Gluten-Free on a Shoestring

125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap


By Nicole Hunn

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Gluten-free cooking has never been this easy — or affordable!

Gluten-free foods have changed dramatically over the past ten years — but one thing that’s constant is that you can spend a lot of money trying to feed yourself and your family well–often three times as much (or more)! Nicole Hunn has been helping home cooks eat well and on the cheap since 2009. Now, she’s updated her beloved Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, the indispensable guide to simple, inexpensive GF cooking. From chicken potpie to banana cream pie, Nicole shares her recipes for tasty family favorites — all gluten-free, all easy on your wallet. With revised and new recipes, pantry-stocking tips, keys to the best GF flour blends — and of course, more top money-saving secrets — Nicole’s got you (and your wallet) covered for every meal and craving.



OVER SIX YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF THE ORIGINAL EDITION OF THIS BOOK. IN the gluten-free world, so much has changed. We have more gluten-free products available to us than we had ever imagined possible. In many cases, they’re even sharing shelf space with conventional foods. A gluten-free dream come true!

In my world, as much as things have changed, they’ve stayed the same as well. I’ve written four other cookbooks, but the blog is still strong, vibrant, and updated every week of every year. And I don’t plan to stop.

In fact, I feel more obligated than ever to promise you, my reader, that I won’t stop. I’ll be here with you, every step of the way. As more gluten-free products become available to us, I will continue to be honest with you about what works and what doesn’t. I will never be beholden to any one food or products company. I will continue to refuse to accept free products, much to my husband and children’s frustration. With every new book, every blog post and product I offer online, I ask you to trust me. And I must be worthy of that trust.

The original edition of this cookbook had no more than a few photos, and this edition has beautiful color photos throughout. But the difference between this edition and the first is much more than just visuals. Almost every corner of this cookbook has been edited and revised. We have taken pains, however, to strike that perfect balance between shiny new content that demonstrates what I have learned over the last six years and preservation of old content that merely needed a light touch or simple refinement to bring it up to date.

The most significant lesson in gluten-free cooking and baking that I have learned over the years has to be my understanding of gluten-free flours and blends. When I first wrote the original edition of this cookbook, just the idea of developing recipes around an “all-purpose gluten-free flour blend” was revolutionary. In fact, the book was criticized in some arenas for that aspect alone. Years later, I stand by that original decision. Baking with an all-purpose blend using well-crafted gluten-free recipes normalizes the whole process in a very important way. Especially when you first begin cooking and baking gluten-free, normalcy is the holy grail. However, not all all-purpose blends are created equal. I have a few brands that I recommend, and I have also worked hard to reverse engineer those blends to allow you to re-create them at home if you prefer not to, or are not able to, buy them ready-made.

Just as conventional all-purpose flour is good for all purposes but not ideal for every situation, so it is with all-purpose gluten-free flour blends. That’s why the recipes in this book sometimes call for a very simple, basic three-ingredient gum-free gluten-free flour blend. It contains only white rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch, and it is a cooking essential—from creating a simple roux to thicken a sauce or gravy to making pancakes and certain cakes. In fact, I’m often told that the recipes that call for that blend are better tasting than their gluten counterparts, as the resulting dishes are as delicate as they are intended to be without gluten getting in the way of the texture.

All five of my gluten-free cookbooks are a labor of love, and I have an enormous sense of pride in each of them. I believe that they all will help you to live a better life, as food unites us every day. It should be a source of pleasure, not pain. It shouldn’t separate us. This cookbook, the flagship book, is where we should all begin, and I promise you’ll come back to this book most often. I know I do.

If you use these recipes, everyone in your family can enjoy the same meals, together. You’ll be willing to host holidays, if that’s your thing, and feel nothing but pride as you serve a gluten-free bounty. Just promise me you’ll smile gently whenever you’re asked for your recipe and say sweetly, “It’s gluten-free, and I’m so glad you like it.”


IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT, NO MATTER HOW SPACIOUS THE HOUSE, GUESTS AND FAMILY MEMBERS ALWAYS HEAD for the kitchen like homing pigeons. That’s where all the action is. And it’s the cook who sets it in motion.

A good meal can leave a lasting impression; it can even make your day. And turning out a favorite dessert can make an otherwise ordinary meal into something memorable. All you need is some standard kitchen equipment, plus a few basic skills and recipes, and you’re on your way. When you have the ability to cook, you can reward yourself and your family with homemade treats, tailoring every last detail to your own tastes. You can perk up your entire office with a simple batch of cookies or cupcakes. Or cater to a child’s special birthday wish. Bake a loaf of bread, and you’ll make any house smell like a home. As long as your pantry is well stocked with the basics, nothing is out of reach.

And none of that has to change when you’re gluten-free.

First, a few basics. Gluten is the protein found primarily in wheat, barley, and rye. It is found in all conventional breads and pastas and is also frequently hidden in ingredients such as maltodextrin and dextrin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, malt or malt flavoring, and modified food starch, all of which are often derived from gluten-containing ingredients. Increasingly, there are all sorts of people who eat a gluten-free diet in varying degrees, from the strictly gluten-free to the occasional gluten-free-food dabbler. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which, in response to the ingestion of gluten, the body attacks itself by destroying villi, the finger-like projections in the lining of the small intestine that are responsible for the absorption of nutrients. The only treatment is to follow a completely gluten-free diet. Recent research indicates that celiac disease affects as many as 1 in 133 Americans, most of whom remain undiagnosed. Many others who do not have celiac disease choose to enjoy the benefits of a gluten-free diet as well, including those suffering from nonceliac gluten sensitivity, family members of celiacs, and those seeking various other general health benefits from the diet. Whether you’re new to eating gluten-free and fear that the creative foodie part of your life is gone forever, or you’ve been gluten-free for a while and have resigned yourself to lowered expectations and expensive, store-bought gluten-free foods that leave you cold, help is on the way. Everything’s going to be just fine.

All that being said, I must admit that it took me loads of trial and error to come to this state of gluten-free zen. When we discovered that my second child, Jonathan, had celiac disease, although I was thankful his condition didn’t warrant a lifetime of expensive medications with possible side effects, I honestly didn’t know the first thing about eating gluten-free. And I worried about how his dietary restriction would affect our entire family. So I started out by sticking with naturally gluten-free foods like vegetables, meats, and vegetarian proteins, like rice and beans. The only baking I was confident enough to try was with gluten-free mixes. At the time, I thought mixes were my only hope, and, frankly, I was grateful to have them. Without much experience with conventional mixes upon which to base my expectations, I just gave it a whirl. I don’t want to tell tales out of school and spell out exactly which brands I tried, but suffice it to say that there was some weeping (me) and some queasiness (me, the kids, my husband). And there was also the whole unpleasantness (my husband and me) about how much these experiments were costing us (a lot). I paid over $6 for a gluten-free cake mix, plus the cost of shipping and the cost of the ingredients that I had to add to the mix to make the cake. King Arthur Flour’s gluten-free bread mix costs $7.99—just for the mix! But I took it on the chin and kept searching, assuming I just hadn’t yet stumbled upon the right mix.

Time and time again, our thoughts turned wistfully to sandwiches. Initially we relied on packaged gluten-free bread. I remember this one particular bread that could be cured of that dense, gluten-free sponginess by toasting it. The only problem was that you had to eat it within moments. If you took the time, all five minutes of it, to actually make a simple turkey sandwich, the bread would spring back to its pretoasted, spongy form. I have to imagine that if a company set out intending to make bread with such unyielding resilience, they would have failed miserably.

I tried looking on the bright side: it looked good. This was one handsome slice of gluten-free bread. If you confined yourself to visual observation of a slice, it was a dead ringer for edible bread. And there appeared to be a whole community of gluten-free people online who thought this was the best gluten-free bread, upon whose endorsements we had based our mail order of a whole case of the stuff. But sadly, our best efforts to eat each slice straight out of the toaster proved impossible in the long run. And at about $7 a loaf, plus shipping, it was incompatible with our food budget.

All the while, our family’s monthly expenses were growing by leaps and bounds, and we just weren’t eating well. None of us felt quite right, but we didn’t yet know where to turn.

Out of necessity I began to search, mostly online, for gluten-free recipes that I could make from scratch. At first, I experienced a renaissance of kitchen confidence, but it was short-lived. Many of the gluten-free recipes I found were full of ingredients that proved obscure and expensive, and the instructions were so complicated that, at times, I felt like I needed a degree in chemistry just to understand them. Did it really have to be so difficult? I started wondering if I couldn’t do a better job on my own. After all, I was armed with necessity, the mother of invention.

Feeling otherwise trapped, I committed myself to trying to convert my repertoire of conventional recipes to gluten-free goodness. My first attempts at baking from scratch were, well, dismal failures. My cakes and bread tasted terrible, not to mention that they were these sad, weepy piles of dough. My cupcakes crumbled into tiny bits, along with my hopefulness (cue the violins). Finally, I started learning about all-purpose gluten-free flours that, with the addition of a binder called xanthan gum and some ratio modifications, could substitute cup for cup for conventional wheat flours. After two tries, I finally made a gluten-free carrot cake that looked pretty handsome—and tasted as good as it looked. I was back in business!

After a few more successes, and fewer outright failures, my experiments grew bolder. I began to hone my skills and refine my recipes, making them better and better. Finally, I realized that the sky was the limit—gluten-free or not—and that gluten-free cooking and baking doesn’t have to be a daunting challenge when you focus on the right ingredients and have the right instruction.


I started to realize that with a few simple tricks, I could reduce my family’s grocery bills significantly, something that became more and more important as we felt the effects of the new economy. I went from spending, on average, $175 a week for groceries to spending less than $100 a week. And not only were we eating better, the food seemed more plentiful. Oddly enough, even though my husband and I were part of a celiac support group and more and more people we knew were avoiding gluten for one reason or another, the cost of living gluten-free was something that nobody seemed to be talking about—at least not at first. Only when I began to mention how we were saving all this money, always to a surprised and eager audience, did I begin to realize what an important, but under-the-radar, issue this had become. Since everyone wanted to know my secrets, I started a blog called Gluten-Free on a Shoestring. In short order, I began to enjoy gluten-free cooking and baking more and more. As both the blog and my collection of recipes grew, I began receiving scores of e-mails from readers, enthusiastic that saving money and living a gluten-free life full of flavor and possibilities were not mutually exclusive after all.

This book, as a natural extension of the website, represents the culmination of many years of hard work, experimentation, and perfection of recipes—created in response to the demands of both my family and my readers. You, too, can be in on the secret and learn to feed yourself, your family, and your guests fabulous gluten-free food—while still keeping an eye on the household budget. Think of how liberating it will be to satisfy your heart’s desire in the kitchen, no worries about gluten or about the grocery bill. You’ll soon feel freer to entertain, knowing that you can make a tasty, satisfying meal, complete with dessert, for everyone, even the most discriminating foodies.

The recipes in this book are not about making time-consuming, complicated, restaurant-quality food. They’re about traditional staples, easy dinners, and comfort foods—the things that we all crave these days (the gluten-free among us even more). This approach will not only save you money but will allow you to feed your family consciously and deliberately—something that we all should do more often. And you’ll reap the rewards when you hear your children literally sing while they eat their dinner, as do mine.

This cookbook is the flagship book of what has grown into the Shoestring cookbook series. It’s the cookbook that started it all, and it proved a point. We want to eat well, to feed our families and friends well. We also want to prove something to the world: “good for gluten-free” simply isn’t good enough. Our food must be good, period.

The first edition of this book was originally published in 2011. Four other cookbooks have followed, and the blog has grown by leaps and bounds. The mission is the same, and only the scope has broadened.

In that spirit, in addition to providing recipes, this book will also do the following:

share a whole bunch of strategies for saving money both at the market every week and in the kitchen every day

teach you how to build meals around naturally gluten-free foods and how to piggyback one dish off another to save time and money

show you the basic foods and kitchen equipment that you really need (hint: there’s not much) and give you advice on how to stock your kitchen with the ingredients that are the most versatile for gluten-free cooking

There are a few simple skills you can master that will dramatically expand your meal repertoire, and this book will share all of them. There is no need to get bored just because you’re on a budget. Together, in this book, we’ll make simple but delicious pancakes and blueberry muffins, soft pretzels and wontons, the perfect chocolate chip cookies and the ultimate in birthday cakes. Step by step, in the plain language of everyday home cooking, I’ll show you how to make the comfort foods my family and I love, like chicken potpie and macaroni and cheese. You’ll know how to bake a delicious apple pie when apples are abundant and even make your own fresh pasta—all gluten-free, all delicious and inexpensive.

I think you’ll also be surprised when you learn how easy it is, with the right instruction and a little bit of practice, to make yeast breads, including never-fail white sandwich bread for packing everyone’s lunches. Making your own fresh bread is a uniquely joyful experience, and when you settle upon an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend you love, you’ll be able to make everything in this book easily and on a budget. Some bake with a complicated bevy of exotic gluten-free flours, tweaking recipes here and there with a tablespoon of some flour I have never heard of before. When I go down that road, I always end up with remnants of flours in the wrong proportions, followed by a major bout of kitchen shyness, thinking I’ve lost my touch. Trust me: stick with the basics, and you’ll feel more confident and competent, both about your budget and about the way that kitchen of yours hums. You’ll be amazed how much more enjoyable life is when you simplify how you cook and how your family eats. Never underestimate the power of kitchen confidence.

Remember: Life is sweet and fun. Gluten is expendable.



ALTHOUGH I WAS NEVER A SPENDTHRIFT, SAVING MONEY WASN’T ALWAYS SECOND NATURE TO ME. I was by no means born with a budget mind-set, but by necessity, I earned it. So I understand that, until a shoestring mentality (to coin a phrase) becomes second nature, it can seem like a chore and even a burden to pay attention to saving money. You may even assume that the savings are not worth the effort. But if you’re shopping for gluten-free ingredients, it’s worth the effort—and that’s where this book comes in.

Plain and simple, prepared gluten-free specialty foods are expensive. In fact, the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research reported that gluten-free foods can cost nearly 250 percent more than conventional foods. If you’re newly gluten-free, you’re probably still suffering from sticker shock. One day, you’re spending a modest $2.50 for a loaf of bread at the supermarket, and the next you’re paying $8 or more for a gluten-free version. Or you go from paying $1.99 for a whole box of chocolate chip cookies to paying $7 for a tiny package of just six. At first, you may simply be thankful that gluten-free breads and cookies are readily available these days, whatever the cost. There can be a real sense of loss when you go gluten-free, and these packaged gluten-free foods may seem like a life raft. It’s not that they necessarily taste so terrific (and often they don’t), it’s just that going gluten-free can seem so overwhelming, and many of us aren’t accustomed to making things like a loaf of bread from scratch at home anyhow. The idea of relearning how to cook a whole new way can feel like a tall order. So it may seem easier to turn to gluten-free packaged foods, no matter the cost—and that’s where your food budget takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

I believe there’s a different and better way. In this book, I will demystify the process and teach you how to make a big difference in the way you cook and in the way your family eats, with just a modest shift in perspective. You’ll be eating fresh, homemade gluten-free foods that warm your home and your heart with a feeling of pride, give you a well-earned sense of accomplishment, and leave you with more money in your pocket at the end of the day. In this chapter, you’ll learn a few meal-planning and money-saving strategies, and after that, I’ll help you stock your pantry so that a savory and satisfying gluten-free meal for the whole family is at your fingertips every night of the week. Soon you won’t need to rely upon a stockpile of overpriced, frozen gluten-free meals and desserts when you feel like you’re out of fresh food (or ideas). You really won’t run out of either for quite some time.

So let’s begin. Here are nine ways you can start saving right away.


To illustrate how far I’ve come, you should know that my husband’s people are coupon people. They go way back. OK, I don’t really know how far back they go, but I have firsthand evidence as far back as my father-in-law, and his practice borders on the obsessive. By contrast, for most of my life, I thought that “double coupons” at the market meant that you could use two coupons for the same item at the same time. Reasonable enough, I thought. For the still uninitiated, when a market accepts double coupons, it actually means that they will double your coupons, giving you twice the savings indicated on the coupon. How could I have seen that one coming? If the thought had occurred to me, I would have cast it aside, assuming it was arrogance to expect such royal treatment.

Coupons are no longer limited only to the Sunday newspaper variety. There are lots of other ways to use coupons to bring your gluten-free budget back down to earth. Here are a few of my secrets:

Online Coupon Sites

There are websites like and that allow you to select and print coupons for a variety of mainstream brands. You’re not likely to find many gluten-free specialty brands, but you will find many naturally gluten-free products. On the specialty side of things, there’s This is the company that produces those little coupon books that you often find in health-food stores and places like Whole Foods Market. Their website has printable coupons for many organic and health-food brands, which means there’s usually some gluten-free products in the mix.

These days, many online shopping retailers carry a number of gluten-free products. Those products regularly go on sale, and the retailers, such as Vitacost, often have site-wide coupons that you can use for any purchase. A great source for online coupon codes is Whenever I’m purchasing anything online and there’s a space for a coupon code in the checkout process, I check RetailMeNot to see if it has a current coupon code. Often, it does.

Supermarket Websites

Most major supermarkets have areas on their websites dedicated to helping you save money. You’ll typically find the weekly circular, plus printable coupons from manufacturers and sometimes from the store itself. Some markets even have e-coupons that you can store on your frequent-shopper card. You can even store your savings cards electronically on your phone with the free CardStar app.

Company Websites

Sometimes the best way to find coupons is to go directly to the source. Visit the websites of the companies that make the products you use, and you’ll see that many of them have printable coupons right there. And be sure to check the sites for a place to register for promotions and discounts. Sometimes I fill out an online comment form and ask if the company would be willing to send me some coupons. You’d be surprised how many oblige.

Here are a few examples of company websites that offer coupons:

Arrowhead Mills (flours):

Blue Diamond (almond milk, gluten-free crackers, nuts):

Crunchmaster (gluten-free crackers):

Horizon Dairy:

Land O’Lakes (great for savings on butter, eggs, cheese):

Silk Soymilk:

Stonyfield Farm (yogurt):

Udi’s Gluten Free Foods:


In the first chapter of recipes (see here), I’ll introduce you to rudimentary recipes for simple but deliciously pitch-perfect stock, doughs, crusts, sauces, and other basics. To that end, I stock my refrigerator every single week with what I consider the building blocks of a week’s worth of tasty gluten-free dinners: Pizza Dough (see here), Scratch Black Beans (see here), Fresh Pasta Dough (see here), Chicken Stock (see here), ground beef cooked with onions and garlic, and cooked brown rice.

To the pizza dough and cooked ground beef, simply add tomato sauce, grated cheese, and chopped frozen broccoli; you’ll have a complete meal on the table in less than thirty minutes. The black beans are great for a quick (and super healthy) meal of rice and beans with Easy Enchilada Sauce (see here) or an incredibly flavorful black bean soup when simmered with some chicken stock.

You will need to commit to cooking—eating gluten-free on the cheap means you’ll be cooking from scratch—but you won’t need to be tethered to the kitchen, toiling daily for hours. There’s no need, however, to go to the extreme of cooking an entire week’s worth of dinners and desserts on the weekend—and then sleepwalking through the rest of the week. Keeping these basics on hand is how I avoid that kind of living. I make most of my basics on two days of the week, usually Sunday and either Tuesday or Wednesday. That way, they’re always fresh and accessible.


In addition to stocking the refrigerator once or twice a week, about once a month I create a few meals that are just one or two steps away from completion. Then I store them in the freezer. For example:



On Sale
Oct 10, 2017
Page Count
304 pages

Nicole Hunn

About the Author

Nicole Hunn is the author of the Gluten-Free on a Shoestring series and blog, which has been featured in the New York Times and MSN Money. Her work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Parents magazine, Parade magazine, and She lives in Westchester County, New York.

Learn more about this author