On Being Frugal and Grain-Free

The cornerstone of frugality, according to many thrifty folks, is to eat a diet that maximizes grains and produce, since both are relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, a diet that majors on grains is not an option for an increasing number of people. How can those of us who chose to be grain-free (for weight loss reasons or health reasons) do so without spending a boat load of money?

There is no question that digestive disorders such as Crohn's Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Celiac are on the rise. One of them is the fact that Genetically Modified Organisms entered the wheat industry over 10 years ago-- and with GMOs, no one really knows the damage they inflict.

But why? Aren't grains traditional foods? I guess that depends upon how far you go when you say "traditional". If we go back to pre-agriculteral times, when people were generally hunger-gatherers, the main diet was lean, grass-fed, wild meat along with organic, foraged vegetation.

It is only relatively recently in the history of civilization that we've had agriculture and thus grains as we know them now. The industrialization of agriculture, even more recently, has hybridized and genetically modified wheat into something totally different from that which our anscestors consumed in antiquity. Not to mention preparation methods, which, traditionally speaking, involved a long leavening process with a starter which was "alive". This starter helped to break down the phytic acid in the grains and the long, slow baking process helped to further denature any harmful anti-nutrients in the grain.

It's also interesting to note that modern harvesting methods have also changed the way people encounter wheat. In former times, wheat was gathered into sheaves and would sit for a day or so in the field as it awaited threshing. During this time, morning dew or even rain would provide enough moisture for the grains to begin sprouting. Then, the sun would dry the sprouts, so when harvested, you had a very different wheat then what is used today. (Source: Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon)

Alas, I digress. This was supposed to be a post about frugality, so here comes the practical piece:

So how do we eat grain-free on a budget?

Well, first of all, remember that if you can't tolerate grains, you're not benefitting yourself in the long run if you try to be "thrifty" and eat them!

Secondly, remember that this may not last forever; hopefully going grain-free for a time will allow the body to heal enough to eventually tolerate grains again.

That being said, here are five principles for saving money on the GAPS/SCD/grain-free diet:

  1. Do not attempt to substitute every baked good under the sun with a "no grain" version. Forget it, it will cost you way too much money! Instead, allow yourself once or twice a week to enjoy coconut honey muffins or almond pancakes, for example.

  2. Use starchy veggies on the side to stand in for rice. My favorite is cauliflower, because it's relatively inexpensive, very filling, and can meld really well with any flavors. For example, when I make an Indian meat curry, I accompany it with cauliflower, cooked until tender with Indian spices. It makes a great base for the curry! Don't forget about spaghetti squash, which is low-calorie and makes an almost perfect substitute for traditional pasta!

  3. Learn to love your soup. There are lots of ways to enjoy soup, and it is so filling and delicious, not to mention thrifty! It's a great way to use leftover meat and veggies as well. I write about several soup variations here.

  4. Get creative with eggs. As long as you can tolerate them, these little gems are amazingly nutritious, thrifty, and filling. Look for different recipes utilizing eggs for breakfasts, since breakfast is usually the most grain-intensive meal that needs substituting.

  5. Comfort up with butternut squash. If you really can't stand life without a piping hot bowl of oatmeal in the morning, try substituting cooked, mashed butternut squash topped with coconut oil, honey, and pumpkin pie spice.

  6. Use thrifty cuts of meat. You don't need to dine on flank steak every day of the GAPS diet! Stew meat, tongue, liver....while not the most popular parts of the animal, are very inexpensive and can be cooked up in delicious ways to maximize taste and nutrition. Check out my previous post all about eating cheap with meats. Also, don't forget about chicken drumsticks, ground beef, and heart! Buying meat in bulk from a local, grass-fed beef farmer is a great way to save money as well!

  7. Check out the freezer section. During the off season when fresh produce is shipped in from Chile and looking a little less than desireable (the price tag, that is!), take a stroll down the frozen food aisle for frozen veggies. Modern technology enables food to be frozen almost immediately after harvesting to preserve freshness, and the price is usually much more appealing! For example, Trader Joe's has a great deal on frozen, sliced green, red, and yellow peppers, which are incredibly high priced this time of year!

    Bottom line: Remember that when eating grain-free, you're avoiding lots of "filler" calories which you didn't need anyway. Grain-free meals can be very nutrient dense, so while you may be spending a little bit more money on some ingredients, you're also eating less, which saves money!!!


Laryssa @ Heaven In The Home said...


Thanks for this great info! I'm trying to loose weight and stay healthy at the same time. I'm doing this by not eating grains. I'm feeling better and loosing weight too!
I'm always trying to lower my grocery budget and you inspire me by how well you do...getting the groceries that your family needs at a good price. Keep up the good work!

Kathleen in MT said...

This is very timely for me as I am trying to feed my family of seven for 400/month, but three of us are gluten intolerant and I do best with SCD or at least low grains. I have found almond flour at Honeyville Grains for $4 a pound and I have decided to just make batches of muffins and pancakes to keep in the freezer for the three of us to have when others have wheat versions, and to just eat smaller amounts of the things I make that have rice and potatoes in them. I have healed a lot from my earlier very strict SCD days so hope this goes ok for me.
Kathleen Johnson

Carrie T said...


Good for you! I'm so glad you are feeling better! Thanks for your encouraging words.


Wow, that's a huge challenge; feeding 7! Thank you so much for the tip on the almond flour! I'm going to have to check that out!

I hope both of you will keep me posted on your progress!


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