restaurant Style Hummus

Cook's Illustrated

1/4 cup water

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

6 Tablespoons well stirred tahini

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 15 ounce can drained and rinsed chickpeas

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin

pinch of cayenne

about 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the water and lemon juice in one bowl, and the tahini and oil in another. Set aside about 12 of the whole chickpeas for a garnish.

Put the chickpeas, salt, garlic, cumin, and cayenne in a food processor and process for about 15 seconds. Scrap down the sides of the processor. Then add the lemon water mix through the feed tube with the processor running for about 1 minute. Scrap down the sides several times. Then add the oil and tahini, with the processor running, until the hummus is fluffy.

Put the hummus in a bowl, garnish with the cilantro and whole chickpeas, and drizzle with some olive oil if you want.

Just make sure it really is a food processor. I burned out two blenders on hummus, and a basic [at minimum] FP is the only thing that gives the mixture a chance to move around the mixing zone.

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I don't know if you have an Aldi around you, but they are GREAT. My fiance is not gluten or casein free, so we buy his cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese, block cheese, hot dog buns etc. there. They also have TONS of canned goods - beans, fruit, and veggies. I stock up on their beans especially for chili.

And they do respond to emails regarding product questions.

What saves me money is only buying what is in season and checking the three major stores around me for prices. I buy the majority of my food at one store (it is a produce store because that is what we eat the most of) and I check around for sales on meat, lunch meat, condiments, etc.

Basically the best advice I can give is to shop around and check up on the weekly sale ads, then base your meals off of those. For example, one store near me had ground chuck for $1.29/lb. I stocked up and froze most of it, but made apple and vidalia meatballs with some of it for the week.

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Eat a lot of beans! They are so cheap and healthy! And there are so many kinds. Look out for the Goya brand, and know that sometimes stores will charge twice as much for "healthy" branded beans and even make the Goya beans harder to find in the store.

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