Whether you’re a penniless student, slugging it away at your entry-level job, or trying to survive in a way-too-expensive city, being gluten-free kills a lot of your cheap eat options. There is no dollar menu for you. No 50 cent ramen noodles or $1 slices of pizza.
But you can still fill your belly without emptying your wallet on expensive gluten free specialty items or worshipping at the altar of Whole Foods Paycheck. As a celiac since college, I have learned some tricks and tips for eating gluten free on a dime.
1. Go ethnic
Buy a rice cooker (cheap basic ones are about $20) and then go to your local Asian market and buy the biggest bag of rice you can find. Then either go to the freezer section and buy some cheap frozen veggies or check out a local farmer’s market for something fresh. It’s fun to experiment with some random green vegetable you’ve never seen before. For protein, add beans, edamame, a can of tuna, or chicken.
Rice and beans make for one of the cheapest meals possible, and it’s filling too! Add some Cajun spice or garlic and fancy that stuff up. Corn tortillas are also gluten-free and can create good wraps.
2. Eat your veggies
Speaking of rice and beans, start enjoying vegetables more. Try being a home-vegetarian, meaning you only indulge in meat when you go out to restaurants. Meat itself may be gluten-free, but it’s pricey (and not the best for the environment). Save the daily filet mignons for when you’re fabulously wealthy.
But don’t scratch off steak and potatoes entirely. Potatoes are filling and can be thrown in an oven or microwave for a quick meal. Switch it up with a baked sweet potato sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon. Heaven.
3. Breakfast on a budget
Have time to make breakfast? Eggs are inexpensive, can be made many ways, and are full of good fats for you. Plus, protein keeps you full longer. Yogurt is also a good bet—you can usually find sales where you get each one for a dollar or less. Definitely better than buying a $2 Kind bar.
But, if you miss your cereal, both Cheerios and Lucky Charms are going gluten free! (And hopefully not changing the price tag—I’m looking at you, gluten-free Rice Krispies)
4. Scrounging snacks
It’s movie day, every day! Why? Popcorn is gluten-free. Go grab a bulk bag of kernels and pop them yourself in the microwave. Other cheap snacks: bananas, carrots and hummus, apples with peanut butter, peanuts/nuts (warning: nuts are not inexpensive at face value, but a few will make you feel full and satisfy the urge to crunch)
5. Embrace cooking
A lot of these ideas are ’some assembly required’. But you will save yourself so much money if you learn to be a kitchen whiz. Pretend you’re hosting your own cooking show and go for it. If you don’t go for a rice cooker, try a slow cooker, which can be left on all day while you’re out leading your busy life. And then come home to a delicious home-cooked meal without slaving away in the kitchen. You got this.
Believe it or not, we can eat without going totally, hopelessly broke. Gluten: who needs it?
Post and Photos by Gabriele Boland.