How to Deal With Food Allergies On a Budget

Struggling with how to find budget-friendly foods that fit within your dietary needs? While it can be more of a challenge to shop for food allergy friendly foods when you are on a budget, it’s doable!

Dealing with Food Allergies on a Budget

How to Deal With Food Allergies on a Budget

About 6 years ago I was feeling awful. I could barely keep any food down and I seemed to have reactions from everything. I was already cooking from scratch so what else did I need to do?

After a visit with an allergist and several types of testing, I was diagnosed with food allergies and I began a new lifestyle of eating foods I could still enjoy. (After a very long cry of course!)

Not long after this, we welcomed our first son into our home. He was diagnosed with multiple food allergies at just a few months old. Now, we have at least one food allergy with each person living in our home. If you’ve ever wondered why I don’t post certain recipes….like anything with nuts…it’s because there is a major allergy for it in our home.

When you have food allergies or someone in your household does, it can seem overwhelming. And very frustrating when it comes to being on a budget. But there are plenty of ways that you can ease this burden on your family and still enjoy the simple, and healthful foods that you love (and can eat!).

If you prefer the detailed and in-depth version of this article, keep reading! Otherwise, you can also watch this video I put together below.

1. Stop looking at the things you can’t have.

Just like looking at and wanting material possessions that we can’t have. Looking at foods that we can no longer have does not create a peacefulness when it comes to grocery shopping. If you can’t have dairy, don’t walk past the dairy aisle if you can help it. If you can’t have wheat, stop drooling over the bagels. If you are continuously sad about the foods that you can’t eat, you won’t be able to enjoy the foods you CAN eat.

This can be tougher than it originally sounds. For example, I tend to suffer from a lot of “mom-guilt” as I’m sure most other mothers do. On occasion, I will walk past the ice cream treats and think….”Oh if only I was able to give those to my kids…” Because of my past experience with enjoying ice cream treats, I believe that they are missing out, however, they have no idea that this is something they are “missing out” on since I have one that has never been able to eat dairy. My feelings of guilt are for nothing. I know what my son enjoys eating and it’s no loss to him if I can’t buy the ice cream treats.

However, it can be hard when society tells you that you need to eat these things or feed your kids this or that. You feel like you aren’t doing enough. But when you are listening to your body and their bodies, you ARE doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing for your family.

2. Skip the “labels”.

When you learn that you have celiac disease (raises hand) and you can only eat gluten-free. You might be tempted to look at all of the pre-packaged boxes that are labeled “gluten-free” and wonder, “How am I ever going to be able to afford that?” Anything with a special label will tend to be more expensive than can reasonably fit into a budget. A tiny box of cookies for $5? No, thank you!

Instead, choose items that naturally fit into the diet you need. A good rule of thumb is to stick with whole fruits, vegetables, and meats. Frozen or fresh can usually fit into any budget as long as you follow some basic rules (buy in-season, stock up on bulk produce and preserve when you can, etc).

–Need more tips on how to save at the store? Here are 12 Ways to Save More on Groceries

3. Save time and prep.

If you just learned that you have food allergies, your instant pot or your slow cooker is about to become your new best friend. Since many allergies will require that you cook more from scratch because your body can’t tolerate the ingredients in pre-packaged products, ease of preparation will become more important.

I’ve always loved my slow cooker but I’ve grown to love it even more so over the last few years. On the days when I know that we will be busy and have very little time for food preparation, I like to toss something into the slow cooker in the morning for a quick and easy supper. This not only saves time but saves me from the temptation of picking up a pre-packaged “allergy-free” food that will cost double or triple what my homemade meal would cost.

4. Make your own.

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you will see that I’m a little crazy about the make-your-own recipes. One of the most fun and best ways to save money on allergy-friendly foods is to make your own versions of store-bought items. Here’s my big page of Homemade Mixes. Most of them I’ve made gluten-free and other ingredients can easily be substituted with your allergy-friendly substitutions if needed.

–Here are some easy Simple and Healthy Snack Ideas Under $1

5. MEAL PLAN

Yes, I put that in capital letters for a reason! Meal planning is SO important for any food budget, with or without allergies. Without a meal plan, you are stuck trying to figure out what you are having each meal for each day. Flying by the seat of your pants!

With a meal plan, you can plan everything from just suppers to every single meal (and snack) of the day. This way you will know exactly what you need to buy each week and what you are able to make with what you have on hand.

–Here’s a sample meal plan from a few years ago that featured (my) allergy-friendly meals.

6. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

When my doctor put me on an even stricter diet a year and a half ago to help with some of my gut issues. My thought was, “I’m creative but there is no way that I can make meals out of this!” It turned out I was so wrong!

As I began experimenting with more foods, new (to me) foods, and a variety of herbs and spices, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the variety of meals that I can make. (P.S. Herbs and spices can add SO much to a meal if you feel that you are lacking variety in your meal planning!) Not only that, my tastes have begun to change and I find myself enjoying things that I didn’t like before (such as olives, to the amazement of my husband!).

Have fun experimenting with the foods that are available to you, even though you may not have used them much before. You never know what new recipes you might come up with!

I hope that this article inspires you with your budget-friendly, allergy-friendly cooking. I know it can be a difficult path to walk but with a few simple rules, it can be easy to buy the foods that you need while sticking within your grocery budget.

And if you can’t stay perfectly within the budget that you might have set previously, remind yourself that it’s ok to make some adjustments. Budgets aren’t set in stone and need to be adjusted when the circumstances require. You are doing the best you can with what you have and that’s all you need to do.

What tips do you have for others that need to stick to a budget while buying allergy-free foods?

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26 Comments

  1. I don’t have allergies to deal with in our home, but there are a few intolerances and we have friends over who have allergies so I enjoyed getting your advice. Thanks so much, Merissa.

  2. We have multiple food allergies in our home too. Im dairy free, my son in peanut, most tree nuts and soy free. It can be tough and a financial strain on your food budget but there are a lot of alternatives and some inexpensive generic brands too. Aldi and Giant are my favorite stores to shop at for allergy friendly foods. And occasionally Trader Joe’s but their 45 mins away. Vitacost.com has a large selection of foods also at decent prices.

  3. Thank you so much for your helpful emails! I really have a hard time in eating many foods that most people eat. Thank you again!

  4. I have started making my own ice cream since the ingredients in most ice creams have high fructose corn syrup. I save the cream from my dairy goats and freeze it until I have enough to make ice cream. I always look for simple recipes with limited amounts of sugar needed.

    I saw your comment about one child not having dairy products. There is an ice cream on the market made of coconut milk. I saw it being sold at the mother earth news fair in Belton, Texas this year. I would think it would be easy to make ice cream with the coconut milk instead of dairy milk at home. It might be fun to experiment with it to see if your son would like it..

  5. Our family has had to watch gluten and dairy. Two of us seem more sensitive to these items. Recently considering putting whole family on the Daniel Diet which is mostly gluten free. Have found a good alternative store that is far away for some bulk products. Giant store for the rest. Avoiding health food stores lately. Cost seems to be more than Giant or bulk store and I am tempted to buy supplements we might not need.

  6. Thank you! This is so exactly what I struggle with! My son is on a gluten free diet and although he tells me it’s annoying, I as mom know he will be miserable if I let him cheat!

  7. I found a store that sells allergy friendly foods of high quality for low prices because the packages are not perfect or the items are almost to the expiration date. I must travel a bit to get to this store and it is always hit or miss . I found out about it through word of mouth. I do know that stores like this are common near Amish communities. I hope this helps .

  8. Thank you for the encouraging article. However you mention don’t read food labels. If you have common and uncommon food allergies, like I do,take the time to read labels sometimes you think you are safe until you read the fine print. One of my allergens is egg I was using a shake powder and could not figure out why I got sick. My friend read the label again for me and they used one part of the egg white. She knew what it is called I don’t. It’s the stringy part of the egg white.

    1. Just to be clear, I’m not encouraging you to not read the ingredients label, just to not only look for the labels on the front of the box “gluten free, dairy free, etc) when making a decision on a purchase. For example…a banana is gluten-free but doesn’t have a gluten-free “label”. It’s less expensive to choose foods that are naturally gluten-free (ie: fruits and vegetables) than to specifically purchase products that are specially labeled (because they are processed and packaged). If I ever buy any boxed products we, of course, have to read the label first, we have life-threatening allergies in our home.

  9. I have intolerances (I may have some food allergies too – just sent in my hair sample today) – but looking for help with eating allergy-free on a budget – thank you!

  10. Dear Marissa,
    I have a daughter who is allergic to eggs. This is very tough, as so many vital nutrients are packed into one little inexpensive egg. I have to purchase canned salmon, brazil nuts, I am still looking for a good liver recipe, amongst other more expensive purchases like lots of meat for the B vitamins and some supplements for the omegas. This is very tough. Baked goods are not a problem… it is just the main diet that I have to splurge on a bit more to meet her nutritional needs. Any ideas.. except that she will someday be able to have them…in heaven? Then, of course, she won’t need them!

    1. Eggs are a bit tough if you are used to having them as a staple. My son has finally outgrown his egg allergy but prior to now he just ate extra meat to make sure he was getting enough protein. We eat a large number of fruits and vegetables so I wasn’t too worried about other nutrients/vitamins.

  11. Ok, I bake…a LOT! And I have never commented on a recipe I’ve found online. But I made this bread this morning and it was the most delicious thing I’ve baked in a long time! I followed the recipe almost exactly (I just used vanilla bean paste in the cream cheese filling and made a glaze with powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice). It was amazing!!! Thank you!

  12. What i van tell by this is you eat depriving yourself out of producing an article if. You had true restrictions in your diet you would understand the frustration and would look more to “wow! I can’t have x, what is my best tasting and texture alternative giving me the same fulfillment.”. You arrival is a joke for me and I have 5 out of 8 food allergies. Love on that and tell me how satisfying your diet and palate is. And choose all the hard restrictions , milk, wheat, tree nuts, squash and berries…then write your article AGAIN!!!! Telll me convenience, readily available options for just me….and then ulll have an audience.

    1. I realize that having food allergies is incredibly frustrating. I’m allergic to tomatoes and all the best foods have tomatoes in it. But, I have been a follower of this person for a long time and I can tell you she hardly deprives herself. The recipes are amazing. One thing you have to remember is that this is her page and what she has done with her struggle with a food allergy. She turned what she has done with her food allergy and turned it into something that has helped others with those allergies. I guess the only question that needs to be asked is, where is your article and web page to help others with similar issues that you have?