Mastering gluten-free cooking without breaking the bank

Ever dug into a bowl of flavor-packed fried rice, enjoyed a refreshing fruit smoothie on a hot day or carved up a perfectly seared steak with a side of mashed potatoes? If so, you’ve eaten gluten free.

Despite what you may have heard, a gluten-free diet doesn't need to be expensive or restrictive. And thanks to the growing awareness around celiac disease and gluten sensitivities, there's never been a better time to try out gluten-free recipes.

Learning how to make naturally gluten-free dishes at home can unlock a new world of cheap and healthy eating. Whether you're cooking for yourself or a loved one, read on to master gluten-free cooking without breaking the bank.

Cooking naturally gluten-free foods

Before you run out to the health food store, take a moment to appreciate the bounty of naturally gluten-free ingredients that can be found in every supermarket. From fresh fruits and vegetables to legumes and gluten-free grains such as quinoa and rice, you don't need to search far and wide to fill your shopping cart with a naturally gluten-free haul.

While gluten-free processed food has come a long way, there are still many advantages to choosing those options that are naturally gluten-free. Simple staples such as potatoes and millet are usually more cost-effective and readily available than processed gluten-free items. Pair gluten-free grains with a crisp vegetable like boiled broccoli and your favorite protein, and you've got a naturally gluten-free meal.

Affordable protein sources

Many inexpensive sources of protein, such as eggs, beans, legumes and nuts, are naturally gluten-free. But what if you're craving something meatier and can't afford those expensive cuts of meat? Many cheap cuts of meat can be transformed into delicious main dishes with the right seasoning or marinade.

Chicken leg quarters, which are the chicken's back, thigh and drumstick, are easy to turn into an affordable and versatile dish. They just require some TLC in the form of a marinade or seasoning. Making your own seasoning can be as easy as mixing together salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika, then rubbing it on the chicken with some olive oil just before baking.

Marinating cheaper cuts of meat is more time consuming, but it will infuse meat with flavor and prevent it from drying out when cooked. If you've got time for a marinade, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chili powder are always a winning combination. Just make sure that your brand of soy sauce is confirmed to be gluten free.

Whole grains and legumes

From amaranth to corn, the world of gluten-free grains is so much larger than just quinoa and rice. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the many options out there, try buying just one new gluten-free grain a month and learning how to cook it. You'll soon find your favorites.

Legumes — chickpeas, lentils, beans, peanuts and more — are naturally gluten-free choices that can be an excellent source of protein. Legumes are usually purchased dried or canned, making them affordable and shelf-stable options for busy home cooks. Plus, they work well in a large variety of dishes: consider tossing chickpeas into a salad, making black beans the star of your burrito bowls or adding lentils to a stew for an extra protein punch.

Store-bought gluten-free pasta

Does going gluten-free mean that you have to give up classic dishes like mac and cheese? Definitely not. Since gluten-free pasta is usually pricier than its counterparts, keep an eye out for sales so that you can stock up. Make sure to check both the dried and fresh pasta sections of your grocery store, as gluten-free pasta can be found in both places. Fresh pasta can usually be frozen for later.

If you're lucky enough to live near a store that carries multiple brands of gluten-free pasta, do your homework before buying. Gluten-free pasta can be made from rice, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa and more, and every brand will react differently when cooked.

In addition to price, think about how the pasta tastes, its texture, whether you find it filling, whether it holds up in a sauce and whether it keeps well as leftovers. Doing some research will prevent you from wasting money on brands you don't actually enjoy.

Once you've found your preferred brand of pasta, you'll be able to re-create iconic dishes like penne alla vodka, Bolognese and, of course, mac and cheese. Hint: if you're making a recipe that requires flour, like gluten-free mac and cheese, consider investing in a 1:1 flour substitute that can be used for both baking and cooking. If you can't find it on sale, gluten-free flour may be a little pricey. But since roux only requires a few tablespoons at a time, it'll last forever.

A healthier choice for your body and your wallet

From learning to recognize natural gluten-free foods to embracing affordable protein sources, trying out unfamiliar whole grains and legumes and making the most of store-bought gluten-free pasta, there are so many different methods for gluten-free cooking. In fact, you might have most of the ingredients you need to make your next gluten-free meal right in your pantry already.

“Gluten-free eating is more approachable than many might think. For example, naturally gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth, rice, sorghum, teff, oats and millet are quite easy to cook, and delicious in place of grains that contain gluten. Try tossing one of these grains on top of a salad for a satisfying meal in one bowl,” says Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, and owner of in Washington, DC.

So if your previous experiences with gluten-free food left you disappointed, don't feel shy about trying again. Add some affordable gluten-free recipes to your repertoire: soon, you'll be telling all of your friends and family that eating gluten free is the best thing since sliced bread. Gluten-free bread, of course.

• Erin Dooner is the founder of Texanerin Baking, where she has been sharing easy and allergy-friendly recipes since 2011. A Texan now living in Munich, Germany, her passion lies in crafting sweet treats that cater to diverse dietary needs and lifestyles but without sacrificing taste.

Chicken Leg Quarters Recipe

4 chicken leg quarters (mine were 3 ¼ lbs or 1.5 kilos total)

1 ½ teaspoons salt (2 if you like things salty)

1 teaspoon hot or smoked paprika

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (205 °C).

Place an oven-safe cooling rack on a baking tray big enough to fit all the chicken.

Stir together the spices in a little bowl.

Place the chicken on the cooling rack (in the pan) and drizzle the olive oil over the top.

Rub half the spice mix between the skin and the meat. Rub the other half on top and on the bottom of the chicken. On the bottom, there's just a little drumstick meat that you need to rub - no need to rub the bones.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the internal temperature is 185 degrees (85 °C) and the skin is browned and crisp. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

If you have any leftovers, let them cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Serves 4

– Erin Dooner

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