Trying to eat healthy can be an expensive undertaking. Parents and heads of households know buying real, whole foods that have not been significantly processed costs considerably more than purchasing primarily processed packaged foods. Add to that the cost of allergy-friendly items, and the price tag raises even more.
Currently, many families struggle with the prospect of buying groceries that meet the needs of their household, particularly when family members have food allergies. In fact, a 2015 study of food security in the United States determined that 12.7 percent of, or 15.8 million families were food insecure at some point during the year. Food insecurity means at one time or another the family was unsure of how they would obtain enough food to meet the needs of everyone in the household, due to insufficient funds or other resources needed to acquire food. More than 20 percent of children with food allergies have also experienced food insecurity.
The following 5 tips can help you manage food allergies on a tight budget.
- Plan Meals – Planning meals ahead of time can help organize and cut costs of over purchasing. This is especially true if there are multiple allergies to account for. Try to stock up on dry and bulk items (see below). And only purchase perishable foods you need for the week. Add meals to a simple weekly calendar so everyone knows what to expect each day. Get the whole family involved by allowing each person to pick a favorite meal to put on the weekly calendar. This can help get buy-in from children and prevent the need to make multiple meals for different family members on one night, leading to food waste.
- Create a Shopping List – Create a list of items needed for the week’s meals, family favorites and dietary needs prior to shopping. This will keep you focused at the store. One of the main money drains while grocery shopping is impulse purchasing—you know the feeling when you go to the store for two items but somehow leaving with a week’s worth of food you didn’t need! Also remember never to shop while hungry. This too accounts for many occurrences of overspending.
- Keep Meals Simple/Use Whole Foods – Keep recipes to simple whole foods, or foods with few ingredients. This helps to decrease the addition of random allergens to meals, which often occurs in highly processed foods. Processed meats and packaged foods frequently contain soy, corn, dairy and other potential allergens. By purchasing meat from the butcher, whole fresh vegetables and starches from the produce section, easy tasty meals can be prepared quickly without the added allergy-offending foods. Again, only purchase what is necessary for the week. Also, cooking whole foods from scratch saves money.
- Buy in Bulk – Try to stock up on bulk, frozen and dry food items. Good items to buy in bulk include beans, legumes, rice and Dry and bulk whole food items have no additives or preservatives and cost significantly less than their canned or pre-prepared versions. Spend some time on your prep day soaking and cooking dry bulk items so they are ready to be cooked in a snap come meal day.
- Utilize Government and Community Programs to supplement purchasing power. Programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan) help provide nutritional assistance to families in need. Benefits allow for discounts on food items at participating retailers and farmers markets. Most grocery stores currently accept SNAP benefits. There are some limitations though. Some allergen free items, which need to be substituted for safety, are not covered. For instance, rice and almond milk are not covered because their protein contents do not meet federal levels for dairy products, even though many people with dairy and soy allergies need to substitute with them in order to maintain calcium intake. Currently, there is not an exception for many food allergy needs. However, local community programs may provide supplements for household needs where government programs fall short. Many food pantries and other such programs help provide staples and allergen free foods to families.
Dietary and food allergy needs can make shopping on a budget a difficult task. But with a little planning, creativity and assistance from community programs when necessary, it can become manageable and even easy after a while.