Frugal Gluten Free Diet: Part 4

This is the fourth part in a series “Gluten Free Grocery Shopping on a Budget” in which Heather shares how she feeds a family of 6 a gluten free diet  for $350 – $400 a month. Here are Heather’s responses to some of my follow-up questions:

1. Did you use a price book to learn what the best prices are and how often things go on sale? No price book.  Items not on sale are almost cheaper at Walmart. And I just maintain a good impression of what a good sales price is. If something is a good sales price I usually buy enough for 3 months
or so.

2. If someone is using all of their grocery budget right now, how do they find the money to start stocking up on food items? In general, if you change nothing else except for stocking up on sales items, you will save money.  So, you have two choices to get started.  Either save money from some other area for a few months to get you started (such as cutting back on eating out or entertainment) or to cut back on grocery budget by making more from scratch, cutting back on pop or snack foods, avoiding expensive foods, etc.  This could even just be a temporary thing to allow you to get a surplus to start stocking up on sales items.
3.How many servings of fruits and vegetables does your family average per day? I think many people fear that a budget of $350 – $400 would mean eating lots of beans and grains. 1-2 fruit servings, 3-4 veggie, for a total of 5 on an average day.  Fruits are usually 100% juice from concentrate, unsweetened bananas, or garden strawberries.  Veggies are usually raw carrots, raw/cooked cabbage, frozen broccoli or peas.  In season, we have summer squash and tomatoes from our garden.  On sale, I will sometimes buy leaf lettuce for $.99/lb or fresh tomatoes for $.99/lb.  But, that’s like
once or twice a year when they’re on sale.

4. Do you use a pressure cooker to cooker your beans? Do you pre-cook a lot of beans and then freeze them until needed? I just cook beans in a normal pot, covered, for 1 1/2 hrs at a mild boil.  And I cook what I need because I’m home in the afternoons.  But cooking a bulk ahead for those who would like the convenience of just pulling some out of the freezer is a good idea.

5. How did you find farmers in your area that sell things in bulk? The local orchard and potato man were just off the main road, and we drove by them :-)  Our local weekly paper (free) has ads from many farmers or garden stands.  Also if you have a farmer’s market, you can ask around there.  Some may be willing to sell a larger quantity for a lower price.
6. Since you only do Wal-mart once a month, do you plan a whole month’s worth of menus as once? I do not menu plan beyond a few days in advance.  I prepare meals with what I have on hand.  I rarely buy special ingredients.  Almost everything is kept on hand, and I buy more of something that I usually buy at Walmart if I’m low on it.  But, if I run out of taco sauce for
bean burritos, which I did this month, we can have beans and rice, beans and cornbread, chili, refried beans, etc until the next Walmart trip.

7. When you were really trying to minimize your grocery costs, did you forgo making any recipes that had expensive ingredients?  Even though I cook most of our food from scratch, I still end up spending a good bit on arborio rice for risotto or nori sheets for homemade sushi. I don’t use expensive ingredients.  As I said, meat is kept under $2.29/lb.  If a recipe called for ricotta cheese, I substituted cottage cheese.  I use just brown rice across the board.  Though I might have liked something like ravioli, I didn’t buy it with the exception of making it for an anniversary dinner or something.


  1. In response to question #4, it’s not a good idea to cook beans in a pressure cooker. The skins will come off the beans and get lodged in the valve, causing huge amounts of pressure inside the pots. When it comes time to open the lid, the pressure can’t be released, which could lead to an explosion. It is dangerous. Beans in a slow cooker, on the other hand, is a fantastic idea!

  2. I am surprised at your comment about cooking beans in the pressure cooker since that is one of the things that the pressure cooker does best. Instead of using fuel for hours, you can cook most presoaked beans in less than 10 minutes at pressure, and unsoaked beans in less than 30 minutes.

    The new pressure cookers pretty much cannot explode and in using many of them over the past 13 years, I have not had any bean skins clog the valve and absolutely 0 explosions. I also use them with my cooking students at the junior college where I teach and we don’t have problems there either.

    It is much more dangerous to get in your car and drive than to use the modern pressure cooker, and you save a lot of time. In fact, using one can save you trips to the store and the danger of that.

    BTW, gluten-free is great.

  3. I second Jill’s comments. It is safe to cook beans in a pressure cooker. Check the instructions that come with yours. Use a bit of oil to keep any loose skins from foaming up. My pressure cooker has three safety valves on it.

    Cooking beans in the slow cooker can also have problems. Some of the older pressure cookers do not get to a high enough temperature to inactivate the bean lectins, and in fact can concentrate the lectins, making it more likely for you to get sick from them. Red kidney beans are especially notorious for this, but other beans have lectins that can cause you problems as well.