Making Your Home Gluten Free- Without Breaking the Bank: Beginner's Guide to Going Gluten Free- Part 2

Gluten free corn tortillas I made from scratch
When my friend Daniella's son was diagnosed with Celiac, I told her I'd help her transition her son to going gluten free, with a series of posts on my blog, and I did part one-  the Beginners Guide to Going Gluten Free: What is Gluten and How to Avoid It, which did a very thorough job of explaining that aspect, but part two, the part that actually tells people how to make the transition... never got written. However, now another friend's kid is most likely going to be diagnosed with Celiac, so what better time than to put out part two of this guide.

So, you or someone you love has been diagnosed with either Celiac or gluten sensitivity, or otherwise told to avoid gluten by a medical professional. Generally when someone is told something like that, it is scary and overwhelming and people don't know where to start. On top of that, these diagnoses are nearly always are not temporary (though some say gluten sensitivity can be reduced via certain gut healing diets, but Celiac is not one of them), so it isn't just a temporary change people have to make, but a change that will be for the rest of their lives.
Nearly anyone "in the know" will tell you that gluten free diets are much more expensive than gluten diets. People who tell you otherwise are not comparing like with like. A processed food filled diet that contains gluten will be much cheaper than a gluten free processed food filled diet. An all natural made from scratch gluten diet will be much more affordable than a from scratch gluten free diet. Those who say going gluten free saves money or doesn't cost any more are only accurate if you switch from a processed food filled gluten diet to a more frugal, made from scratch, gluten free diet, but that isn't a fair comparison. I know that when my family switched to a gluten free diet for our family of six, most of the extremely frugal things that I did in the kitchen became much more expensive. Yes, our family size grew, but that doesn't account for the nearly doubling of our grocery budget. Gluten free living is expensive.
People often go to health food stores or health food aisles to find their gluten free items, which typically mark up the prices of their gluten free items.

But, I'm here to tell you that while it is expensive, there are ways to make a gluten free life less expensive than it would be otherwise, and without needing to shop in overpriced places catering to those gluten free. However, I'll admit that much of this takes a lot more work. Life is a trade-off though. In life you can typically save money, or save time, but saving both at the same time is much more rare. (Though I do have a post coming up on how to save money while very short on time.)

How To Make Your Home Gluten Free -- Without Breaking The Bank

1. Naturally Gluten Free Recipes
Oftentimes people get very scared of the concept of gluten free food, because it sounds so foreign, especially since so much of our culture's foods are based on gluten. They often don't realize, though, how many of the dishes they already make are naturally gluten free.
The first thing I suggest someone do when they get the news that they (or their family members) have to stay off gluten is to go through their recipes and see which they can make as is, because they don't contain gluten anyhow.
I wrote this post on gluten free dairy free meals that anyone can make, which gives as good, thorough, explanation on how to avoid gluten if cooking for someone off gluten and dairy, but I see it doesn't actually contain a recipe list, so here are some suggestions.

Salads. As long as you aren't using ingredients that have gluten contamination (see here for more about that), nearly any vegetable based salad is gluten free, as long as it doesn't contain malt vinegar, soy sauce (unless its gluten free), teriyaki sauce (unless gluten free), nuts (unless certified gluten free), croutons, crackers, bread, noodles, or other grains, cooked or not. I can list salad types but I feel that might be a little silly, because any combination of vegetables and fruit and nuts and sauces (if using bought sauces or nuts check the label for gluten) is gluten free.
As long as you make these salads with seasonal produce (and especially so if made with reduced rack or foraged produce these are very frugal and don't necessitate any special expensive gluten free ingredients.

Rice Based Meals. The typical answer people give when asked for suggestions of extremely frugal meals is beans and rice- and guess what? That is gluten free! I and my family prefer lentils and rice, because it's easier on our stomachs and takes less cooking time, but that is also a really frugal combination that is naturally gluten free. The cheapest meals on the books- rice and legumes- are gluten free! So long as its made from rice and beans/lentils and spices and produce, you're good to go on the gluten free front. I rarely see recipes for rice and beans that contain gluten- the few that do have soy sauce, which can be gluten free if you purchase it in the right spot.
While rice meals with animal products typically are naturally gluten free (so long as there's no soy or terriyaki sauce, breading, beer, noodles, or other processed foods added, those can be more pricey, so I've included a list of rice and legume based meals that are naturally gluten free and frugal.
If you notice, these dishes tend to be ones from around the world, since many cultures around the world serve rice and beans or other legumes as a staple. While I've listed many recipes, searching for Indian or Ethiopian or Middle Eastern or Central American bean/lentil and rice recipes will usually result in finding so many naturally gluten free delicious and frugal recipes.

Rice and Legume Recipes
Split Pea Soup with Rice
Middle Eastern Rice with Chickpeas
Pressure Cooker Lentil and Rice Risotto
Rice with Lentils and Butternut Squash
Caribbean Red Beans and Rice
Syrian Mujadarra- Rice and Lentils
Mujadarra- Version 2.0
Cajun Dirty Rice- with Beans
Bean and Rice Recipes from Around the World
Greek Stuffed Peppers- with Lentils

When made without any grains, pasta, bread crumbs, or flour, soup mix, or soy sauce, most soup recipes are naturally gluten free and can be very frugal if made with seasonal produce, and either no proteins, or cheaper cuts of meat (such as wings, necks, chicken frames, or leftover bones), or legumes.

Desserts are harder to find naturally gluten free and frugal, but some naturally gluten free dessert suggestions include baked fruit, compote, fruit salads, jello, pudding, and most ice creams, providing no flour or baked goods or items containing malt are added.

2. Replace Pasta or Bread with Naturally Gluten Free Starches
I love pasta as much as the next person, and bread is also quite delicious and filling. While these were staples in my glutenous frugal kitchen, since they are great ways to frugally stretch a meal (I'd often get pasta at under 50 cents a package), the second you go gluten free, pasta and bread are no longer the cheap fillers they used to be (the cheapest gluten free pasta- other than rice vermicelli- more on that lower down- costs me $2.75 per package), turning what used to be a staple in my house into a more infrequently served food.
Therefore, when there are recipes generally served with pasta or bread, I think outside the box and replace those with another grain, generally rice or mashed potatoes in my house, but also buckwheat, corn (generally in the form of polenta), quinoa, or millet. Macaroni and cheese? Why not put the same cheese that would go on the pasta, onto rice? Tuna noodle casserole? Also works great with rice. Chicken noodle soup? Try chicken soup with rice instead. Beef or lentil bolognese? Tastes great over rice or mashed potatoes. Even Sloppy Joe (or Sloppy Sams, the vegan version) sauce tastes terrific over gluten free grains or mashed potatoes.

Here's a bunch of frugal bean and lentil based recipes that, while sometimes served with bread or pasta (but not always) tastes wonderful accompanying rice or any other gluten free grain.

Legume Based Dishes
Maschikichri- Tajikistani Mung Bean Curry
Pakistani Black Eyed Peas Curry
Curried Chickpeas with Tomatoes
Basic Red Lentil Dal
Bengali Red Lentil Dal
Red Lentil and Tomato Dal
Red Lentil Vegetable Curry
Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry
Lentil Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Curry
Curried Carrot and Red Lentil Soup
Amazing Red Lentil Soup- Middle Eastern Style
Gluten Free Vegan Falafel (though generally served in a pita or wrap, this works just as well as a stand alone dish, not wrapped in anything)
Sprouted Lentil Vegetarian Chili
Mock Baked Beans
Honey Mustard Lentils
Herbed Lentil Veggie Soup
Lentil Stuffed Eggplant
Red Lentil Sauce

3. Buy a Grinder
Other than having people figure out which of their go-to frugal recipes are already naturally gluten free or can be made gluten free without needing to buy expensive gluten free specialty items, the next order of business, in my opinion, is to buy a good quality grain grinder.
These are quite pricey- a cheap one like my Blendtec Kitchen Mill set me back $179, plus the cost of my expensive electric converter (but it looks like the model I have is either no longer being made or they raised the price tremendously) and it looks like the next cheapest one, the WonderMill will set you back $220 plus converters if needed. Why then, would I recommend this in a frugal gluten free kitchen?
Because the biggest thing that increases the price of gluten free living is gluten free flour. Locally, I can buy white flour for 45 cents a pound or whole wheat flour for 65 cents a pound. The cheapest I can find any gluten free flour, such as white rice flour, is more than ten times that- $5.20 a pound!!! But white rice flour can't usually be used on its own, so a one for one replacement for gluten free flour is generally $7.80 per pound!!!
That is preposterous!
I'm sure there are places where gluten free flour and flour mixes don't cost nearly as much as they do locally, but even a cheaper gluten free flour or flour mix will end up being much more pricey than wheat flour.
So back to why I suggest a grain grinder.
I can buy white rice locally for 58-65 cents a pound, and on sale am often able to get it as low as 45 cents a pound. By grinding that in my grain mill, I get flour that cost me that much per pound instead of $5.20 per pound for the same item in the grocery store! Yes, other gluten free grains cost a bit more- sticky rice costs me $1 per pound, brown rice $1.03 per pound, and buckwheat $1.30 per pound, and making flour from them will certainly be pricier than using wheat flour (note how I said that even when done frugally and all from scratch, gluten free living simply costs more than gluten free?), but it still is a fraction of the price of store bought gluten free flour and mixes.
My grain grinder paid itself off many times over already. If someone was just told to trial going gluten free for some time, I wouldn't necessarily suggest buying a grinder, since it takes time for it to pay for itself, but when you get a permanent diagnosis of Celiac or non Celiac gluten sensitivity, I highly highly highly recommend buying a grain grinder, which then allows you to make your own gluten free items from scratch, that, while more expensive than the gluten version, is still much cheaper (generally- not always) than the ready made gluten free version.
Since it is a really large investment, I highly suggest you look into reviews of grain grinders before you buy one. I suggest avoiding hand powered grinders, because most don't actually work well and get a fine enough grind, and even if they do, it is a lot of work and you won't end up using it.
A coffee grinder is not enough for a family that needs to be gluten free, since you can only do very small batches at a time, and it is not powerful enough to grind harder things like rice or chickpeas.

4. Price Compare, Shop Around, Shop Sales, and Bulk Buy
While this is important to do no matter what if you want to not break the bank, since gluten free items cost more than gluten items, this is especially important to do if you want to not break the bank while going gluten free. Not every store is cheapest for everything, so if you want to make gluten free a little more affordable, try to see which gluten free items (even non processed items, like whole grains, to either use as is or to make into flour) are cheapest in each location, and buy enough to last until the next time you'll end up there. Depending on how much cheaper that item is in that place vs in your usual grocery store, you may find it advisable to stock up in really large quantities. I buy 10-20 lbs of green buckwheat at a time, since it was 2/3 the regular price, and I've purchased a 50 lb sack of millet to turn into flour, when I found it for less per pound than rice on sale, because it made an extremely frugal gluten free flour.
Some gluten free items are seasonal- if you can find them being sold frugally in season, then you can have them cheaply when they are out of season. Just a tip- many Passover items are gluten free, and after Passover, many stores want to clear their stock, so you can often find gluten free items more cheaply at the end of Passover; stocking up on those can save you money.
I've found many scratch and dent stores have gluten free items for a fraction of the cost. You may find gluten free day old bakery items on the reduced rack in some grocery stores or bakeries.
Though I don't always calculate costs per recipe, when it comes to gluten free baked goods I do like figuring out costs per serving, because the ingredients in gluten free baked goods can be pretty pricey (even with grinding your own flour) so I like to be able to compare the cost of my homemade items to store bought ones. I've discovered that my delicious homemade gluten free bread is more expensive than store bought gluten free bread from one specific store. Though my homemade bread is much healthier (no question about that), since it costs more than store bought bread (though not extremely so) I generally opt to buy the gluten free bread from that store (because of time and money), buying 10 or more packages at a time and freezing it, until I can go to the store again.

5. Cook From Scratch
If ready made groceries such as cakes, cookies and crackers are generally more expensive than store bought, this is exponentially more so for gluten free items. On top of the fact that gluten free processed foods can be hard to find period, depending on where you shop, I strongly recommend making as much from scratch as possible, including gluten free flour mixes, whether like this or this or this, so you can use it to make cakes, cookies, pancakes, waffles, flatbreads, crackers, etc... or just use it to add to recipes that need flour as a thickener, and then make all these on your own, because it will be healthier than store bought, usually at a fraction of the cost. Making everything from scratch isn't easy, but I know quite a few gluten free families that have a second freezer specifically for this purpose, so they can bulk bake and then pull out things as needed for snacks. Sauces and condiments are also cheaper and healthier to make from scratch, especially when gluten free.

6. Stick to Cheaper GF Items and Recipes
Even when making gluten free items from scratch, there are pricier and cheaper options for base ingredients. Xanthan gum is one of the more expensive gluten free baking items- it works as a binder, because without it, many gluten free flour based items will become crumbly, as gluten is the glue that holds things together. Recipes without xanthan gum tend to be cheaper, so if baking baked goods from scratch, especially if they're recipes that have an egg or two (or more) stick to a gluten free flour mix without xanthan gum.
Many gluten free recipes, especially baked goods, call for blanched almond flour and coconut flour. These are very expensive ingredients. Unless you are off all grains, stick to grain and legume based flour mixes instead of using those flours. If you do need to be grain free, ground sunflower seeds and ground walnuts do work in a lot of recipes that call for almond flour, just note that sunflower seeds can turn a final dish green, depending on the recipe.
Green buckwheat, though more expensive than rice and therefore more expensive as a flour, can replace the need for xanthan gum in a recipe, as green buckwheat has that sticky property in it that xanthan gum tries to mimic. This doesn't work in every recipe, but for example, ground soaked green buckwheat can make yummy pancakes or crepes without any xanthan gum, and buckwheat flour can make great crackers with no need for xanthan gum.
Many gluten free baked good recipes can be very egg heavy, which increases the final price tremendously. Look for items that are gluten free and vegan, which tends to be cheaper since it doesn't have egg.

7. Gluten Free Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks
While people tend to have an easier time figuring out gluten free dinners, breakfast, snacks, and on the go lunches tend to be more challenging in the gluten free house, especially since gluten free store bought items are expensive.

Gluten free cereals range in price tremendously, from brand to brand and location to location. I can buy gluten free corn flakes at a certain local store for $2.10 for a large package, or over $8 for a small package of another type of cereal in a different location. If you're going to go with cereal as your breakfast, price compare and shop around- it will make a huge difference. I find gluten free cereal that is on the shelf with regular cereals in the grocery store (even when marked on the label gluten free) tend to be cheaper than gluten free cereals I find in the gluten free section of the supermarket.
If using home ground gluten free flours, pancakes, waffles, and muffins are great low cost breakfast options. If using store bought gluten free flours, price compare, since it may possibly be more pricey to make these than to use store bought cereal. To add protein to this type of meal I either add egg, milk, or chickpea flour.
Hot cereals are my go-to gluten free breakfasts in my house. Oatmeal is not gluten free, unless you buy expensive gluten free oats, but even those my family can't tolerate, so we don't do those. I make buckwheat porridge in the crock pot or rice pudding with leftover rice or polenta porridge, made exactly like cream of wheat, but with corn meal instead of semolina flour. I sweeten the porridge with whatever sweetener I have on hand, sometimes add chopped fruit like apples or bananas or peaches or whatever is in season, and then for protein either add milk (while cooking instead of part or all of the water, or at the end), raw egg (which I mix well, then temper it by adding some hot porridge to it, and then pour it into the porridge, mixing well, and letting it cook a bit) or peanut butter. I sometimes also add cinnamon or chia seeds or coconut or cocoa powder or carob powder or tahini, depending on my mood or the child's preference.

Many people are into sandwiches as travel friendly lunches, but I think the best way to have travel friendly gluten free lunches is simply to use spill proof containers and bring along real food, generally leftovers that still taste good, instead of sandwiches.
Gluten free bread, if purchased cheaply, can be used for sandwiches, but personally, I find much gluten free bread isn't as tasty if not fresh/hot. Rice cakes also work well as a gluten free sandwich base that is easy to find and relatively inexpensive, but they get soggy if not made on the spot.
Rice paper wraps are a little more expensive, but not overly so, but they can hold a variety of fillings, and are shelf stable before being used to wrap, so they're great to have in the house as a back up to use in travel friendly meals. Gluten free crepes are also great to use in gluten free wraps that are easily transportable. Pancakes and waffles are also great for on the go meals.

Gluten free snacks that are relatively frugal are fruit and vegetables, with dips if desired, home baked gluten free foods, and popcorn. If out of the house and you need to grab something quick to eat as a snack, I find popcorn, potato chips, and corn chips to be easy enough to find gluten free, and nearly anywhere, and they usually don't cost a lot of money (though it still is cheaper to remember to bring foods along from home instead of buying on the go).

Quick Gluten Free Frugal Suppers
I mentioned above gluten free frugal meals, but I know some of the hardest parts of gluten free living is not having the option to just buy a ready made meal when you have no energy to do any cooking. While you can try to have ready to go meals prepared in the freezer, that isn't always an option, so I find these gluten free supper options invaluable.
Rice cakes. Eat this with eggs or peanut butter or hummus, and chop up some veggies on the side. Yes, it takes a bunch to fill up, but I do fall back on rice cakes many a time.
Instant mashed potatoes. If you can find this without any additives, just plain old dehydrated potatoes, that is healthiest. Not super cheap, but I bought it in bulk, so I use it as a backup when I don't have the energy to cook a single thing. I typically mix it with canned tuna and spices and chop up veggies on the side. You can also serve this with canned beans or chickpeas if you had nothing ready.
Rice vermicelli is thin gluten free noodles that I find in nearly any grocery store, and usually for not much more expensive than gluten noodles. (I usually find it for $1.40 a package at my local corner grocery store.) I just pour on boiling water, let it sit for a few minutes, and that's it. The down side of this is its usually very bland, so needs a lot of seasoning. Making a quick stir fry with it, with some seasonal veggies and egg or chickpeas or leftover chicken parts, and some gluten free soy sauce is pretty quick and relatively inexpensive.
I also often make a red lentil sauce- it can be ready in less than 15 minutes, and either spice it like a curry, or with tomato paste and Italian seasonings for a mock bolognese sauce, and serve it over rice noodles.
Polenta can be made super quickly, just mixing corn meal with water and salt, and heating it up until thick. This can be topped with any protein of choice, whether cheese or lentils or beans or chicken, etc... and served with veggies of choice.
Last but not least is rice in a pressure cooker. Less than 15 minutes start to finish, and I can serve it with any of the sauces mentioned above.

8. Make The Entire House Gluten Free?
Probably one of the biggest questions anyone has when a family member or multiple family members get diagnosed with Celiac or other types of gluten sensitivity is if you should make your entire house gluten free, or just gluten free food for those that need it. Especially when you're a frugally conscious person, you may wonder which is smarter to do- make the entire house gluten free, serving gluten free food for family members that don't need to be gluten free, or making separate food for the gluten people and the gluten free people. There is no one right answer to this- each family has to make their own decision, but I'll explain what I do and why.

When our family first went gluten free, it was just myself and my then nursing toddler eating gluten free, and then just myself, with my husband and one or more children eating gluten. Since gluten free items are pricier, I tried to do half half, making gluten free versions of foods for myself, and gluten versions for them. When possible, like if making pasta, I'd make the sauce first, and then mix part with the gluten noodles and part with the gluten free noodles. I'd cook gluten free and gluten noodles in separate batches, and freeze them in smaller portions, taking out each as needed, to have available for different dishes but not needing to cook up a new batch each time. But it got really frustrating and a pain.
At this point, out of 6 family members, 4 don't eat gluten, and 2 do, so making separate gluten free and gluten food seems silly to me. I don't always have the time or inclination or energy to cook supper at all, let alone two separate options each time, so I just make everything gluten free, even for those family members that eat gluten. To keep down the costs of doing this, I just tend to stick to naturally gluten free meals for everyone, so I'm not spending a lot of money on pricey gluten free items for family members who have no problem with gluten.
Another reason why I don't cook two separate meals or versions of meals, one gluten and one not, is that I'm generally the one who eats the leftovers in the house, so any leftover gluten dishes just end up in the trash, which is a waste of money. Gluten free items that were on the table during a meal in which gluten was served can potentially get cross contaminated with gluten, making it end up in the trash as well.
Lastly, because my younger three kids have been gluten free for a while, they are very good about it, and don't complain about not being allowed to have things that everyone else can, when they are out of the house. But at the same time, for their sake, I do like to have it that my children can eat everything at home, and at least there know that they aren't barred from eating what others are able to eat.
That said, my house at the moment does have some gluten items. I do occasionally buy gluten bread and gluten cereal, and my husband and older son eat those, while the gluten free members of the family eat gluten free alternatives.

If you plan on having gluten in your house at all, and not making your home completely gluten free, I recommend that you train people (including kids) very very well to prevent cross contamination. (And if people think you're neurotic, or if you think what I'm writing sounds neurotic, please read this post.) Spreads should go onto a clean dish, and from there spread on to bread or crackers.
Never from a container onto bread or even a dish that may have crumbs and then back into the container. Make more dishes, get more spoons or knives dirty, but no putting silverware that was anywhere but in the silverware drawer into a container. Ever.
When serving from serving dishes onto a plate containing gluten, drop things off the serving spoon/fork onto the dish from high up, never touch the plate or the food on it, and if you do accidentally, the serving spoon goes straight into the sink, not back into the dish.
Don't ever pass any gluten items over any gluten free food or over plates of gluten free people. Even particles not visible to the naked eye can make someone with Celiac or extreme gluten sensitivity sick.

If you aren't able to be neurotic about preventing cross contamination of items, buy two of everything in the house that might come in contact with gluten, and mark it very well that it is only for gluten free people. But this gets expensive and ridiculous, which is why I suggest that, instead, you train people very well to prevent cross contamination.

Depending on severity of the gluten sensitivity (a must for Celiacs, as well as many other people with gluten free sensitivity) you should also get separate sponges and strainers/colanders and pasta spoons and sifters for gluten and gluten free items if you don't make your home entirely gluten free.

Yes, going gluten free is not an easy transition to make at all, and at first it may seem very overwhelming, not to mention expensive, but over time these things get easier and easier, and eventually it becomes second nature.

Do you have any gluten free family members, or know people that need to be gluten free? How was that transition for you or them? Did you find your grocery bills increased tremendously when going gluten free? What did you do to keep down the costs? What tips and advice would you suggest to someone newly diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, to make the transition easier, and to keep down the costs?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

  1. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease over 20 years ago. I can't add anything to what you've said. Since so much socializing is based around food and regular food at that, eating gluten free takes a toll on normal socializing. I suppose all handicaps do.

  2. Love your post! In case it might help someone, I wanted to add that where I live the Indian grocery store sells a variety of gluten free flours for close to the same price as wheat flour.

Previous Post Next Post