Affording Healthy Gluten Free Foods On A Budget

Gluten free food can truly break the bank, trying to also add healthy and organic choices suddenly if can feel like you're spending all your money on food. Budgeting is key, spending a little here and there suddenly adds up really quickly. Make a weekly budget and stick to it.

When you're eating a primarily natural and whole foods gluten free diet you will probably be at the grocery store more then once a week. So what I like to do is a big grocery shop on Sunday where I buy all of the non perishables for the week and the veggies for Monday through Wednesday. Then on Wednesday I go back to the grocery store and buy the perishables for Thursday through Saturday.  Buying gluten free can look a little bit like the picture below, but there are a few steps you can take that can save you from feeling like you're burning money.

Take it off your taxes

In Canada and the USA you can deduct the difference between gluten free food and gluten filled food when you do your income taxes if you have celiac disease. It means keeping good records and recording every purchase. Make sure you have medical documentation as well. This is a lot of work and organization, so make sure that you use a spreadsheet.

Below are the rules for Canada, you can find out more about deducting the cost in the USA here.

Claiming allowable medical expenses Who can claim?

  • Patient must have celiac disease.
  • Patient must be certified by a medical practitioner as requiring a gluten-free diet. Keep a copy of your doctor’s letter in case you need it in subsequent years.
  • Actual claim can be made by individual, spouse or parent (for minors with celiac disease) Since total medical expenses must exceed 3% of net income (or $2,208 whichever is less) it may be advantageous for the family member with the lowest income to make the claim.

What is allowed?

  • The incremental cost of gluten-free products.
  • Difference between cost of gf products and non-gf products on an item by item basis.
  • Generally limited to products specifically produced and marketed for gf diets.
  • Can claim “intermediate items”, that is baking supplies and ingredients to make gf food.
  • Only portion related to person with celiac disease. For example, if there is only one celiac in the household but everyone eats the gf bread, then only the portion eaten by the celiac can be claimed. But as we pointed out, non-celiacs don’t eat gf bread in preference to regular bread.

How to claim

  • Calculate incremental cost of gf food. This means saving all your food receipts for the year and listing easily comparable items such as 52 loaves of gf bread @ $7 per loaf. Compare this with an average price of regular bread. Then deduct the cost of regular bread from the cost of gf bread and enter the amount into the claim column. It is not unreasonable to take into account the difference in size of bread loaf, whether comparing by weight or number of slices. Do the same thing with baking items such as rice flour and compare it with wheat flour by weight. Some items such as xanthan gum do not have an equivalent and you would not have bought them at all if you were not compelled to follow the gf diet. In these cases only, claim the whole cost of the item. Apart from this one possibly reasonable exception, do not attempt to claim the full costs of gf foods. If you are caught, your return will likely be flagged for regular and repeated scrutiny.
  • Total medical expenses must exceed 3% of net income (to a max of $2,208) See previous note about the lowest income earner filing on behalf of celiac family member.
  • Expenses can be claimed for any 12-month period ending in the year.
  • Receipts to be submitted if paper filing. If the bundle of receipts is ridiculously huge, try submitting just your summary sheet with a note that receipts are available on request.
  • Receipts must be retained if filing electronically. You may be required to produce your receipt evidence at any time even after receiving your Notice of Assessment. When returns are electronically filed, only the medical tax credit total is transmitted. The fact that you are a celiac claiming for the incremental cost of gf food as part of your medical tax expenses will not be apparent. A big jump in your medical tax claim could trigger a review. For example if you have never made a medical tax claim before and suddenly you are claiming $3,000 the CRA may want to know why.

Resist the urge to wing it

It's pretty easy to just go grocery shop here and there without a plan or list and just buy whatever looks good. Planning may seem like a pain, but I promise that when you see the difference in your grocery bill it will make it totally worth it. The goal, I think, is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective. You don't want planning and shopping to feel like a miserable experience. Here's my steps for planning grocery shopping and meals:

1. Spend time each week looking for recipes
2. Create a place to save recipes, and keep it SIMPLE. (Like pinterest, or just bookmark it to a folder)
3. Start a calendar.

Now that you're getting inspired in what to eat, start a calendar of what you'd like to cook over the next few days or few weeks. It can be as organized as a Google Calendar, with notes on each day for that day's menu. Or you can just jot notes to yourself in the corner of your laptop screen. The important thing is to write it down.
4. Check what's on sale.
It can be really helpful to organize meals around sales. Is organic chicken a dollar off this week? Or maybe organic broccoli is on sale? Look in the flyers and circle the sales, then search for say "healthy gluten free chicken meals with broccoli". Then go from there.
5. Plan for leftovers.
Left overs are where it's at! Who wants to be cooking three meals a day 7 days a week? I regularly cook one or two big healthy casseroles at the beginning of the week and eat off them all week long for lunch.

Shop the perimeter

Shop the perimeter of the supermarket — in other words, buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, plus dairy and eggs (if you can have them). These foods are all naturally gluten-free in their unprocessed forms. 

Buy meat in bulk

When you see the price for organic meats you may cry. But! there are ways you can save money and buying organic meat is really important for your health. Buy your meat in bulk if possible — I get good deals on beef (often saving $1 a pound or more) when I purchase it in large quantities and cut it into smaller pieces myself.  Buying grass-fed beef (along with free-range chicken and pork),  means you should invest in a freezer (it will pay off), and talk to farmers directly about buying in bulk — 1/4 or 1/2 of a cow at a time.

Don't buy gluten free packaged foods or mixes

This alone can save you tons of money. Packaged gluten free foods, as i'm sure you know, are very expensive. Packaged foods are always tempting regardless if you're on a gluten free diet or not. They're easy and taste good (sometimes). They eat up your budget fast so leave a small part of your budget to treat yourself but keep the majority of your budget for fresh and frozen whole foods.

How do you save money shopping gluten free?