Ballin’ on a budget

How to eat gluten-free without breaking the bank

Bridget Kelley

More stories from Bridget Kelley

(Editor’s note: Ballin’ on a budget is a weekly column about doing something on a lower budget. Each week the topic changes.)

College students often have only one requirement for their meals: cheap. The provisions available in your average dorm room would typically be ramen, pizza or some sort of takeout meal. Besides being inexpensive, all of these foods are loaded with gluten — a protein that is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye and is responsible for the elastic nature of things made with these grains.

The nice thing about foods like frozen pizza or ramen is that they can be purchased in bulk for cheap, and they serve as an entire meal. Unfortunately, these are things that are off-limits for me and my gluten-free lifestyle, but there are so many gluten-free options one can get while shopping on a budget!


I honestly love my waffles, but I have not found a tasty gluten-free alternative yet. For now, I’ll stick with my Cheerios and Pure Protein bars (which, if you buy in bulk, actually turn out to be less than a dollar per bar. Score!). If I happen to join my friends for brunch, I’d probably stick to some sort of egg/veggie/potato/bacon scramble and ask for no toast. Depending on where you go, you can usually ask for a gluten-free menu or gluten-free options.


Lunch is honestly where I struggle the most. My lunches are often on-the-go. Usually I’d pack a sandwich and some Pringles and call it a day. Unfortunately, gluten-free bread is expensive, and it doesn’t travel well, making sandwiches infeasible. Not only are sandwiches out, but so are Pringles, which also contain wheat.

My solution? If I’m able to sit down for a bit and eat, I’ll make a salad out of whatever produce is on sale that week. It’s an easy way to get greens without having to try that hard. If I’m on the run, I’ll pack some cold cuts, cheese, veggies and some sort of chip (they’re my weakness). I’ve really been loving Cheetos, thanks to my niece and nephew.


Dinner is easy for me. Veggies, rice, some sort of protein without any fillers and boom, a  full-fledged meal. If I’m really craving pasta, I get the Barilla gluten-free pasta (which is the best, in my opinion) and make some mac and cheese. I also enjoy using zucchini noodles in stir-fry. It’s cheaper to make them yourself than to buy them pre-made, so pick up a spiralizer and some zucchini and get to it. Another thing to note is that soy sauce contains wheat, so you have to pick up a gluten-free soy sauce.

If going out is more your vibe, get some sushi and bring your own soy sauce or go get some enchiladas with corn tortillas. Just make sure to look up the gluten-free menu options ahead of time to make sure that you won’t be blindsided.


Snacks are the easiest category. Cheerios, nuts, veggies and popcorn are all great options and all relatively cheap. I also enjoy corn chips with salsa or queso.

The best rule of thumb in eating gluten-free on a budget is to make your own alternatives. For example, gluten-free pizza is expensive, but pizza nachos are not, and they are gluten-free.

Happy eating!

Kelley can be reached at [email protected].