Keep the Costs Down

With expenses rising, how can you keep the costs down on a specialized diet? It’s a question we’re all having to answer. All food costs more right now. It doesn’t matter whether you cook at home or eat out – everything is more expensive than it was a couple of years ago. And that’s on top of higher gas prices and increased shipping costs that are driving up prices on other items. The trip from feeling comfortable to feeling pinched can be a short one.

Having a plan can help remove some of the stress from the necessity of adjusting the budget. And to keep stress as low as possible, that plan must stem a realistic analysis of yourself, your obligations, family dynamics, finances, and time available. What fits well for one family will not work for another.

How can you get started making a realistic plan?

Here are some steps to take. Use them in any order that fits your situation.

Review your budget. If you do not have one, take a look at how much you’ve spent on food in the past 3 months. If you already know the past three months were over budget, go back to a 3 month period in 2020 or 2021. Use this as a rough guide for future budgeting.

I don’t really use budgets, but I have a sort of running idea of how much I spend per week/month on groceries. This is easy to keep up with ordering online. I can simply go to past purchases in my accounts and see what I spend.

If you’d like additional automated help, consider a service like Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market, or Hungry Harvest. Imperfect Foods allows an “always include” list. You can add to or take away items during the shopping window, but each order will begin with a list of foods you’ve specified. This makes it easy to hit a predetermined price range. It also saves time.

Assess your priorities. Within your specialized diet, there will be many ways to be compliant. What is most important? Fresh food, convenience, patronizing restaurants, budget, quality of food, time management, being able to include favorites. Make a list that includes any significant priority. Number them in order of most to least important. Let this guide your plan.

Explore options. My priorities include fresh food and having something I can grab in a pinch available at all times. That means that my ideal plan should include time to bake or prepare food that I can store in the freezer for quick, easy use later. This might mean making and freezing biscuits, muffins, waffles, soup, and baked chicken breasts. It could also mean making one pot meals that will last a few days without creating lots of dirty dishes. Or it could mean that I splurge on steak because it’s quick to cook and cheaper than restaurant food.

Because I enjoy the physical benefits of gardening – fresh air, sunshine, playing in dirt, bending and stretching, I reduce my vegetable costs by growing some of them. And you simply can’t get anything fresher or tastier.

One blackberry bush can produce enough berries to save me about $100 per year. Of course that amount may vary due to weather conditions and whether I am a consistent harvester. But planting a raspberry bush alongside it will double the savings. And growing fresh herbs in pots can quadruple the amount of savings in my pocket. Even if you don’t have much space, growing one pepper plant in a pot can make a difference if you eat a lot of peppers.

If you love baking, consider buying gluten-free flour in larger quantities from online sources or warehouse clubs.

If you’re looking for convenience baked goods, consider buying direct from the brand’s website. When I order, I buy enough to get free shipping and freeze many of the items on arrival.

One site I use is Katz® Gluten Free. They offer flash sales and other specials. Katz also allows you to sort by gluten-free; gluten & dairy-free; gluten & corn-free; gluten & egg-free/vegan; gluten & rice-free; gluten & soy free; gluten & sugar-free. They have some mini-donuts that are completely grain free. I like that the site is robust and customer friendly and the sales allow me to purchase items when they’re most affordable.

Be Realistic. Even though I may prioritize fresh food, there are periods of time when baking and freezing or cooking 100% of each meal simply won’t happen. Family obligations and work projects sometimes dovetail into too much to do in a given amount of time. That means I need to rely on the closest I can get to my priorities for a period of time. I allow for these times in my overall plan by researching prepared foods that I can purchase online in bulk and place in the freezer. Anticipating and allowing for a few periods of up front allows me to keep myself on track.

Know yourself. I am not a coupon shopper unless there’s a coupon that shows up on the item when I click to order it. If a code comes via email, it’s out of sight, out of mind. If a physical mailer comes via snail mail, I will file it so I can find it and still never think to look in the file before I make a purchase.

My haphazard coupon use means I know not to rely on coupons to keep costs down. It’s not a realistic strategy for me. I don’t feel bad about that. A lot of managing finances comes down to managing to your strengths.

Whether you’re like me and keep a rough budget in your head, have a strict written budget, or fly by the seat of your pants, you’re sure to see a difference in the prices you’re paying for food. Developing a plan now can help you navigate what’s to come with less stress.

Review your budget, assess priorities, explore options, be realistic, know yourself and keep the costs down without giving up your specialized diet.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Easy Peasy Drop-Off Food

Let’s explore some easy peasy drop-off food for your gluten-free friends. It’s winter and I have 7 friends who are currently under the weather. Having a restaurant meal delivered to each of them would be quite expensive. Cooking a meal from scratch for each of them would be quite time-consuming. I’ve been looking for a happy medium.

I’ve settled on some simple combinations I can make quickly and drop off by the door. I’m keeping these gluten-free. By using non-dairy milk and cheese, many can easily be dairy-free as well. If you’re needing some similar options, here are a few ideas:

Potato soup (not dairy-free). Purchase already prepared mashed potatoes (not dried potato flakes). Place them in a large pot over low to medium heat. Thin with gluten-free chicken broth the desired thickness. Add a dash of garlic powder and fresh ground black pepper.

Make the soup even richer by stirring in some shredded cheese – cheddar, Monterrey Jack, asiago, parmesan, or a blend. If this makes the soup too thick, add more chicken broth. For extra flair, include some canned, fire-roasted corn and garnish with chives.

Carnitas enchiladas. Purchase prepared gluten-free slow-cooked pork carnitas, canned refried beans, cheese, soft corn tortillas, and gluten-free green enchilada sauce.

Place the pork in a large skillet. Add refried beans (about 1/2 can or until the balance looks right to you), cheese, and a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with garlic powder and cumin. Exact proportions can vary and this will still be delicious. Simmer for a few minutes while you heat the corn tortillas in the oven or in a skillet.

Fill each tortilla with mixture from skillet. Place open side down in a disposable baking pan sprayed with olive oil spray. Top with enchilada sauce and cheese. Bake at 350⁰ for 15-20 minutes or until cheese melts.

Because this starts with warm tortillas and fully cooked, warmed filling, there’s no need to bake for a long time. That means, I don’t worry about covering these with foil.

Chicken stew. Begin with 32 oz gluten-free chicken broth and a cup or two of water. Add a couple of shallots or half an onion and a clove or two of garlic that are peeled, but not sliced or chopped (you’ll remove them later). Sprinkle in some garlic powder and a few red pepper flakes. Simmer for a few minutes.

Add a drained can of diced potatoes, a drained can of black beans, and a drained can of corn (if desired). If more liquid is needed, add either chicken stock or water.

After the stew simmers for a few minutes, add some pulled rotisserie chicken. You may need to break the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Continue to simmer for a few minutes. Remove the shallots or onion and garlic. Taste. Add salt and black pepper if needed.

You can use only corn and potatoes. You can use black beans and corn, but substitute quick-cooking rice for the beans. There are many other options I haven’t mentioned that can be tailored to your friend’s tastes.

I like to put my deliveries in disposable, reusable containers that are microwave or oven safe so that my sick friend can reheat right in the container. I also don’t want them to have to worry about returning a dish.

Snack basket. When you’re sick, you may feel well enough to focus on necessities but leave it up to your friends to provide the frivolous.

If you know the kind of snacks your friend likes, put those in a basket or a cute bag along with a few magazines, a crossword or sudoku book, an adult coloring book, or a puzzle.

I include things like dried figs, cocoa dusted almonds, dried Bing cherries, candied or spiced pecans, gluten-free pretzels and hummus, corn or grain-free tortilla chips with individual size guacamole, a selection of cheese (look for samples), pepperoncini peppers, stuffed olives, summer sausage, gourmet chocolate bars, and unsweetened, flavored water.

The choices are truly endless!

Breakfast basket. These are easy to do and fill a gap that most people don’t think about.

Fill a basket or bag with an assortment of gluten-free bagels, donuts, banana bread, muffins, cinnamon rolls, rugelach, and English muffins. Add some gourmet coffee or tea and jam or jelly. Perhaps put in apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes.

Providing food to a sick friend is a kind gesture. Lessening the financial burden and time commitment for yourself is also a kind gesture. With easy peasy drop-off food, you can be kind to all involved.

Gluten-Free on the Cheap

When you have to be gluten-free on a tight budget, it’s good to know how to eat gluten-free on the cheap! As we settle into 2020, those lovely credit card bills arrive to remind us just how generous we were during the holidays. Once that happens, I always feel like I should implement an austerity program to keep me financially on track for the rest of the year. If you’re like me and you’re new to the gluten-free world, you could easily panic over an anticipated increase in household costs.

The internet is filled with articles to multiply your concern and get the adrenaline pumping. Read a few sites and you’re sure to know that gluten-free bakeries charge a premium for breads, cakes, and cookies, and most restaurants upcharge when substituting a gluten-free bun. Continue reading and you’ll discover that gluten-free food is about 86% more expensive. That’s a lot.

While all of this reading may leave you feeling alarmed, it’s worth noting that articles warning of the expense of a gluten-free lifestyle typically assume that all of us will primarily purchase and consume prepackaged convenience food or restaurant substitutions. That seems like a reasonable assumption given that many of us have lives that are often overbooked. But with a few simple tips, even the busiest of us can manage to eat gluten-free on the cheap most of the time.

Soooo…how can you eat gluten-free on the cheap when you’re really busy and don’t have time to spend in the kitchen?
rice
Here are five tips to keep costs down:

Remember that many inexpensive common foods are naturally gluten-free
For example:
Brown rice – a 16oz bag costs 78 cents and contains ten servings. Even microwave rice bowls are less than $1 per serving.
Black beans – a 15oz can costs around $1 and contains 2-3 servings. A 16oz bag of dry beans runs less than $1.50 and contains about 13 servings.
Frozen corn – you can buy a 32oz bag for under $2. That’s about 10 servings. A 15oz can runs about 50 cents and has 3 servings.

You can easily throw together a filling burrito bowl using microwaveable brown rice, canned black beans, canned (or leftover) corn with a sprinkle of cumin and a spoonful of salsa. You’ll spend less than 10 minutes in the kitchen and less than $2 per serving. That’s about the price of a drink at a fast food restaurant. You may still have room in the budget to add cheese, rotisserie chicken, sliced avocado or Wholly Guacamole for a more gourmet bowl.

And that’s just one example. A veggie and cheese filled fritatta only takes a few minutes to prepare, especially when you use leftover veggies. Fritattas are great for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Fresh fruit is a healthy gluten-free snack. To keep costs down, cut up your own pineapple, cantaloupe, and honeydew. It won’t take as long as you imagine and you can always plant the pineapple tops in pots to grow on the porch or in the window. That’s like getting a free houseplant each time you eat a pineapple.

Get your Omega 3s from canned tuna, salmon, or sardines. All are readily available and less expensive than fresh fish. Tuna salad can be eaten on top of greens, out of an avocado or tomato half, or on a cucumber slice eliminating the need for gluten-free bread.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and squash are all inexpensive to purchase and easy to prepare. If you don’t have time for even minor prep, consider frozen vegetables. As a whole, they’re cheaper than preprepped fresh vegetables.

Check the discount store shelves
If you’re looking for gluten-free chicken stock, snack bars, bread, or pizza you may immediately head for a specialty store that charges more for everything. Before you do that, peruse the shelves of your local discount market or dollar store.

The Dollar General by my house has gluten-free labeled items like chicken stock, snack mix, and nut bars plus a variety of raw nuts and dried blueberries, cherries, apricots, pineapple, and mango. They also have corn tortillas. Down the street a few blocks I can get gluten-free frozen waffles, pizza, and pretzels from the regular grocery store.

Walmartgrocery.com carries Bob’s Red Mill® almond flour for a fraction of the cost of a health food store. They also have Great Value Gluten-Free Brown Rice Elbow Pasta in a 16oz bag for $1.96 and Lance Gluten Free Original Crackers in a 5oz box for $3.72. The Tate’s bakeshop gluten-free cookies at Walmart run about $1 per bag less than the Whole Foods Market® price.

Limit premade ingredients to the basics
Instead of buying a loaded frozen gluten-free pizza, I choose a plain cheese pizza then add toppings like pepperoni, salami, spinach, or bell peppers at home. On average, this method saves me $2-3 per pizza. You can even create a cheeseburger pizza by adding seasoned, browned ground beef and cheddar cheese to a plain cheese pizza.

If you keep pizza sauce on hand, you can buy premade pizza crusts instead of pizza. There are many gluten-free frozen crust options available from cauliflower based to balls of dough you roll yourself. The selection may be limited in your area, but keep an eye out because stock changes frequently. Near my home, the constant change is frustrating. About the time I find something I like, it gets rotated out. The good news is this allows me to sample a wider range of products.

It’s also easy to create soup from basic ingredients rather than paying more for a complete gluten-free version. Make simple chicken and rice soup in the microwave using dollar store gluten-free chicken stock and Minute Ready to Serve brown or white rice. Add a snack pack of veggies from the convenience store for more flavor and nutrition.

Pomì strained tomatoes can serve as a base for tomato soup, chili, pasta, and pizza sauce. A 26.46oz box costs $2.96 at Walmartgrocery.com. With nothing more than a tube of Italian Herb stir-in paste, honey (or a sugar packet from a restaurant), salt, pepper, and garlic powder, you’ll be amazed at what you can create. Simply measure to taste, stir everything together, and heat.

Instead of buying protein or snack bars, make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips or gluten-free pretzels. It’s fun to play with these combinations and you won’t have to pull out the nuts you don’t like. For less waste and fewer arguments, each family member can have a refillable jar of personalized mix in the pantry.

Check out fast food websites
I’m not recommending fast food as a regular part of any diet, but when you’re in a hurry or traveling and are on a budget fast food can be a viable gluten-free option. Most fast food chains list nutrition information on the web.

Wendy’s small chili, a baked potato with butter, and small iced tea costs around $6 and doesn’t require you to ask for any modifications. A half apple pecan chicken salad costs less than $5 and is also gluten-free as is the taco salad. And you can top off your gluten-free meal with a small frosty for $1.

You can be sure that I’ll stop at an In-N-Out Burger® at some point when I’m in LA. My whole family loves the protein-style burgers and fries. If I want to consider other menu options, I can easily pull up or print out their handy allergen information PDF and carry it with me.

Other fast food restaurants and build-your-own pizza chains offer gluten-free choices. There may be a risk of cross-contact on prep surfaces and in fryers so it helps to be familiar with a particular location in order to feel comfortable you won’t be exposed.

Take home leftovers
If you’re paying a premium to order a gluten-free meal, don’t be shy about taking home a couple of ounces of steak, half a chicken breast, or a couple of spoonfuls of chicken salad. These can be repurposed as the protein in tacos, burrito bowls, and salads. Even leftover French fries can become part of a microwave breakfast casserole.

Repurpose protein
Leftovers aren’t the only thing that can be repurposed. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or smoked meat from a BBQ joint can be turned into quick, delicious gluten-free entrées that no longer resemble baked chicken or BBQ.

Chicken can be made into chicken salad, used as a topper for a green salad, and put into stir fry, curry, enchiladas, tacos or quesadillas (with corn tortillas, of course). Rotisserie chicken is also a great protein addition to pasta primavera and chicken tortilla soup.

Pulled pork can be added to pasta or nachos and used to fill tacos, tamales, baked potato shells, and shepherd’s pie. Chopped brisket can be turned into stroganoff, cottage pie, or chili, and can be added to baked beans.

At times you may end up buying some overpriced, less than delicious gluten-free product, but following these simple tips will help you hold down the overall costs without lots of extra time in the kitchen.

Choosing items that are not marked-up because of a gluten-free label saves money. Buying already cooked protein reduces cooking time immensely and, as you can see, a few basics give you a great deal of menu flexibility. Just be sure to read the label on grocery store items and ask the BBQ joint about seasoning to determine whether anything contains gluten.

With a little practice, you can easily live within a budget while remaining gluten-free…and you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen!

https://glutagen.com/the-cost-of-a-gluten-free-diet/

https://menu.wendys.com/en_US/product/classic-chocolate-frosty/

http://www.in-n-out.com/docs/default-source/downloads/menuallergenchart2018.pdf

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/soups-on/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/dump-soup-perfect-for-a-lazy-day/


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Stretch Your Greenbacks with Forgotten Greens

When you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget, you can stretch your greenbacks with forgotten greens! It’s hard to grow up in the South without eating greens. They’re a staple in every home cooking, soul food, and barbecue restaurant and many grandmother’s kitchens. Most cooks have a favorite green. Some prefer collard, some mustard, and some turnip. When you generically refer to greens, it’s assumed you mean one of these three or a mix of them.
carrot
Often overlooked are the other greens that abound in Southern homes. We consume beets, radishes, carrots, and celery on a regular basis. Most of us have added kale to our menus, and many of us enjoy kohlrabi and bok choy in the occasional stir fry. In an effort to eat fresh, local food it’s more and more common to buy these vegetables from a community garden, neighborhood farmer’s market or CSA (community supported agriculture) produce coop.

If you shop in these venues, you know that the vegetables aren’t always uniform in size and shape, they may arrive still covered in soil, and most of them will have beautiful green leaves attached. It’s tempting to quickly chop off the leaves and discard them before cleaning beets, carrots, or radishes, and many cooks in my family do just that.
radish
I’ll admit it takes more time to clean and shred the tops, but you can also end up with a delicious mix of greens just by saving what you’d normally throw away. This weekend, I cooked a pot of spicy greens using radish, kohlrabi, and bok choy greens, plus some Swiss chard. That’s not a special mix. It’s just what I had on hand. As is true of most combinations of leafy greens, they’re delicious together.

Of course, you can also use these tops in a salad or soup. Unfortunately, I don’t really like cabbage tasting greens in a salad, and I’m unlikely to make soup in the summer. But thinking of edible vegetable leaves in the way I think of turnip greens gives me another avenue for preparation. Seasoned with chicken stock, onion, garlic, dried chile peppers, salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, these greens have wonderful depth of flavor and a peppery bite.

I’m not sure how collard, mustard, and turnip greens came to be the standard for greens, or why my grandmother never used the radish greens or carrot tops she grew. I do know that I can stretch my greenbacks by broadening my definition of greens to include beet, bok choy, broccoli, carrot, celery, chard, dandelion, kale, kohlrabi, and radish.
greens
And by cooking the greens attached to my vegetables, I gain another vegetable to serve, stretch my food budget, and include all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make leafy greens an important part of a healthy diet. I also reduce my food waste. That makes me feel good.