Eat Well for Less: Managing Food Allergies and Intolerances

When you have a food allergies or intolerances, they can be costly to work around. I’m technically intolerant to many foods, including eggs (whites and yolks), three kinds of sugar, soy, milk, and various unusual items. In order to be able to eat well and not have every minute of my life revolve around finding food, I’ve chosen to focus only on the intolerance that makes me very ill: gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Unfortunately, it is also found in the majority of packaged foods, sauces, and staple items. (I’d guess at least 50% of all foods.)

Food Allergies Could Save You Money
On the one hand, gluten intolerance automatically saves money. Eating out is risky, so I do it rarely. Most pre-packaged foods are out, including all forms of ready-made dinner. Most sauces are out, as are many convenience foods you wouldn’t expect, like some yogurts. Some brands of spices and boxed rice are out, too. Obviously, bread, cakes, cookies, and all manner of baked goods are off-limits. So, if I simply avoided everything I can’t eat and didn’t replace them with copycat foods, my grocery budget would be low because my food possibilities would be very limited.

Food Allergies More Often Result in Much Higher Food Costs
The limitations are also where the trouble lies. I don’t want to live without bread, pasta, and cookies, but that means paying more for substitutes. A 10 pound bag of wheat flour costs $3.99. The alternative flours necessary to make an equivalent amount of replacement gluten-free flour cost around $31.60 for ten pounds if you buy it pre-blended, and only slightly cheaper if you blend it yourself. (I blend my own.) If I choose to buy gluten-free bread, I can either buy a cheap one that tastes horrid, or spend around $8.00 for a small, tasty loaf.

This means that I bake most of my gluten-free foods myself to keep costs down, and I don’t do it very often. I’m very careful not to spill my flours and keep them all in the fridge to prevent spoiling. When cornstarch or arrowroot will work (for a roux or a thickener), I use that instead. Cornstarch is only .79 a box! I also use pasta sparingly, because Tinkyada pasta is $3.99 a pound at Whole Foods and $3.04 a pound from Amazon.

How to Save Money with Food Allergies and Intolerances
Overall, I’d estimate that my intolerance adds 30% to our annual food costs. So how do I save money and still eat well?

1. Make every dinner from scratch, using inexpensive base ingredients and freezing the leftovers for later.

2. Use baked goods or pastas sparingly (which also helps control my weight.). Buy them at Amazon if possible. Buy several types of flour at once to reduce shipping costs from other online sellers.

3. Replace bread with gluten-free corn tortillas and gluten-free rice cakes instead of gluten-free bread.

4. Shop at Trader Joe’s, where more foods are gluten-free and the prices are lower.

5. Bake my own cookies, freeze them, and only eat one a day.

6. Avoid pre-packaged gluten-free food, which costs more and may contain unhealthy ingredients.

Even if you don’t need to avoid certain foods for vital health reasons, these tips can still save you money because cooking from scratch and avoiding pre-packaged food is not only cheaper, it’s healthier. That said, if you can eat bread, there’s no reason to avoid it. Whole grain breads and pastas are very good for people who can eat them!

Although these tips are aimed at people with gluten intolerance, they can also be adapted for those intolerant to corn, eggs, soy, or milk. Now that people are more aware of food allergies and intolerances there are more options available. The quality is also improving, and some of the prices decreasing. I recommend joining an online support group designed for your allergy to find lists of safe foods, and then buying a cookbook focused on your allergy so you can learn how to cook with substitutes.

My intolerance is also the primary reason we eat as well as we do. Before I went gluten-free as an adult (I was diagnosed as a child, but the foods crept back into my diet), I ate the typical assortment of pastas and packaged foods. Once I couldn’t eat those, I was forced to start cooking, and cooking well. Now I wouldn’t eat any other way (the cooking-well part. I’d kill for a flaky, buttery, gluten-filled croissant.)

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