Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gluten Free on the Cheap - Tips for stretching that Food Budget

With the recession affecting us all, you can find a lot of ideas for saving money floating around the web right now, whether you're on a gluten free diet or not.

  1. Buy in Bulk, on-line, or both
  2. Buy on Sale
  3. Buy less meat and more legumes
  4. Buy less dairy
  5. Eat less processed foods and more fruits and veggies

But sometimes, it's still not enough. So here's a few ideas that might help you stretch your dollars even more. Some of these require a little extra work initially, but they'll definitely help the budget.

1. Use every scrap. Many of our traditional recipes discard potentially edible parts from our produce. A little research on what is safe to eat may find you another seasoning or side dish from these discarded pieces. With Kale, for example, rather than discarding the stalks, chop and peel them to add to a stir fry, or boil them to use as a side dish. Wash and chop green carrot tops and use like you would green leaf parsley (unless you're one of the few who has contact allergies to these). Save chicken bones and use to make a batch of chicken broth. Salt and roast any of the seeds from your winter squash.

2. Use mini-leftovers inside of bento boxes. Those leftovers that are too small to provide even a one person meal can still be used in a creative and appealing lunch. A couple tablespoons of pasta sauce, for example, are perfect for a meatball or two. A few pieces of stir-fried broccoli, a couple slices of apple, a quarter of a hotdog - most of this is the perfect size to put inside an adult's or child's bento box. For some lovely ideas on how to utilize leftovers like this, check out the blog Lunch in a Box. It hasn't been updated in a while, but it's still worth a look.

3. Start an herb garden. Herb plants cost very little, the seeds even less, but the herbs themselves are fairly expensive if you buy them in the produce section. A small pot with a few often-used herbs can save you quite a bit of money, and can be grown either inside or outside, depending on your space requirements. You can snip off the leaves and dry them for later use, if you don't use them before the plants goes to seed. And you'll know absolutely that these seasonings are 100% gluten free.

4. In the same vein, start a garden, period. Pots on a porch or patio, raised beds in a yard, or even a few hanging pots inside the house can get you some extra produce - strawberries and tomatoes are great for a hanging garden. Get a small fruit tree that does well in your area so you have less upkeep to keep it healthy. Buy infant plants at a nursery, or start your garden from seed. It's most helpful if you get plants that produce a lot, like zucchini, or that you like to eat but usually can't afford to buy. You don't even have to purchase mulch for it, if you're anything like me. I had enough grassy weeds in the yard to pull them up, chop them up, and use them as mulch for my own garden. Free and gluten-free mulch. Wonderful.

5. Learn what's native and edible in your area. In our modern world, most places have edible plants that are often looked at as weeds. These are usually gluten free, and if they are weeds, they will usually grow with little to no effort on your part. Where I live, I learned of edible flowers, fruits, leaves, seeds and legumes that were growing naturally in my small yard. I even have wild amaranth! It took a bit of time to confirm which plants were which with the local botanical gardens, and I had to make sure I hadn't used any poisonous sprays near these plants, but it's been well worth it. I don't have to water, I don't weed, I don't fertilize. I simply pick and process these foods when it's the proper season. It doesn't get any cheaper than that. Also, don't forget that you can ask some of the local large acreage property owners if they would mind if you harvested wild forage from their property.

Hope some of these ideas can help you out in your quest for a less expensive gluten free menu!

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