Sunday, 26 July 2015

12 Delicious Ways to Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget & 15 Top Tips & Tricks to Save Money Going Wheat-Free

Gluten Free on a Budget
If you or someone you cook for needs to follow a gluten-free diet, you’ll already be well aware that very often shop-bought gluten-free prepared foods and/or ingredients are only available at a hefty price premium. It can be quite tricky ensuring that meals are gluten-free, especially as the typical, modern “Western-diet” is heavily centred on gluten-rich products, such as bread, flour and pasta. This in itself can be a big enough worry, but on top of that, it can also be ridiculously expensive! However, it doesn't need to be this way, so take a look at my 12 Delicious Ways to Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget & 15 Top Tips & Tricks to Save Money Going Wheat-Free.

The Gluten-Free Price Premium

Whilst the rise in awareness of gluten-triggered autoimmune diseases such as Celiac/Coeliac Disease or Dermatitis Herpetiformis has resulted in an increase in gluten-free food options, unfortunately, these come at quite a significant price premium. For example, I recently compared the prices of the gluten-free alternatives to their regular, gluten-containing equivalent and I found the following:
that a Gluten-Free Seeded Loaf cost 100%-140% more than the “standard” Seeded Loaf
that Gluten-Free Granola cost over 100% more per portion than the “standard” Granola
that a pack of two Gluten-Free Pizza Bases cost 100% more than the same brand “standard” Pizza Bases
that the Gluten-Free Victoria Sponge Cake version cost 85% more than the same brand “premium but gluten-containing” Victoria Sponge Cake
that the Gluten-Free Chicken Salad Sandwich cost 25% more than the “standard” Chicken Salad Sandwich.

Lack of Variety & Choice in Gluten Free Options

Although in the UK, gluten-free staple foods (such as bread, breakfast cereals, pasta and pizza bases) are available on prescription for anyone diagnosed with Coeliac disease or Dermatitis Herpetiformis, it remains the case that there is also much less variety and choice in the gluten-free aisle. For example, on a recent trip to the supermarket, I noted that there were over 40 different varieties of “standard” Granola, but just 4 varieties of Gluten-Free Granola. There was definitely a lack of excitement and inventiveness in the flavours and varieties of gluten-free prepared foods on offer in the stores. There was also a significant bias to sweet baked goods such as cookies, biscuits and cakes.

More worryingly, the food industry has shown a tendency to rely heavily on nutritionally-poor substitutions with their “gluten-free” alternatives, relying on ingredients such as:

  • nutritionally-poor white rice flour
  • highly processed ingredients that have lost their natural whole-food goodness
  • increased quantities of fat, sugar and/or salt to compensate for the lack of flavour normally provided by wheat
  • reliance on e-numbers and chemical stabilisers to provide structure and stability.

When questioned, taste and/or expense are the most often cited reasons why people do not buy a gluten-free product. The good news, though, is that following a gluten-free diet doesn’t have to be:
 | Expensive | Dull | boring | Time-consuming | Difficult | 

My 12  Delicious Ways to Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget (& 15 Top Tips & Tricks)

1. Base your meals around naturally gluten-free ingredients.

Foods that are Naturally Gluten-Free
Image courtesy of xedos4 at
Although this may not seem to be the case when reading the labels on processed foods in the grocery store, there are many healthy, delicious, nutritious and inexpensive foods that are naturally gluten-free. Focus on the fresh food aisles including seasonal fruits and vegetables, eggs, economical cuts of meat and fish. In the grocery section, think about beans, pulses, lentils, brown rice, wheat-free grains such as quinoa, low saturated-fat oils, seeds, nuts, herbs and spices.

2. Be Flexible & Open-Minded

I’m not suggesting you’re not flexible or open-minded, what I’m trying to say here is about instead of trying to recreate an exact but gluten-free copy of something, be prepared to enjoy something similar but slightly changed.  For example, instead of having a sandwich for lunch at work every day, what about soup or salad or open-topped oatcakes? Instead of pasta for dinner 2-3 times a week, what about a rice-noodle stir-fry, or curry and rice? It’s generally cheaper when you can substitute a gluten-containing ingredient for an alternative that is naturally gluten-free, rather than a substitute that has been specifically manufactured to be gluten-free.

3. Invest a bit a time and learn some core skills

Gluten-Free Pastry Sweet Potato 
Here's a bit of a statement of the blinking obvious, but I think you’ll have guessed that I love to cook and bake! Therefore, for me, stepping into the kitchen and rustling up gluten-free bread, cakes, pastry etc is a joy not a penance. However, I do totally appreciate that not everyone feels the same! That said, it is worth the time learning how to cook half a dozen basic gluten-free recipes. My recommendations would be:

  • a basic gluten-free pastry recipe
  • a basic gluten-free bread loaf or roll recipe
  • a gluten-free meatball or meatloaf recipe
  • a gluten-free chicken and/or vegetable stock recipe
  • a gluten-free granola or muesli recipe (you won’t believe just how easy this is)
  • if you have a sweet tooth, a gluten-free cupcake, cookie or dessert recipe.
Tip: You can watch my step-by-step gluten free recipes on Youtube here:

If you are a keen cook, you’ll probably already have these under your belt, but if you are not, then rather than thinking you need to turn into a gluten-free Julia Childs, just conquer a few key gluten-free recipes that will hold you in good stead and help keep down your gluten-free food bill. For lots of gluten-free recipe inspiration:

Discover how you can download a FREE copy of my Gluten-Free Meals for All Occasions Recipe Booklet here.

4. Buy in Bulk and/or Online

Some ingredients that can be staples in a gluten-free kitchen can also be hard to find in a small grocery store or if you do not have access to a health-food store locally. Here I’m thinking of gluten-free grains such as quinoa, seeds, nuts and dried fruits. It can often be more economical to pay the shipping charges on a single comprehensive online order once a month or quarter than spend the time and petrol costs involved in trying to track down those ingredients from local speciality stores on a weekly basis.

5. Buy a Slow-Cooker

Gluten-Free Slow Cooker
I am such a fan of slow-cookers. First of all, they are so very good at turning inexpensive cuts of meat into a bowl of flavoursome, tender deliciousness. Secondly, a slow cooker will become your BFF if you work long days and want to be able to eat within minutes of getting in the door at night. Instead of coming home and having to start cooking, you’ll be greeted with a mouth-watering aroma as soon as you walk in the door and all you need to do is warm the plates before serving up. Slow-cookers are inexpensive to buy and cheap to run.

6. Make Friends with Your Freezer Part 1

Did you know that with baked goods, it’s better if you freeze them uncooked rather than already cooked? It’s perfectly easy to freeze cupcakes, scones, cookies, pastry etc, and then just bake off the quantity you need as you go. Here’s 5 Tips on how to do this:

  • for scones, make up your scone mixture and cut out the scones. Place onto a baking sheet or tray that will fit into your freezer and freeze uncovered for 2 hrs. Once frozen through, remove from the tray and place into freezer bags or container. To bake, remove the quantity that you need from the freezer about 1 hr before cooking (or overnight) to defrost, and bake according to the recipe instructions.
  • for cupcakes, make up the cake mixture and spoon into cupcake cases placed into a cupcake baking tray that will fit into your freezer and freeze uncovered for 2 hrs. . Once frozen through, either cover the tray in kitchen foil to seal or remove the cupcakes in their cases from the tray and place in a single layer into freezer bags or container. To bake, remove the quantity that you need from the freezer about 1 hr before cooking (or overnight) and place back into the cupcake baking tray to defrost, then bake according to the recipe instructions.
  • for cookies, if the cookie dough is a “firm” raw mixture recipe, then roll the mixture into a log, slice and interleave the slices with baking parchment before freezing. Alternatively, roll into golf-ball sized balls, freeze on an open tray then transfer to a freezer bag. If the cookie dough is a mixture that is a “soft” raw mixture, line a baking tray with will fit into the freezer with baking parchment. Drop on the spoonfuls of cookie mixture. Cover with a further layer of baking parchment and freeze. Once frozen, fold over the lines of cookies in their parchment layers and place into a freezer bag.  To bake, remove the quantity that you need from the freezer about 1 hr before cooking (or overnight) to defrost, (defrosted balls can be squished flat before baking)and bake according to the recipe instructions.
  • for pastry, divide the pastry into the required quantities and shape into a disc. Place each disc in a freezer bag. When needed, defrost in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 3 hrs before using.
  • for desserts such as fruit crumbles or crisps, in a container that is both oven-proof and freezer-proof part cook them according to the recipe but remove from the oven 15-20 minutes early. For example, if the recipe states ‘cook for 45mins’ cook for 25mins then remove from the oven. Cool the dessert then cover with kitchen foil and freeze. Defrost thoroughly before cook at the recipe temperature for 25 mins.
If you do need to freeze already baked items such as bread, rolls or cakes, you should do so as soon after buying as possible, preferably in individually wrapped portions. You can refresh defrosted bread, rolls and un-iced/frosted cakes/scones in a warm oven for a few minutes, to regain some of that “just baked” texture and aroma.

7. Make Friends with Your Freezer Part 2

So above, I looked at the best way to freeze baked goods. The freezer is also your friend for stocks, sauces and home-made “ready-meals”.  Often when I cook, I’ll double the quantity then freeze half for later. Here's 3 Tips on how to do this:

  • For stocks, soups and sauces, I cook the recipe until the end, then cool half and freeze it. 
  • For home-made “ready-meals” it will depend upon the recipe at which point I’ll freeze it. For instance, for a baked dish such as moussaka or cottage pie, I will bake it for 20 mins less than the recipe states, cool it, cover it and freeze it. Then I’ll defrost before cooking at the recipe temperature for 25-30 mins until piping hot all the way through. 
  • For a slow cooker stew or casserole, I will cook it all the way through and just freeze what’s left over at the end of cooking.

8. Make Friends with Your Freezer Part 3

Your freezer is also useful to keep fresh many ambient bulk ingredients that you may have purchased in Point 4 above. Check the Best Before dates on items such as seeds, nuts, gluten-free flour mixes etc as soon as you buy them. If you are not likely to use them in the time scale, pop them into resealable freezer bags and store in your freezer so that they stay at their best and are always to hand. I also do this for ground coffee. I don’t drink coffee at all but I like to be able to offer visitors a freshly brewed cup if that’s their beverage of choice, so I freeze it and can use it straight from the freezer, as required!

9. Use Up Left-Overs/Excess Ingredients

Whilst I’ve already suggested that it’s better to recognise in advance that you are not going to need all of an ingredient in advance, life happens and sometimes we’re left with something that’s about to go out of date. Here’s 7 of my top “use-it-up-not-bin-it” tips:

  • Turn unwanted, stale gluten free bread into breadcrumbs and freeze for later use in meatballs or meatloaf.
  • Alternatively, cube unwanted gluten free bread or rolls, sprinkle with olive oil and dried herbs and bake in the oven for about 15-20 mins until golden to make croutons. Cool and freeze.
  • Use a rolling pin to crush gluten-free cookies into crumbs and freeze. Either use to make a gluten-free sweet pie crumble topping or just to sprinkle over fruit desserts or ice-cream.
  • Use gluten-free sweet rolls to bake a decadent retro Bread & Butter Pudding.
  • Roast left-over gluten-free sausages, cool, slice and freeze. Defrosted, these can then be added to homemade baked beans for a quick & tasty supper.
  • Make a delicious gluten-free cheese sauce and fold in any left-over cooked gluten-free pasta. Divide into freezer trays and freeze individual portions of mac and cheese.
  • Alternatively, toss left-over cooked gluten-free pasta in a homemade lemon and oil salad dressing. Add pinenuts, salad vegetables and olives, pop into a sealable container in the fridge and take to work the next day for a packed lunch.

Image courtesy of Mister GC

10. Don’t Feel Guilty about Ready Blended Gluten-Free Flour Mixes

I don’t know about you, but often when I’m looking at gluten-free recipes online, it can seem that if you don’t have your own “signature” gluten-free flour blend, then you should hang your head in shame.  Personally, I couldn’t disagree with this more strongly. If you are a regular and enthusiastic gluten-free baker with easy access to a variety of gluten-free flours, then mix away and come up with your own blend or blends, I’m certainly not advocating not to. However, if you are:

  • an occasional gluten-free baker, or
  • an inexperienced gluten-free baker, or
  • do not have easy access to a variety of gluten-free flours

then use a widely-available, regular gluten-free branded blend without fear or guilt. There are two main reasons for this: 

  • Firstly, these ready-blended mixes are now very widely available in almost all main supermarkets. 
  • Secondly, using just one all-purpose blend is also friendlier on the wallet for the occasional gluten-free baker rather than needing to buy 3-4 different gluten-free flours to make up their own blend.

11. Sign-Up for E-Newsletters & Offers

For many people, it’s just not practical to cook everything from scratch. Register online for newsletters and offers from your favourite gluten-free brands, you’ll be surprised at how often you’ll receive vouchers or coupons (even in the UK, where we don’t have as many coupons as our US cousins).

    12. Download your FREE copy of my Gluten-Free Meals For All Occasions Recipe Booklet

    Discover this Taster Edition Recipe eBook which provides lots of inspiration for delicious, nutritious healthy gluten-free meals plus many feel-good favourites and treats for holidays and celebrations too. Each recipe is completely Gluten-Free and many are also:
     | Dairy-Free | Oat-Free | Nut-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Yeast-Free | 

    You can download your FREE copy of my Gluten-Free Meals for All Occasions Recipe Booklet here.

    So that's my 12 Delicious Ways to Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget & 15 Top Tips & Tricks to Save Money Going Wheat-Free, what tips do you have for economising on a gluten-free diet?

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