Managing chronic health-related issues, including food allergies, typically requires making unwanted dietary and lifestyle changes. Some of these changes can put a strain on the food budget.
People who enjoy planning and organizing are at an advantage when it comes to accommodating a food allergy and saving money. Yet, all of us can learn to plan allergy-free meals and shop wisely by taking logical steps.
While taking bite-size logical steps, it is important to acknowledge whatever feelings you experience about the changes you must make. Emotions of sadness or grief over letting go of familiar or favorite foods and routines are normal, as are feelings of anger or resentment over the life disrupting changes.
Six Steps: One Step At A Time
If organizing is not your forte, enlist the help of a friend or family member that thrives on organization.
- Accepting your feelings will help you process and adjust to the changes you face, and a first step toward making those changes is to become familiar with what can be eaten. Do some research to determine what foods are safe and what are safe substitutions for products you must avoid. List what you can eat and focus on that.
- Cooking allergy-free meals on a budget usually means cooking more meals from scratch. Use your list of can-have ingredients and foods to sketch out meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are not a natural chef, keep the meals simple (protein + carb + produce) to begin with—you can always jazz them up later. Start with at least four to five days worth of menus to rotate through. Once you have a menu plan, create a shopping list from it and head to the grocery store.
- Planning meals is necessary if you hope to save money buying regular food items plus the often more expensive allergy-safe products and substitutes. You can also search for allergen-free food coupons online, email the manufacturers of allergen-free products to request computer links for coupons, and experiment with apps that alert you to food deals such as the app called Amazon Deals.
- Get to know your local health food store and check their specials regularly. Also shop local farmer’s markets for fresh, often organic meats and produce.
- As your list of menu options grows, consider putting them on a rotating calendar program such as Google Calendar or iCalendar. Then, each week you can print out that week’s menu plan and the shopping list you have earlier created for it—and wisely saved. Or, write out your weekly or monthly menu plans on a blank paper calendar.
- Over time you will find the best stores for purchasing allergen-free products and ingredients, and will recognize a good price when you see it. Stock up on special items you use frequently when prices are low. If cross-contamination is an issue, look for bulk-size pre-packaged goods, and you might get discounts when buying foods by the case.
Be patient with yourself. Shopping, and cooking around a food allergy comes with a learning curve. It may not be a curve you want to conquer, but for your health or that of a loved one, you will.