Guest post from Caroline of CarolineVencil.com:
Not too long ago, my husband, the single income-earner for our family, was bringing home $17,000 annually. But despite our tiny income, we never felt poor or broke or ever sacrificed on food.
How is that even possible for a family of 5?
The average family of 4 spends between $559 – $1278 each month on their groceries (source), but we spent roughly $300/month as a family of 5 with TWO gluten allergies!
When we found out that my middle son had a severe reaction to gluten, we were so concerned that his new food restrictions were going to derail our grocery budget. But, amazingly, that wasn’t the case.
Not only did we find ways to keep our grocery budget low, but now we’ve also found ways to buy whole, healthy food with almost no processed foods and still stay under budget.
Here’s how I feed my family of 5 for $300 per month with a gluten allergy.
Shop around for the cheapest grocery store near you.
Did you know there are grocery stores that will sell discount groceries from other stores? Aldi is the national chain leader in this amazing way to shop, and now they are giving Costco a run for their money in the organic and healthy food department with their in-house brand.
Here’s what you can do to find the cheapest grocery store:
- Check flyers in the mail and do a price comparison.
- Check websites like Money Saving Mom and the Krazy Coupon Lady for price comparisons.
- Go halfsies with your parents or sister or friend on a Costco membership to offset the cost of the membership.
My favorite thing to do is to google “discount grocers near me” and see what comes up. You can also search for “bump and bent” grocery stores near you. I’m fortunate enough to live near the Amish and to have their small discount grocery stores all around us.
Look for meat on clearance.
Straight meat (not hamburger patties or sausage, just plain raw chicken and beef) is gluten-free on its own. So we cook with a fair amount of meat and veggies in our house.
Once a month, I go to Walmart and check for those glorious little yellow labels on the meat. This is the meat that is close to the “freeze by” date, but is still good. The store wants to sell the meat before it spoils and the best way to do that is to put it on clearance. This means you get heavily discounted meat.
Pro tip: Avoid buying any meat with swollen plastic. This means that the meat has started to spoil and is giving off gas.
Go meatless as often as possible.
Meat on clearance is a great deal, but it is still fairly expensive if you’re making it the main course each night. That’s why we do meatless meals 3-4 nights each week.
I substitute beans or lentils for meat in many recipes and my little ones have never complained. It might take some getting used to, but those meatless meals will save you so much in the long-run.
Don’t fall for “buzz words” on packaging.
I once saw baby carrots with a “gluten free” label. Yes. Carrots. These buzz words get put on a lot of food items that don’t contain gluten in the first place so they can justify a higher price point.
If you are looking to eat gluten-free for health or personal reason, be sure to search foods that are already naturally gluten-free. Things like eggs, white rice, milk, fruits and veggies, yogurt (without topping) are all gluten-free without needing to pay for the premium “gluten-free” label.
Skip out on specialty foods and make meals that everyone can eat.
My biggest fear at the time was how I was going to make pasta with a child who was gluten free. After looking around at prices of gluten-free pasta (we’re talking $4 for a bag of pasta smaller than the $1 box of pasta at the grocery store), we stopped making pasta altogether.
When I stopped trying to look for “safe” alternatives to foods that we normally ate, and instead focused on making foods that were safe for everyone, I felt a huge sense of relief.
Now I didn’t have to make 2 batches of everything and I saved a ton of money.
Instead of trying to accommodate making gluten free pasta, we do spaghetti squash or zoodles (zucchini noodles from a spiralizer) for the whole family and top it with sauce. We skip cooking with soy sauce (which has gluten and the alternative is fairly pricey) and stick to sautéing with oil and garlic.
Instead of buying the super-expensive gluten-free loaves of bread (that taste awful and turn into a crumbly mess or taste like chewing on Styrofoam), skip the bread altogether. It’s too expensive to buy the bread and, with kids deciding halfway through their favorite food that they hate it, it’s too expensive to waste on a half-eaten sandwich.
You don’t have to be gluten-free to eat food without gluten. Even my husband, who is a carb-aholic, eats gluten-free now.
You also don’t have to break the bank to be gluten-free either. We still spend $75 each week now that my sons have gotten older and eat more — which is far below the average family.
It is possible to eat healthy, whole food on a budget!
Caroline is a mom of 3 boys whose love of saving money and coffee is unrivaled. She blogs about budgeting, saving money, and side hustles that work at CarolineVencil.com.