One thing I hate about gluten free diets is the cost. Honestly, I have spoken to people who 'voluntarily' chose gluten free (no illness or allergy) and it boggled my mind why they would want to suffer by choice. Why would someone choose more grief and cost for their diet? But, for better or worse, the popularity of gluten free diets have made selection a bit better. Compared to the past, there are many great choices now available for gluten free diets. Pastas, breads, baked goods, snacks, candy, cereals... things that all seemed to be shut off by availability or terrible quality are now opening up more and more. I've had excellent pasta and excellent bread. I've had terrible ones of each as well.
And through my samplings and experiences, I have learned two key things about eating gluten free: it can be expensive and it can be time consuming. Seven dollar breads, ten dollar bags of ravioli, two dollars for a snack bar. Whether from factory costs, stricter restrictions, or unnaturally low competition, gluten free is spendy. So you have the option of spending a good lot of money on all your food, or you have the option of spending a small lot of money on ingredients and making it yourself. But how how do you make the best of either of these stratagems?
- Determine your sensitivity. Are you reactive enough to need non-contaminated gluten free products (gluten free facility, sealed packaging, meets criteria of less than 20 ppm (parts per million))? Or can your gut handle bulk flours from natural markets (such as Whole Foods)? Though cheaper to get non-certified goods, you need to be considerate of the need you are serving. E.g., if you have celiacs, it defeats the point of a gluten free diet not to buy completely uncontaminated products. Choose wisely; if you are unsure, use a food and pain diary to track reactions for a month each.
- Gluten free product prices have a surprisingly large gap of cost amongst different stores, even among the same brands/items. For example, my favorite sandwich bread mix is Glutino. I can get it for $4.50/box at the local super market, $5.50 at the local Whole Foods, and for $5.99 from the Glutino website. Learn which products you like and see where you can get them and for how much.
- Be willing to try varying brands. Some brands are way more expensive than others, with little variation in taste/quality. Gluten free products are still finding their way into the market and there is usually a fair chance of finding the same product with the same ingredients, for cheaper. Become familiar with different brands and deduce which value (i.e., cost and worth together) is best for you.
- Explore new and different venues. I recently began ordering more of my food online. I love to support local stores and shops, but the price discrepancies with many gluten free items make me feel like I am getting screwed over. For example, a box of Annies Rice Mac n' Cheese cost around $3.50/box in the local shops. I got a case of 12 boxes for $20.00 total after a coupon and special shipping deal--That's $1.60/box. Find multiple venues to make all your comparisons with for strategy #2.
- Organize a pantry that facilitates cycling through bulk and discounted goods. Buying things in larger quantities to take advantage of sales of bulk discounts can result in a problem, if you are not careful. After all, there is no point on saving on food if you cannot use it in a timely manner before expiration! Organize your pantry to have the nearest to expiration foods in the front and, if it helps, circle or write the dates in larger print.
- Learn to bake. So much can be said for baking your own goods, but the three main primary benefits I will mention are: (1) better taste--pretty much anything you make in your oven will taste better than the over-preserved, stale, low flavor of store bought, (2) better nutrition--you get to control what goes into what you eat and you can add nutritious additives such as ground flax seed to improve it, and (3), better price--it will almost always be cheaper to make something than to buy it, and, when it is more expensive to make, it will likely be due to better quality ingredients.
- Plan ahead. Being unprepared is more likely to cause problems and grief than most other complications. It can cause situations where you are forced to spend more money than you would like (or have), make you go hungry, or even risk higher exposure to the thing you are trying to avoid. Having a plan for most situations can prevent being backed into a corner. Call restaurants if you are unsure about their menus, pack snacks, and keep back ups in your car/office/bag. Preparedness is your friend.
Tomorrow I will add a nice long list of sites to link to for other tips/advice/recipes, but for now think on these tips, chew them over, and hopefully at least a few will be helpful for you and your diet. Remember, this list may be specifically aimed towards gluten free, but there are no rules against using it for other allergies/intolerances.
Thank you for your time and reading, hope you have a pain free day--The Bed Head.