Food Allergies on a Budget – Part 1

Photo Credit.

(Yes, that is a very large stack of gluten free pancakes. Recipe here.)

Welcome to Part 1, of what I think is going to be, a 3 part series on dealing with food allergies without burning a larger hole in your pocket.

First off, I will be using the term allergy to mean all of the above…a true anaphylactic type reaction, a delayed “digestive” reaction, and an intolerance. Each of these situations means that one cannot have the food in question, so for our purposes we’ll be using the word “allergy.”

Second, for those dealing with food allergies…I’m sorry.  It is no fun. It can be unpleasant, especially when a guest in someone’s home or when out to dinner with friends or family. But…it can be managed!  Please take the time to “grieve” over the loss of these foods.  Let yourself, your child(ren), and your family grieve.  Be open and honest about your emotions and don’t be afraid to share them.

And now for the more practical ways to save…

1. Take a Look at What you CAN eat.

This sucks.

That’s what I told myself as I walked through the freezer section, looking at ice cream container after ice cream container on the shelves at the Albertsons grocery store near TCU.

I figured out during my college years that I was lactose intolerant and needed to cut out ice cream, yogurt, etc. from my diet.  I was not particularly thrilled about the ice cream part. Not at all. I *may* have shed a tear while standing in front of the ice cream.

And then I bee-lined it for the back corner of the store, where they shelved the boxes of rice milk.

Lesson #1. After you grieve and fuss over what you can no longer eat, sit down and make a list of what you can eat. Get creative.  Include foods you’ve never tried before.  Do some research about what you can eat when on a gluten free diet, or a soy free diet.

2. Write out all the meal ideas that you are allowed to have.

Once you have your list of foods that you can eat, write out 10-15 ideas for meals that you can have..for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Include meals you’ve never tried, ingredients you’ve never cooked with.  If you’re not sure where to look, google your particular diet and the word “blog,” and chances are you will find an entire community of people dealing with the same food allergies as yours.

An example…when we were on the GFCF (gluten free casein free) diet back when Ryan was in the thick of his sensory integration dysfunction issues, I based all of our meals around potatoes, brown rice and sweet potatoes.  Then as I got comfortable with those foods, I added in rice pastas and started using rice flour and other flours to bake little snacks for the (then 2) boys. It was a slow process.

If you deal with dairy issues, just omit the cheese and find “your new milk,” be it almond, rice, soy, coconut or hempmilk.  (I omit the cheese from recipes all the time.  Doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.)  And if you want to make pizza, use a dairy-free alternative…but use sparingly…because yes, it is more expensive!

3. Write a short rotating meal plan.

With your list of “can eat” foods and your list of meal ideas, write out a 3 or 4 day plan that rotates.  Write down everything that you plan to eat…as you’ll need to have everything on hand that you’ll need to eat for that time period.

Breakfast. Lunch. Afternoon snack. Dinner. Dessert/treat.

All of it!

Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4.


Meal planning is crucial for spending less money at the grocery store.  Absolutely crucial! And sixteen times more crucial when you are dealing with food allergies and the need to buy more expensive products and/or ingredients.  We’ve got to have a plan in place so we can balance the “regular” products and the “allergen products” and not have to spend 4 times that of your neighbor who doesn’t deal for food allergies.


After you start enjoying these foods that you can eat and have completely forgotten about all those foods that you had to give up, start adding new meals and treats to your rotating plan.  With the new rotating plan in place, you’ll start to feel better, notice improved behavior in your kids and be on your way to a healthier you and a healthier family!

Up next in part 2…finding the coupons and deals for “allergen foods”

If you struggle with finding the best deals and coupons for allergy-free foods, then please sign up for the free email updates that include all the allergy free food coupons and deals! If you know someone who deals with food allergies and needs to do so on a budget, please share this information with them :)

See more $5 Dinners Cooking Tutorials here


  1. says

    I am gluten free and it is expensive, but I have found lots of ways to save including sticking with fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein, and staying away from any store bought baked goods (they are usually pretty gross anyway). I also use a subscription service for gluten free flour so I get it at a pretty deep discount with free shipping compared to what it would cost in the store (I write about it in more depth here

    The other thing I do, since I rotate through a lot of the same ingredients, is try and change up the flavors as much as possible with herbs and spices so I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing all the time.

  2. Karen says

    Have kept spousal unit gluten free for 15+ years. Never would have experimented in Indian, Thai, Ethiopian foodology if this condition was not part of our everyday lives. We frequently use tofu, a cheap protein, which offsets cost of some of the more expensive gluten free ingredients.

  3. says

    i’m celiac and what felt more like a kick in the stomach than the diagnosis was the cost of gluten-free food!!

    which is why i make almost everything i eat (ok, i have a bit of a rice cake addiction, but i’m trying to tame it!): crackers, bread, soups,veggie burgers (i’d been vegetarian for years when i was told i was celiac, so imagine the lessening of options!). but you know, once you get into making and freezing stuff, it’s not that inconvenient. and there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment that comes from making your own bread! next on my list: homemade lasagna noodles–those things are WAY overpriced!

  4. says

    I agree on the grieving part. It takes time to accept what you can no longer have, but focusing on what you can still have really helps. I made a list of all the things I can still have and often refer back to it when I get discouraged about what I can no longer have. I eat gluten free, so I find it helpful to look at all the things that are naturally gluten free. Yes, gluten free baking can be very expensive, but if we look around there are many things that need no adapting to be gluten free. My daughter also has a nut, peanut, and sesame allergy, so between the gluten free and nut free diet in our house eating out is very difficult. So, the amount we have saved in not eating out, as helped deal with the extra cost in our food budget.

  5. says

    Great tips thanks! Between our 5 kids there are severe food allergies and then there’s tactile issues due to SPD. I still am a short order cook and I’m okay with that. But I still like to try and make something all 7 of us can enjoy and it gets difficult. Creativity is the key! We have pizza but my dairy free kid has no cheese. Doesn’t miss it because he never knew what it tasted like! He just piles on meats and veggies! Typical 17 yr old.

    Looking forward to Part 2!

  6. says

    I definitely agree that you need to grieve – acknowledge that you are disappointed and then get over it.

    The best thing I have done since finding out that I am sensitive to wheat was to stop trying to find exact gluten free alternatives. For example, pancakes – tried them with almond flour, coconut flour, etc and they just didn’t taste right.

    Now I have figured out that they don’t taste the same, but they are not bad either.

    I finally stopped trying to find gluten free alternatives and I was much happier. I don’t buy or eat gluten free bread, pancakes, etc because I truly don’t want them. I’m satisfied with vegies and meat with a little fruit thrown in. I’ve never felt so good in my life!

  7. says

    As others have said, thanks so much for including the grieving process. I ate way too much dairy, so when I found out I was lactose intolerant, it was a big mental shift. However, the food made me feel so terrible that after a few weeks I didn’t miss it because I was feeling so much better!

    I find it best just to do without cheese instead of buying expensive substitutes that just don’t taste right. We are really enjoying Asian foods now as many of them don’t have dairy.

    Thanks for this series!

  8. says

    Excited to read this on your blog. My daughter has milk, egg, and nut allergies. I find that to buy “safe” products for her to eat, I have to spend more on her food. I simply save in other places — household and grocery. I also make most meals and baked goods from scratch. After 3 years of practice, I don’t even notice the time element. It would be awesome to open a can of whatever in 30 seconds instead of taking 15 minutes to prepare something, but you just have to adapt. I also take advantage of bulk cooking and freezing. It helps a lot to save money and time.

  9. Kristin says

    Great series! I am almost 90 days gluten free/caesin free and the sticker shock was the worst! But, I agree finding what you do like or even alternatives to what you liked in the past with an open mind. Who knew Vanilla Almond Breeze milk is amazing and something I would have drank prior to my CF diet if I would have know how good it was. My favorite treat is a brownie and my GF/CF recipe is way better then my original. I always keep the flour mixed up to whip up a batch of these. I also always portion leftovers into individual servings for myself and store some in my freezer at work so on days of meetings etc. I don’t have to wonder what might be safe at a fast food place. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

  10. says

    THANK YOU for this series. My son has allergies to egg whites and yolks, wheat, soy and nuts. It has definitely taken more creativity to learn how to feed him but has been a wonderful thing for my family in the end – my husband and I eat what he eats, esp. for dinner so we are eating a ton more veggies and a lot less carbs! Plus a lot less processed foods! It all takes planning for sure. Check out my site for menu planning ideas with these allergies in mind ( I need all of the ideas I can get, it’s a work in progress for sure!

  11. says

    This is wonderful! What encouragement. You are the one who knows about saving money!! And it’s definitely a journey and learning process.

    I’m also doing an Allergy Friendly Living series on Hodgepodge :)

  12. andrea d. wiener says

    Help me out here – I have MULTIPLE allergies, plus Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism) – where I do BETTER on a WF-GF-CF-DF diet…help me to afford all this stuff i gotta eat!!

  13. Carolyn says

    My husband is highly allergic to peanuts and soy and our son (8 months old) is also allergic to peanuts, egg whites and yolks. Thnakfully, my son has not had any of these foods, so he won’t miss nay of them. I just need to learn what is safe to buy for our son and how to modify my current recipes. Look forward to the rest!

  14. says

    Here’s what I found online about Sucanat…
    Sucanat is non-refined cane sugar that has not had the molasses removed from it like refined white sugar. Unlike regular brown sugar, sucanat is grainy instead of crystalline. Sucanat is darker in color than other cane juice crystals and tends to have some of the bitter molasses flavor.

  15. says

    This is so encouraging….I love it! We have a little boy who has severe allergies and we have really learned how to not only “get by” but to embrace his situation and turn it into a positive for our whole family! We now eat tons of whole foods that don’t require label reading as well as other whole foods that are healthier for all of us. He used to even have terrible intolerances that gave him awful eczema but thankfully his Belly Boost chewable probiotic has really made him so much better. He can now eat lots more foods that he once could not tolerate and his skin looks and feels great too! We do still avoid actual allergens, but we are so thankful for all that we have learned so far about how to eat!

  16. EN says

    Thanks so much for dedicating an entire part of your site for allergies and budgeting!!

    I have severe allergies to seafood, shellfish, crustaceans, etc. (everything in the ocean except for salt and seaweed) and carry an epi-pen around with me. I also have severe lactose intolerance to the point that I once had to go to the hospital due to bleeding.

    As a college student, it’s really really tough to eat on a budget with a lot of dietary restrictions that won’t kill me or put me in the hospital. All the ideas are very helpful and I’ve already printed out that Silk coupon to use tonight.

    Thanks again!! 😀


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