Can a Gluten Free Diet be Frugal?

This week, the US food and Drug Administration held additional sessions about the possibility of (finally) establishing a gluten-free food labeling standard. (info)

Lately, a growing number of people are electing a gluten-free diet. Some due to health conditions such as celiac disease, and others to attempt alleviate symptoms of other conditions like ADHD and autism (it is unclear at this time of a GF diet truly resolves symptoms, but many friends swear by it).

I’ve been attempting to maintain a gluten-free diet now for two years, and let’s just say, it’s not that easy. On second thought, it can be easy, if you’re made of money. I’m not.

Something as simple as a late-night PB&J or a pizza fix can be paralyzing. I’ve seen gluten-free breads priced as high as $7 per loaf. Yes, $7! My husband buys regular whole wheat bread for the kids for $0.96 a loaf, and the loaf is twice the size of my precious GF loaves.

How to rein in the GF food costs?

There’s several strategies that might help you to keep the costs of a gluten free diet down. I’ll include holistic practical ideas first, and when those fail (because sometimes they do) I’ll include some coupons that I like.

  1. Follow the low-carb diets like Atkins and diabetic diets. The Atkins ones especially will avoid wheat and other grains. You can’t get your pancake fix, but you’ll be able eat mostly with confidence.
  2. If you must bake, mix your own flours if you can. If you can’t, don’t bother with flour mixes at the store (I once bought a bag of GF flour mix, and discovered upon better inspection of my receipt that it cost me $40.00.). The very best way that I have found to manage the flour issue is by buying GF flours online from catalog companies like Azure Standard ( If you have a large enough order and can get on one of their delivery routes (Northwestern states only, sorry) there’s no shipping costs. If you need to bulk up your order, a 25 pound bucket of their peanut butter or cases of their BPA-free black turtle beans are fantastic, they also carry several good gluten-free pastas.
  3. When in doubt, use a coupon. Some of your favorite brands might offer coupons. I’ve downloaded coupons today from Udi’s bread, Crunchmaster Crackers and Garlic Jim’s. There are even entire lists of coupons for gluten-free products. List 1, List 2. Facebook “fans” and loyalty club members benefit here too, as coupons regularly make their appearances here.




By , on Aug 4, 2011
Jessica Ward Jessica Ward is a full-time writer and adoptive mom to two wonderful children. She writes to support her parenting/adopting habit. For frugal family tips see The PennyWise Family or @jessc098 and my google+ profile.


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  1. Chris K:

    I am wheat intolerant. By this, I mean I am not full blown celiac, but if I eat too much wheat product, I am really sorry afterward. I know what you mean by $7.00 a loaf bread, and it is really sucky bread! I’m on South Beach so majorly watch my carbs anyway. Besides intestinal issues, I discovered after cutting wheat way down in my diet, I have less issues with the constant ache in my neck and shoulders. I also have less skin problems. If I was going to be super frugal, I’d be eating pasta every night sans the meat. The South Beach diet is not frugal, but it does force you to eat healthy. Try limiting yourself to outer perimeter of the grocery store. Fresh is best. Better yet, go to a farmer’s market or produce stand instead of the grocery store. For me, I frankly don’t substitute anything for the wheat. It’s just gone from my diet.

  2. To live a gluten-free life style tends to be on the more exspensive side. I do prefer a gluten-free diet but I find that it’s really costing me way more at the grocery store. I wish there were cheaper options out there.

  3. Hi – I stumbled on your article courtesy of the Bethy who commented above me (and is a friend). I noticed you mentioned it helped clear up a lifelong skin rash. I deal with mild to moderate psorasis, which will lay dormant for as much as 2-3 years and then flare up. Do you deal with anything similar? I don’t think I have a gluten sensitivity, but I’ve recently started doing some research on on diet patterns that may assist in controlling my psorasis flares.

  4. Thanks for this! My husband and I have discovered we’re gluten intolerant (or at least have a sensitivity), and I’m constantly working on finding good and inexpensive GF foods. And I LOVE Udi’s!

  5. spencer jackson:

    I am wheat, gluten and dairy intolerant and find it difficult to find interesting foods to buy in the supermarkets. Now I make sure I go to my local greengrocer and organic store to get a better service and information.


  6. Jenny:

    I’ve found that the best way to eat frugal (and usually the healthiest) is to eat foods that are naturally part of your diet, rather than fake foods to ‘get around’ it. If you are a vegan, don’t eat lots of veggie burgers, veggie chicken nuggets, soy cheese, and egg substitutes. Instead eat lots of legumes, grains, fruits and veggies, nuts, etc.

    Same goes for gf; keep your intake of specialty made gf products to a minimum, and instead find naturally gluten free foods that you love, and go nuts with them. Then save the ridiculously expensive gf bread for cravings or special occasions.

    One way to possibly save money on your gf bread, etc, is to write the companies that make them, explain that you are recently on a gf diet, and would love to use their products but they are so expensive and ask if they could send you some coupons so you could afford to use them more. They are fairly likely to because they would rather you buy their gf bread for a couple dollars less than the competitors for full price (or none at all). Also it will get you used to buying their brand so you are likely to continue to use them when the coupons are gone.

    Regular grocery saving tips apply as well: watch for sales (rare but they sometimes happen), stock up on non perishables at a good price, shop around to different stores, etc.

    • Jessica:

      Good points! Yes, I just typically avoid the “starchy” foods anyhow. (besides, now that I absorb all of the nutrients–and calories–properly, I gain weight like crazy if I indulge in the fun stuff like Gluten-free brownies!) ohh… brownies…

      Coupons are excellent, and there are even some gluten-free magazines (Gluten-Free Living, and Kiwi, an Organic parenting magazine) provide coupons. I can also get them online pretty often and from companies’ Facebook Pages. (I have two coupons on my desk right now for Udi’s GF bread, which I’d planned to take camping).

      I used to be part of a gleaning group, and that group gleaned a couple of organic foods stores. My freezer was always stocked with GF muffins, breads, etc. (And my waistline grew, and grew!) I’ve since left the group, but for people with a strict need for a GF diet, especially if there’s several people in the house on a GF diet, that is just the ticket. I’ll do a post on Gleaning clubs soon!

  7. Jeroen:

    What is your reason to avoid gluten? When I tried to live vegan for a few months I was using a lot of gluten-free products, for example the ‘no-egg’ from Orgran, their pancake mixes too. They were a bit more expensive compared to regular products but prices like $7 for a loaf of bread sounds insane!

    • Jessica:

      Jeroen, I had the opportunity to spend a substantial amount of time in Ethiopia in 2008. While I was there, I watched a number of my friends get sick from water or food, but I never felt better. Lifelong skin rashes cleared up, my stomach wasn’t upset, and I didn’t have any sudden rejections of food I’d just eaten. I didn’t understand what it was. About six months after arriving home, I went on the Atkins diet in an attempt to loose some weight, and had a very similar result. A friend, who has two adopted children with Celiac disease (she had not suffered Celiac herself) suggested I try eliminating gluten. It worked! I don’t think I have Celiac, but instead, a gluten intolerance. Once I discovered the sensitivity, and eliminated gluten, I felt so much better that I didn’t want to go back. Pursuing a celiac diagnosis would take a lot of expense and effort, plus, I would have to return to a gluten-inclusive diet for a year before I could begin testing. I just don’t want to go back to that–especially now that I feel so much better. So I’ll just stick to a gluten-free diet, since it is working for me. (Celiac isn’t typically treated, except when it starts causing symptoms like blood clots–I’m already monitored for those sorts of things due to another autoimmune condition, so I don’t have a need to bother with it.)

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