Gluten-Free Meal Planning While on Food Stamps
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Anyone who eats a gluten-free diet, for health reasons or otherwise, knows that is can be a very expensive way of living. When using food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it may seem unmanageable. However, eating gluten-free on food stamps is achievable. Outlined below are some tips to help you.
Work Out Your Boundaries
If you have to eat gluten-free due to allergies or celiac disease, your doctor will help you work out your restrictions. However, if your diet is gluten-free due to sensitivities or general health reasons, try to establish your rules for what you can and cannot eat – is it just wheat gluten you are cutting out? What about barley? Once you have a list of acceptable ingredients, you can research recipes that use and vary these ingredients, and plan your meals accordingly.
Avoid ‘Replacement’ Products
Starchy foods are often an important part of a food stamp budget, as they are the most filling, and they will usually have counterparts in the gluten-free section. However, these replacement products can be extremely expensive, often costing two to three times the amount of the original product. A better solution is to rely on starches that are naturally gluten-free. Rice, cornmeal and potatoes are good staples, and are very versatile; hash browns could be eaten instead of toast for breakfast, for example. If you have time, and a blender (or a friend with a blender) you may be able to make your own flours (nut or rice) which can be used in many dishes in place of expensive gluten-free flours.
Stock Up and Store
If you are going to buy gluten-free replacement products like baking mixes, it is best to wait for sales and special offers. (You may also be able to find coupons for these products – watch out for added tax, though!) Availability is often an issue, depending on where you live, so planning in advance is essential – this can also help you if a bulk-buy fits into your budget. For this reason, less perishable items may be preferable – crackers and pasta instead of bread, for example. If you do find a great deal on gluten-free bread or other items that might go stale, you can still take advantage of the sale if you have the freezer space. Try slicing up a loaf of gluten-free bread before you freeze it, so you can remove one slice at a time instead of having to defrost the entire loaf.
Watch For Hidden Gluten
Many processed and premade products have gluten in them, even if they are not specifically bread-based. Bottled sauces often use wheat as thickening agents, and spice mixes frequently include gluten. Fortunately, gluten-free foods will often advertise themselves as such – if you are unsure, always check the label. If you can’t find anything suitable, you may have to make versions of these foods at home. This is, of course, time-consuming, but making sauces and spice mixes from scratch can actually end up being a cheaper solution to buying pre-made, provided that you plan the meals with which you will be using them. Again, making a large batch and freezing what you don’t use is a good option.
Research and Experiment
Food on a strict budget can get repetitive, and even more so when the ingredients, themselves are restricted. If you find yourself eating the same thing day after day, you may grow bored, even desperate, and find yourself buying expensive gluten-free products – or even products with gluten in them, risking your health. If you are on the lookout for new ingredients and recipes, you can help avoid this. Constant research and experimentation can be both time and labor intensive, but it will often prove worth the effort. There are so many blogs, books and articles available on eating gluten-free, especially these days. Look for advice and recipes you can use, and keep a list ready to take shopping with you. Perhaps your local supermarket has some cheap gluten-free products that you have never heard of before. Perhaps you can find the most perfect polenta cake recipe out there, or invent your own personal take.
The challenges you face with a gluten-free diet are inevitable; by following this advice, planning ahead, and finding a way to respond creatively to these challenges, you can get ahead of them, while still using your food stamp credits to their best advantage.