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Save Money While Grocery Shopping with Food Allergies

How much money do you spend on food each year when living with a food allergy? According to a study conducted by food allergy researcher Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, and her colleagues, food allergy diagnosis has a major economic impact on families. The highest proportion of direct-out of pocket costs stem from the cost of special diets and allergen-free food, accounting for $1.7 billion per year.

Although these foods can be more costly than their non-allergy counterparts, there are ways to cut down on spending. These five easy tips can help stretch your dollar.

1. Shop the sale items

Browse through local grocery store ads before planning your meals or making your grocery list. Buy allergy friendly options when on sale if possible. To help you get the best bang for your buck, purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season.When produce is in season, it’s at its peak flavor and is generally more abundant, making it more affordable.

Want a certain fruit or vegetable that is not in season? You can still buy the fresh item, or include frozen fruits and vegetables in your diet, as they are comparable in nutritional quality. Make sure to check the ingredients list to avoid things such as added sugar or salt.

2. Plan your meals and create a grocery list

Planning your meals is a great way to cut down on your spending and ensure there are options for everyone in your family, including those with food allergies. Pre-planning helps you control what and how much you buy without worrying about over spending. Check your refrigerator and pantry to see if you can incorporate any of these items into your meals. Create a grocery list to help keep you focused, reduce shopping time, and help you purchase only the foods that you really need for the week.

3. Reduce Waste

Reducing waste helps can make your food go further. Try to eat highly perishable items earlier in the week and less perishable items toward the end of the week. Pack leftover items for lunch or save them for dinner the next night. This can also be a convenient option during a busy day.

Sick of eating leftovers? A great way to get over the leftover blues is to make a new creation with what you have, or freeze it for a meal the next week. For example, left over chicken could be used in a casserole, salad, frittata, or soup to name just a few.

What if I have food that is passed the best if used by/before, use-by or sell by date? These common phrases can be a bit difficult to decipher, but are related to food quality, not food safety.

  • The best if used by/before date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality.
  • The sell by date is for stores to know how long to display the product for inventory management.
  • Finally, the use-by date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date, except for when used on infant formula.

This means that you do not have to throw these food items out immediately. They are safe to consume even after the date. Use your best judgement and toss foods that are moldy or have a, “off” smell.

4. Buy generic and compare allergy-free brands

Generally, generic brands are just as good as the original and are less expensive. Compare the nutrition facts label to see if there is a difference in nutritional content or possible allergens. Allergy-free brands can be costly compared to their non-allergy counterparts, but costs between allergy-free brands can vary.

5. Use nutrient-dense, low cost foods

Instead of expensive meats, which tend to be the highest dollar ingredient in a recipe, try other nutrient-dense protein options such as beans, lentils, eggs, peanut butter, tofu and canned fish. It’s important for those with food allergies to replace the nutrients that are missing after eliminating the problem foods. Nutrient dense foods make this possible, and there are low cost options.

To get the most out of your meat purchases, purchase a larger quantity of meat when it is on sale and freeze some for future use.

Being allergy friendly doesn’t have to break the bank! Try these five tips to lower your grocery costs.

By Kendal Schmitz, Dietetic Intern at Allergy Associates of La Crosse