Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Save Money on a Gluten-free Diet

Supermarket Photo with Fresh Fruits from Wikimedia Commons
Those who know me personally tend to associate me with a special diet. All of my children have multiple food sensitivities and allergies and I learned through many trials and quite a few errors how to live a gluten-free lifestyle.

Going gluten-free (GF) is easier than it was years ago, but it is still challenging. Some stores now offer GF sections with some tasty items. However, some GF foods are devoid of anything that even remotely resembles good food in my opinion. We live in a rural area, and scraps are usually gone within a few hours if I chuck them out in the back yard. If a gluten-free item that no one living here will eat lies in my back yard for over a week, well....let's just say I won't be wasting my money on that one again!

Those on a tight budget are especially challenged when going gluten-free because it seems that for each item that a product is "free" of, you might as well add a dollar or two to the price. Paying high prices for something that everyone likes is hard enough, but paying the money only to discover that no one wants more than one bite can really take a hunk out of the budget. Yet making sacrifices to provide healthy meals that the whole family can enjoy is a goal worth developing.

Here are some tips to help stretch the special grocery budget:

Going Gluten-free at School - Photo by Tradewinds
Utilize available services through the schools

If your child's doctor has determined that your child requires a special diet, get it in writing. Find out what forms are required by the school in order to make special accommodations. You might discover that your child's school may provide soy milk in place of regular milk or make other substitutions if the child has special dietary needs.

Consider making a 504 plan so that school personnel are aware of special dietary needs and re-evaluate the plan as needed. Being proactive helps. For example, I have a place where we store special snacks for my children in case someone comes in with a surprise party for a class. I also request that teachers include a note in parent newsletters asking that parents provide at least three day's notice before bringing in foods/drinks because someone in the class has food allergies. This will help avoid those last minute dashes to the store to buy specialty ingredients at full price and will give you enough time to prepare something similar to what the other children are eating.

Compare Prices on Gluten-free Items Before Purchasing - Photo by Muffet
Comparison shop

Comparison shopping is often harder if you are looking for specialty products, but more mainstream grocery stores are starting to carry allergy-friendly foods that used to only be available in specialty grocery stores. Contact local stores to determine if they carry desired specialty items. Some small local stores may be willing to special order products for you, saving you time and gasoline.

Some stores will provide prices online and may offer lowest price guarantees when compared to other advertised prices for the same product. If you are shopping online, make sure to include shipping and handling and other added costs to ensure you are getting the best deal.

Talk with various managers at the store and ask about the best time of day and best day of the week to find the best deals on foods that the family can eat. Buying in bulk will often save money. Some stores may offer a discount if you order a case of a product. This can work well if the product can be stored for future use. If you know others in the area that are also going gluten-free, you might consider purchasing in bulk and then splitting the cost and products accordingly.

Check sell by and expiration dates carefully. The oldest items tend to be rotated to the front, but don't assume that reaching toward the back will get you the freshest product.

Give Grocers Feedback About Gluten-Free Items - photo from Wikimedia Commons
Give feedback

Give positive feedback about products that work for your family. Stores tend to appreciate your loyalty and they realize that word of mouth tends to bring in or repel future customers.

Write the manufacturer and give positive feedback about foods or drinks that are working well for your family. Some of those manufacturers may in turn send coupons, free samples, or other freebies or discounts.

Complete store surveys or provide other feedback to grocers. If stores in your area do not carry products that you would like to purchase, consider offering your personal wish list with UPC numbers, specific brands, and any other information that would be helpful if they decide to consider ordering the product. Occasionally, I have been pleasantly surprised to see a new product appear that was on my wish list. It doesn't hurt to ask. If the store begins to carry the item, purchase it regularly and pass the word to others.

Be a change agent and give feedback to lawmakers regarding labeling of foods and drinks. Although listing the biggest allergens is a great start, those with celiac disease or people who cannot tolerate foods with gluten often must invest quite a bit of time researching whether or not a product is gluten-free. Companies that have gone the extra mile to carefully label their products concerning gluten and restaurants that provide gluten-free menu items deserve some positive feedback. I hope more companies will follow their lead!

Investing in Your Health - Photo by Sigurdas
Invest in your overall health

Choosing plenty of healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables might seem to be a high expense, but the long-term benefits of a healthy diet can result in fewer healthcare-related bills for years down the road. If you look at the cost of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, you might begin to frame a healthy diet as an investment in your future quality of life.

Sometimes smaller quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables may be the wiser choice, particularly if those items have a short window of time before beginning to rot. Those who purchase produce in larger quantities might want to experiment with various ways to preserve these foods without adding gluten. Some folks with backyard gardens might offer extra produce for free or for a very low price, particularly if they know that others would be interested in the items.

Save Money on Gluten-free Foods - Photo by Cornischong
Going Gluten-free Without Going Broke

After the initial shock of trying to discover how to go gluten-free, many people are dismayed to realize just how expensive specialty foods can be. Although you may have to make sacrifices in other areas of your budget to allow for added specialty food expenses, these tips are just a few ways that you can make grocery shopping a little less painful. Perhaps added competition in the future may force prices lower for some products.

I wish you the best as you search for creative budgeting strategies! Find more of Katrena's articles at the Fit Tips 4 Life site map.

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