If gluten-free meal prep has you stressed out, fear not! This five-step plan will help you eat healthily and focus on finding gluten-free products at a discounted price!
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After cooking gluten-free meals for more than ten years, I've had my share of good and bad. Recipe fails, grocery bills through the roof, spending $7 on a new gluten-free product only to be disappointed, and trying to balance dining out with cooking at home - it's a challenge!
Through the ups and downs of having celiac disease as well as trying to keep to a budget, meal prep was a chore I used to dread doing. But now, with a few tricks up my sleeve, I look forward to the planning of our weekly meals and handling it with confidence! Once you master gluten-free meal prep, you will be able to eat well without buying the entire gluten-free section in the grocery store (besides - there are better ways to find those products for less!)
We will stick to five steps to keep meal planning simple. You'll need about 25-30 minutes to sit down and do this once a week, before your weekly trip to the supermarket. If you use Google Calendar or a planner, make sure you have it open as you form your meals and grocery list.
If you prefer to make your own shopping list, that's great! To make things easier, I've made a printable PDF that you can use or download. You can find it at the bottom of this post as well.
These are my five simple steps for gluten-free meal prep. Let's get planning!
Easy Gluten-Free Meal Prep
Focus on the food & what's in season.
Our first step when deciding what to eat this week is to determine what's in season right now and to focus on fresh foods as much as possible. The gluten-free diet limits us in the grain category, but all produce is fair game!
By choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables, it means you are getting the best nutrients they can provide - the top vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants. Plus, it's when they pack the richest flavor. It's why a zucchini plucked from your garden in July has the perfect texture when roasted at a summer barbecue, or why apples just picked from an orchard have a sweet and crisp bite in the fall. By the time most of our produce arrives in the grocery store, it's often taken hundreds of miles to get there. The farther a food item has to travel to reach your plate, the fewer nutrients it has!
Try using Seasonal Food Guide, to find out what's in season at different times of year. You enter your location and the month (which includes if its early, mid-month, or late), and it will provide a list of the herbs, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and flowers growing right now. An even better way to buy fresh produce is by purchasing it directly from a farmer's market or CSA program. This ensures you are getting the most bountiful fruits and vegetables in the growing season, and supporting local farmers!
I know that this isn't always a realistic option, especially for low-income families. And if you can't get fresh produce, just buy it FROZEN. Frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen at the peak of their ripeness, so they are a great and cheap alternative!
You can create delicious recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. In the winter, when squash is in season, I will purchase a large butternut squash from the supermarket for about $3. I roast it in the oven with a side of white rice made in our rice cooker, along with Ina Garten's lemon chicken breasts. The whole meal takes me about 15 minutes to prepare, and 40 minutes to cook, and will cost roughly $10. My favorite part is that it highlights vegetables in season during the cold winter months, like squash!
Here's a handy graphic to get a brief overview of a few common fruits/vegetables and their growing season. Remember - supermarkets import products from all over the country and the world. We are spoiled to be able to eat tomatoes year-round, but really the best time to eat them is during the summer.
Plan meals around your weekly schedule.
After you've researched what's in season this month, it's time to start thinking about the recipes you want to cook, and when. Here's where your Google calendar or planner comes in handy.
Take a look at what you have going on this week in your schedule, or what your partner, children, or family members have planned. On busy days, you'll want something easy, like tacos, rice bowls, salads, or pasta. These take the minimum amount of time to prepare, making them a solid choice for crazy weeknights, or days when you are too tired to cook anything complicated. On the weekends or when you have a little more time, you might whip up a batch of muffins or pancakes, or have a nice family dinner of fried rice, pot roast, or homemade gnocchi with pesto.
No matter what you plan to cook - I always make sure to have vegetables! That's the one rule I stick to for every dinner - it has to include a vegetable. If we are having pasta, for example, I'll grab lettuce to do a side salad (my favorite is Little Leaf Farms lettuce from right here in Massachusetts). I feel better eating vegetables regularly, but make sure you speak to your dietitian or nutritionist about the best option for you.
On average, plan to cook about four to five meals per week, saving one or two days for eating leftovers, dining out, or other plans. And hey, if that doesn't work for you, then adjust!
Write out your meals & shopping list.
With your schedule out in front of you and the recipes with seasonal items you plan to make, it's time to get that shopping list going!
Using the blank template above (or your own), write down the meals you plan to make this week and when you are going to make them. It will help you keep track of your schedule so you can stick to easy meals on busy days, and leave more in-depth meals for when you have extra time. After that, include the ingredients you need to make each dish. Be sure to double-check your pantry and refrigerator for what you already have, so you don't buy extra!
Shopping with a list prevents you from impulse purchases, forgetting anything, and sticking to your budget. Also, try not to go food shopping when hungry. I've made that mistake many times, and chances are, you end up buying more than you planned (or going over your budget). On multiple occasions, I've snuck a bag of Snyder's gluten-free pretzels into my cart, only to arrive at the checkout in complete shock, asking myself, "How the heck did that get in there?" while the cashier looks at me funny. I'm sure you can relate!
In the list above, you can see a sample shopping list for a busy week in July. It includes seasonal produce like spinach for homemade pesto, and blueberries for streusel muffins, and focuses on easy meals since we had a lot of scheduled meetings and activities planned. Due to the lack of time, I chose simple recipes such as tacos, rice bowls, pad thai, and pasta.
While you'll most likely want to shop at the supermarket, farmer's market, or CSA for your protein, fruits, veggies, and dairy, there's an easy way to get all of the gluten-free brands you love at a discounted price!
Get gluten-free products for less with Thrive Market
If you've been gluten-free for some time, you are well aware of the high cost. It's so frustrating, isn't it? Over the years, I've spent way too much money on gluten-free products, and they weren't always healthy, nor did they taste good. Worst of all, they usually took a huge chunk out of my grocery bill. Now, I save money every week by doing two things: sticking to tried and true gluten-free products & pantry staples for cooking and snacking, and by shopping for them online through Thrive Market!
Thrive Market has brand-name products for less - with hundreds of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and paleo staple items like pastas, taco shells, salad dressings, sauces, snacks, and more! It's where I get Siete Foods grain-free tortillas, Purely Elizabeth's grain-free granola, Banza's chickpea pasta, and even gluten-free beauty products like lotion and chapstick.
The products on Thrive Market are (on average) $1-$3 cheaper than my local supermarket, which adds up to a lot of savings every week. Shipping is free on orders over $49, and packages arrive quickly, usually within two to three days. Plus, they use recycled materials for their boxes while focusing on sustainable practices, which is something I appreciate.
If you are curious about trying out Thrive Market, you can get up to $20 in shopping credit when you sign up for a membership! It's become one of my best money-saving strategies for gluten-free meal prep and how I get my favorite products all in one place!
Cook Your Meals & Enjoy!
You're eating seasonally, focusing on whole foods, sticking to your shopping list, and buying your favorite gluten-free brands online to save some cash? Awesome job! Now it's time to cook your meals and enjoy them!
If you prefer to cook things ahead of time, make your meal prep day on the day of the week that you have a lot of flexibility. Some like to meal prep on Sunday afternoons, and I think that's a great idea. If it doesn't work for you, that's okay! It doesn't work for me either. I cook things the day we plan to eat them, because we prefer to use our weekends for other things, like walking in downtown Salem, grabbing breakfast at Crave, or hiking in New Hampshire.
I usually do my meal planning on Saturday or Sunday evenings, which is a lot simpler. It will involve writing out my meals and associated shopping list, and putting in my order for gluten-free pantry items on Thrive Market. It takes me less than 30 minutes. Then, on Mondays after work, I'll head to the supermarket to shop for the items that remain.
Remember, this works for me! Adjust and do whatever works for you and your family.
Meal Prep Budget
Using the steps above, I spend around $80 on groceries for the two of us every week. If I go over that number, it's usually because I've indulged in gluten-free snacks (we're all human!), I'm cooking a special meal for the two of us, like a holiday or anniversary, or I'm testing a specific recipe. So if I anticipate my grocery bill to be a little higher than usual, I'll skip buying gluten-free bread that week or limit any sweets/snacks.
It's why you'll notice that in general, I buy only a few gluten-free pantry items. This is one of the best ways to keep your grocery bill low! Plus, by utilizing Thrive Market for the few items I need, I end up saving more every month.
Final Thoughts: Gluten-Free Meal Prep
The best advice I can give in my ten years of gluten-free eating is that the fewer gluten-free processed items you buy, the cheaper your grocery bill will be! Focus on eating real foods to stay healthy, and plan out your meals to prevent impulse purchases. And for the gluten-free items, you absolutely can't live without, choose an online market like Thrive where you can find them at a discount and save further.
Those are my five steps for gluten-free meal prep. What do you think?
How do you meal prep on a gluten-free diet?
Do you notice a big difference in your grocery bill when you limit the gluten-free products you buy?
Let me know in the comments below!
Be sure to check out all of my favorite gluten-free grocery products I use on the blog!