As anyone with celiac or gluten intolerance will tell you, the label “gluten-free” will automatically increase the price of your groceries.
But with a little bit of nutritional know-how and shopping savvy, you can stay gluten-free and keep your expenses within your grocery budget.
Here are some tips to eat gluten-free less expensively.
Eat gluten-free naturally
Rice, beans, and corn are naturally gluten-free. So are vegetables, fruits, meats, and dairy products, but you do need to read the labels for everything, especially if you have celiac disease, to make sure your food isn’t contaminated with gluten.
I tend to shop the perimeter of the grocery store first, and I build my meals based on these items.
Then, I make easy substitutes: corn tortillas for flour, for example. Rice and potatoes make great starches for meals, and I don’t have to read the labels on a bag of jasmine rice to know that I can eat it safely.
And that brings me to my second tip.
Shop at ethnic grocery stores
Ethnic grocery stores provide gluten-free staples at less expensive prices. Corn tortillas, for example, are way cheaper at my local Mexican grocery stores. Rice is also cheaper at Asian, Indian and even Mexican grocery stores.
Asian grocery stores also have the best prices for spring roll wrappers, and you can sometimes find good deals on wheat-free tamari soy sauce (though sometimes it’s about the same price at regular grocery stores).
But I’ve also found other ingredients, like gluten-free flours, to be less expensive there, too. Rice flours and tapioca flours are usually a lot less expensive when you find them at an Asian grocery store than in the gluten-free aisles of a regular grocery store.
I’ve also found chickpea flour to be less expensive at Indian grocery stores, and if I need cornmeal, I either get it at a Mexican or Italian grocery store, depending on which kind I’m buying (for tortillas or polenta).
I’ve also found reasonably priced gluten-free pastas at Mexican grocery stores, and believe it or not, they’re sometimes less expensive than those I’ve purchased at Italian grocery stores.
I’ve also found some more exotic produce and herbs at lower prices at these ethnic stores, too, so it pays to shop around.
The dollar store secret
I learned this tip from my friend Krissie, whose daughter has a lot of allergies, including to corn and dairy. If you’re looking for nuts, trail mixes, dried fruit, and gluten-free snack items, local dollar stores are your best friend.
You can even find specialty, gluten-free products as well. Because they’re dollar stores, the array of items is ever-changing so you need to shop around.
Aldi offers some of the best gluten-free products
Aldi offers simply some of the best gluten-free products around, and they’re sold at some of the lowest prices I’ve seen.
Once a year, Aldi sells some really special gluten-free products – think gluten-free egg rolls, English muffins, and frosted chocolate donuts. I usually stock up on these goods when Aldi’s selling them, and I’m always sad to see the gluten-free egg rolls disappear from the shelves.
Aldi sells some of the best gluten-free goods year-round, too. Their brown rice and quinoa pasta is delicious, and the last time I purchased it, it only cost $2.15 per 1-pound bag. That’s cheaper than Walmart, Costco, and Trader Joe’s.
Aldi also sells several other gluten-free products under their liveGfree brand, including bread, mac ‘n’ cheese and flour tortillas. Mama Cozzi’s also sells fresh cauliflower pizza crust pizzas and frozen pizzas.
There are also plenty of gluten-free baking items — cake mixes, brownie mixes, cornbread mixes, and even a gluten-free baking mix. I’ve even found less-expensive almond flour and sometimes coconut flour on its shelves.
The one drawback is that Aldi no longer sells a purely gluten-free flour mix. Instead, you have a baking mix that also contains leavening agents, but you can use it as flour; you just have to recalculate the baking soda or baking powder amounts in recipes or leave it out.
Gluten-free Aldi finds
Every month, Aldi tends to sell different special, gluten-free items, like pumpkin spice muffins in the fall. They’re the “here today, gone tomorrow” items, and you can find them pretty much scattered throughout the store, but you need to keep your eye out for them.
I’ve also found things like gluten-free Oreos, too, and if they’re a specialty product I use, I tend to buy them when I see them.
Besides the Oreos, sometimes you’ll need to buy the name brands at Aldi instead of the store brands. One example is Honey Nut Cheerios. The Aldi brand, Crispy Oats, contains wheat, whereas the brand name is gluten-free. For anything that isn’t specifically labeled gluten-free, you should read the label to check.
Still, amidst label reading, I’ve found the Elevation bars, especially their Pure & Simple, to be deliciously gluten-free and perfect for snacking. At $4.65 per pack of four, they’re on the expensive side, but they’re a bit cheaper than the brand-name Larabars I’ve purchased elsewhere.
I’ve also found the seasonal, gluten-free stuffing mix to be great and only $3.49 per box. Though it’s a Thanksgiving item, I’ve found it almost year-round, as they tend not to sell out until June or July. I use this as a substitute for bread crumbs when I’m making crab cakes, and it’s good for casserole recipes, too.
Get creative with gluten-free items
And that brings me to the next tip: Don’t be afraid of using gluten-free items in creative ways.
Just like I used the stuffing mix for crab cakes and casseroles, I also use things like Aldi’s Coconut Cashew Crisps in place of graham crackers.
A lot of specific, specialty gluten-free items can be hard to find (like gluten-free graham crackers), and they can be highly expensive. So, I try to see if I can use easier to find gluten-free products in creative ways.
I use the cashew cookies in place of graham crackers when I’m making s’mores or as a dessert crust. Yes, it tastes different, but it still tastes good, and I’m spending less than $3 instead of $10 for a small box of graham crackers.
I’ve also used gluten-free tortillas instead of searching out the expensive gluten-free pita bread for Mediterranean dishes and plates. I’ve also used oats that aren’t contaminated by gluten instead of breadcrumbs in meat loaves and meatballs.
Try Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe’s stocks some great, gluten-free items on its shelves and in its freezers. Trader Joe’s sells a variety of gluten-free pastas, baking mixes, and even a gluten-free flour blend that are all pretty reasonably priced.
You can also pretty regularly find English muffins, bagels, and breads that are gluten-free, and there’s usually at least one or two dessert items like gluten-free chocolate cupcakes, too.
And I’ve found tamari-flavored rice crackers, as well as plenty of nuts, trail mixes, and dried fruits, too.
Plain cauliflower pizza crusts – two to a package – are a great buy at Trader Joe’s.
You can also find gluten-free frozen meals like butter chicken, for example, but you have to read the labels very carefully, as some items you’d think would be gluten-free are not.
Costco’s Namaste is the best gluten-free flour mix
Costco does carry several gluten-free items, especially a frozen cauliflower pizza that a lot of people rave about.
The one item I think Costco does better than practically any other store is its gluten-free flour blend. Costco sells the Namaste flour blend, and it usually sells for about $13 to $15 per 5-pound bag. And outside of the cost being cheaper than buying this brand of blended flour online, the big plus is the size.
Most gluten-free flour blends come in measly 1-pound bags, which are the equivalent of one good baked recipe or one batch of pancakes.
You won’t go through the Costco flour blend in one baking session, unless you’re making dozens of Christmas cookies or you run a home baking business out of your home.
If you do a lot of gluten-free baking, this might be your new best baking friend, and for some people, it would be worth the price of membership. If you only need it occasionally, you might have a friend purchase it for you, and that might be better on your budget.
Walmart versus Aldi
Walmart has a good selection, especially if you go gluten-free and dairy-free. The gluten-free items range from crackers and cookies to baking mixes to gluten-free pizzas.
That said, some of the items are less expensive at ALDI. The baking mixes, cookies and pastas tend to be cheaper at Aldi, but Walmart carries a different selection.
Walmart, for example, carries the Amy’s gluten-free graham cracker bunnies, and Aldi doesn’t sell anything like this.
Gluten-free bread, especially in the frozen section, tends to be slightly less expensive at Walmart than the loaves you’d find on Aldi’s shelves. But if you can get the Aldi product marked down by $1 or $2, if it’s near its sell-by date, it’s less expensive at Aldi.
Walmart also has more of a selection of dairy and gluten-free products, including Daya frozen pizzas and mac ‘n cheese. Of all the grocery stores in my area, Walmart’s prices on these things tend to be the lowest.
If you need to be both dairy and gluten-free, then Walmart is a place you’ll want to shop.