I had it pretty good in my early twenties as a young professional. Sure, I was broke (like ramen-noodles-for-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner broke), but everyone else I knew was broke, too, and we figured out ways that still let us go out on the town for an occasional night of cocktails, without foregoing food or rent.
Sure, I was busy and harried trying to balance my new found job responsibilities and my social life, that sometimes my life felt like it was really a tornado, trapped in a hurricane, housed inside of a blizzard—but I was happy!
I lived with my best girlfriend, and the two of us were quite the duo. We always figured out how to scrape by and get out of jams, and we had a lot of fun doing it. But then, something happened. My friend was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
This meant that she couldn’t have gluten. When she told me, I didn’t even know what gluten was, to be honest, but I soon learned that it’s a substance that’s found in grains and wheat, which basically meant it was found in everything we subsisted on. Ramen noodles, pizza, beer, pasta, bread—basically all of our standard fare was suddenly off the table.
At the time, gluten-free living wasn’t a 'thing' yet, but we navigated it on our tight budgets, and you know what? It wasn’t that bad. Here are some tips if you suddenly find yourself in need of a gluten-free lifestyle and you want to stay within your budget.
Focus on the Can-Have Before the Will-Miss Items
The first thing we did was write out lists of the things that my friend could still eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables? Yep. Animal proteins? Yep. Vodka? Yep. (We were single young professionals at the time, so this was essential.)
When you start listing out the items that are still available and that are naturally gluten-free, you’ll realize that, really, it’s most things. Plenty of these items can be bought for almost as cheaply as a package of ramen and are a whole lot healthier.
For example, a can of tuna is full of a lot of lean protein, and can be mixed into salads to make it interesting. Potatoes and other starchy tubers will also be your friends—they are cheap to buy in bulk, and are a hearty way to add calories into your diet, when you can’t rely on breads or pasta.
What about those Will-Miss Items?
Next, we made a list of things that my friend was absolutely going to miss. At first, she simply wrote “everything,” and mourned the loss of her mom’s chocolate chip cookies and the local coffee shop’s crumb cake. But when she really thought about it, her list was actually pretty short.
She was going to miss pasta. She was going to miss some of her favourite casseroles. She was going to miss microbrews (I know, I know, I swear we weren’t alcoholics!).
Figuring out a cheap way to substitute for gluten-packed pasta was actually pretty easy—growing up, my family had always grown spaghetti squash in our garden, so I immediately steamed some up for her and she loved it!
Not only does it have a texture that’s comparable to pasta, it’s also loaded with a lot of vitamins that even enriched pasta is missing. And best of all, it’s cheap! A three-pound squash only costs a couple of dollars and is good for plenty of servings. These days, there are also plenty of pasta varieties made from rice and potato starches that are fairly cheap and offer a good variety.
Next, we tackled casseroles. By substituting things, like yams and potatoes in place of noodles, and fresh ingredients instead of canned soup, we managed to modify the recipes of her old favourites, so that they were gluten-free. Were they different? Sure, a bit, but they still did the trick and, as we all know, casseroles are a great way to make a lot of food without paying a lot.
Perhaps our best discovery was that even though she couldn’t have her classic Bud Light anymore, she could still have hard cider.
The moral of the story is that living a gluten-free lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re going to have to shell out the big bucks for pricey foods at the local health food store. And it doesn’t mean that you have to give up all of your standard favourites. It just means that you’re going to have to be a little bit creative and think outside of the box, sometimes. It’s worth it!