Grocery Budget Makeover – Kid Food Allergies

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on June 9, 2010

Marisa writes…

We are a family of 7 on one income and I spend about $200/week on food, not including diapers from Costco.

We have 5 kids..

  • 1 with dairy, egg and peanut allergies
  • 1 with HFA (high functioning autism) with severe tactile issues so he only eats about 5 foods
  • 1 more with peanut allergies.

I am a big time short order cook and I think that is why our bill is high too. Our 17 year old has the food allergies so he just eats frozen meals or corndogs most of the time. He has a massive appetite!

The other ages are 9, 6, 4 and 2 1/2. I make a weekly dinner menu and can stick to it but our problem is the in between snacking. The kids are tired of the same 7 meals too! I do clip coupons and try to make cheaper meals.

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear!

A few suggestions…

1. Ask your family what else they would like to try for dinner. Make a list of allergy free recipes that you can try and add 1 or 2 into your meal plan each week. (My gluten free recipes, my dairy free recipes, my GFCFSF recipes.)

2. Continue to short order cook for your HFA kiddo. Keep introducing new foods that the rest of the family is eating and if he doesn’t bite, that’s OK. An idea would be to have him do some oral motor exercises before trying a new food, in hopes that he would both try the new food, and like it!

3. Plan your snacks. Write down 2 options for each snack time and give the kids a choice.

4. Find support on food allergy forums and websites.  These can be wonderful resources!

Are you dealing with food allergies?!?  What are some of your favorite food allergy resources?  What advice or encouragement do you have for Marisa?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer June 9, 2010 at 7:52 am

I would suggest fresh produce as snacks because you don’t have to worry about reading the label for hidden allergens. It may be a little more expensive up front, but it will fill your kids up better. Apples, pears, oranges, carrots, and celery are all good options, and if you cut them up and offer with dip (there are a lot of great recipes online) they are usually pretty kid friendly.

Only you know what will work best for your family, but that is something I would try, at least for snacking.

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oceans5 June 9, 2010 at 8:02 am

I have a daughter with peanut/tree nut allergies. My oldest daughter loves peanut butter but I cannot take the risk of her eating it then touching her sister. Our solution is Sunbutter. It is made from sunflower seeds in a completely nut free facility. My daughter LOVES it and so does my 3 year old son. They get their sandwiches and I do not have to worry about the reaction for my middle child. I know that is not a meal idea but I thought I would throw it out there. The only place I have found it is at Target or online.

The fruit and veggie snack idea is great too. The easiest snacks I give my kids are bananas. PLus they are cheap.

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mel June 9, 2010 at 8:17 am

I have a daughter with food allergies as well and know the challenges of buying food. I know that my Hy-Vee store has a 10 percent discount on all items in their health market on Thursdays. Most of the Health Market has special diet food items. I know it might not sound like much, but many of those products are so expensive that every penny helps. You may want to see if stores in your area carry similar discounts.

Also, I cut out a lot of extra junk food out of our budget to help pay for the allergy-free items.

I have lots of recipes and resources on my blog. Check out my blog at http://dairyfreetoddler.blogspot.com/

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Michelle June 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

I noticed the 17 year old is eating frozen meals and corn dogs, and that sounds like that could add up fast. Could you make your own single portion frozen meals in glad ware for him? Also things like your own wraps or burritos individually wrapped in wax paper and stored in a large zip lock bag. Then all he has to do is grab one and throw it in the microwave. Much cheaper, and healthier, too!

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Melanie June 9, 2010 at 8:38 am

My son has food allergies. My secret weapon is http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org

Membership is free and the information there is invaluable.

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Lynn June 9, 2010 at 8:42 am

I have a daughter allergic to all tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame. Then 1 daughter and myself that are gluten free. I have found some really good deals online through places like amazon.The prices vary so just keep checking. I also found a co-op type thing in my area called Azure Standard, that has helped me a lot with the expense of cooking with food allergies. So, you might look for a co-op in your area. I also find that staying away from prepackaged items saves money. Most things made from scratch at home, will be healthier, more allergy friendly, and cheaper than the store bought boxed alternative.I make a lot of my own granola bars, granola, cookies, etc. This way I know what is going into them. I know they are safe for us to eat. You might also try freezing some food ahead. This way you are not being a short order cook everyday. You can make a few things that your kids can eat and freeze them. Then you can take that food out on the nights you need it. I know some of the struggles you are going through. Food allergies are difficult on the whole family. Because of the severity of food allergies, in the end the whole family has to adjust their cooking and eating to adapt at least some for the food allergy. I hope that helps and that you find some things that work.

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Joe Meany June 9, 2010 at 8:45 am

I definitely agree with the fresh fruit and veggie idea. With the dairy “allergy” it is unlikely you have store bought read. Dairy allergy is usually more “intolerance”. You can certainly get jeilies with just sugar and fruit and pection, but that screams make your own, I am luck that oddly some dollar stores near me have them.

The peanut allergies are most noticeable with candies and snacks. Most processing plants of those types also process peanuts/ Look into national kosher food brands, whati is on the label is what is inside, it is not supposed to have cross contamination.

I would actually take the time to write/E-mail most of the major food companies and ask them what they recommend, they have dietitians on staff as well as scientists, they don’t usually take this lightly.

I am very much a fan of baked sweet potatoes and a little cinnamon makes tem a wonderful side dish , you can use a little orange juice, even fresh as the carries for the cinnamon so it isnt just dry.

If possible make air popped popcorn as a snack for them, it is cheap and tasty and high in fiber.

Best wishes

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Jenny June 9, 2010 at 10:10 am

I have a friend whose daughter has major food allergies. She finally wrote her own cookbook – that has all allergy free recipes (and they taste good too). She also has a database online (free) where you can go and put in the allergen that you want to avoid and it tell you if foods have that allergen, and what you can have instead and where you can find it, etc. Check it out:

http://www.sophiesafefoodguide.com/

It also works for foods that are not allergy-related, but that you might want to avoid for your child with autism. Good luck!

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Shannon June 9, 2010 at 10:19 am

I would suggest once a month cooking and making your oldest son’s food, once a month in place of the frozen food you buy now. Also if he is “snacking” on corn dogs, that is a habit he needs to stop. There are lots of allergy free things he can eat. Keep in mind he will have to feed himself without your help soon, and probably on budget at least for some time, so teach him to make these things himself, one less chore for you and one more step towards indepedance for him.
In my house carrots are the go to food, popcorn is next. Other fruits are available as I find them on sale, this mixes things up for them a little bit, I only buy cantaloupe when it is $1 a melon, I like to get apples and oranges when I can get a 3-5 lb bag for under $2 a bag Buying fruits at Costco is not usually a savings, for some reason so you might want to compare that instead of just buying as usual this month. Dips can be made using soy yougurt.
Do my kids want processed snacks, of course, but I limit them to what I can get for free or nearly free combining sales and coupons.

Also you can make cookies and muffins allergy free at home. I know I made dairy free muffins replacing the butter/oil with banans or apple sauce. I just loved apple sauce oatmeal cookies, you can replace the eggs with half a banana per egg, healthy and sweet treats.

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Randa June 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

My son is allergic to tree nuts, fish & shellfish. What has been safest & easiest for us is not having danger items in the house at all. I make some things like bread & pizza dough & jams. I make some things in advance & freeze them. Making your own breakfast bars & waffles & freezing them is easy! I also do bento boxes, which doesn’t tale too much time but is healthy & more fun for him to eat.

And to Mr Meany, please don’t ever EVER downplay a food allergy. There are certainly some people that have an intolerance to milk but a milk allergy is serious & can be fatal. I have a child at school who has had blood transfusions due to his milk allergy. I have had adults tell my own child that he’s not really allergic to anything, or that they aren’t really nuts in a particular food but that I just didn’t want him to have it. I was shocked. Food allergies are serious & in my son’s case, fatal. Please remember this when you’re speaking about allergies in the future.

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Teresa June 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

I would agree with Jennifer about fresh produce for snacks. Fruits, carrots, celery, cucumbers, etc. The cost may be the same or a little higher than the what most consider ‘snack foods’ but they are so much healthier, and in the warmer months, even more refreshing.

As Michelle noted, making your own ‘frozen dinners’ for your 17 year old to grab would help in cutting down on the grocery bill. My 15yo was living off of the frozen dinners until I got him involved in helping to make the dinners. One of his favorite things now is individual sized meatloaf. We will make 10 or 12 of them at a time, cook them all, and freeze them individually. I keep mashed potato flakes on hand so while the meatloaves are defrosted in the microwave, my son will mix up some mashed potatoes and grab some baby carrots or whatever fresh vegetable we have on hand at the time. You can also make your own chicken nuggets in large quantities and freeze into single and family size portions.

Something else I did to cut down on the grocery bill was invested in a Seal-a-Meal unit. This is quite handy for preparing foods and doing the ‘single serving’ meals. I can buy my fresh vegetables at the local produce stand when they are in season, bring them home and freeze them so I have them year round. It ends up being cheaper as I am not buying foods when they are out of season.

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Christina D June 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm

We have the same problem with food allergies. Both sons have allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame and both are picky eaters. Our food bill is probably much higher than the average. We clip coupons and buy according to sales but still we need to buy certain foods because of the allergies. I also bake as much as I can to make goods that are allergan free.

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Natalie June 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

My son (2 yrs) has peanut, tree nut, and egg allergies. We have had a difficult time with premade meals, mostly because of eggs! It seems like eggs are in everything. So, I make most of my meals from scratch and amazingly my grocery food bill has gone down. A couple tips:
1. Jiffy complete buttermilk pancake mix is egg free, and does not require eggs be added either. Pancakes and waffles, here I come!
2. Sunbutter: A peanut butter substitute made from sunflower seeds. A previous poster said they found it at Target. I am also able to find it at Meijer, a large midwestern chain. It runs $5.99 per jar where I buy it.
3. Baking: What a pain to bake without eggs, but I can’t even imagine trying without any dairy at all! However, cookbooks are your friend! I checked out several Vegan cookbooks when trying to find solutions to baking without eggs, and they have some really great recipes.
4. Ener-G Egg Replacer: Sold as a powder mix at health food stores. It works pretty well in most from-scratch baking recipes that I’ve tried, and in boxed cake mixes. It does NOT work in boxed brownie mixes.

Good luck! I know it isn’t fun or easy, but we’ve discovered some nice new recipes along the way.

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Lisa June 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

The budget thing is very hard with allergies but can be done. I don’t coupon. It is something that I have had to come to terms with and just accept. It’s not me, it doesn’t work for me and I am okay with that (finally).

So ways that I save money is-
*cooking LOTS from scratch. When I make a meal I make extra and freeze it.
*I go to many stores because some are cheaper for one product than others. For example I usually start my month off at Grocery Outlet (not sure if you have anything like that in your area). My food intolerance is Gluten and dairy and my daughter’s is a whole slew of things from MSG to oranges. Anyhow, the Outlet store often has great corn and rice chips for snacks. They also have GF pasta and organic apple sauce, etc. Then I hit Costco for my meats and frozen veggies. Costco (at least mine does) has lots of organic products! :) Then Trader Joes, Fred Meyer and Whole Foods fill in the real specialty items I need. I am also growing my own veggies (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs) in pots this year to save money.

For your families boredom, find ways to make the same meal but “different.” For example if you eat tacos, try making taco salad instead or taco soup, nachos, fajitas, etc. And I have found certain country cuisine tend to me naturally free of some things. Mexican is good for us because it naturally tends to be GF because they use mostly corn, rice and beans.

Finding a support group is SO HELPFUL. You are able to share tips and tricks, recipes, vent about your struggles etc. We have a pseudo one at our church and I just found out that Cash and Carry is a great place to shop for allergy free items so I will be checking them out too.

Good luck!

I have bookmared to my Google Reader many blogs that are specific to my allergies. I get encouraged to try new recipes and know what I am not alone!

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Melanie June 9, 2010 at 8:44 pm

I am totally a short order cook also as my kids have food alleriges. I spend a lot of time tweaking recipes so I make a big batch for everyone and then a small batch on the side without the milk/eggs/nuts etc. What frozen meals and corn dogs do you use for your 17 year old? We’ve been eating Kroger corn dogs since my daughter is allergic to milk and eggs but they just changed their recipe and added both! Now we’re stuck! I’d love to hear your favorite prepackaged purchases. Also, what is your favorite place for recipes. I am so in a cooking rut!

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Candi June 9, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Have you tried meal planning? We were getting bored with our meals several months ago, so I started writing down our meals. I started weekly at first, now I’m doing monthly meal plans. I make most of our meals from scratch (believe it or not, it’s cheaper than store most of the time). I even plan our weekly snacks and lunches for the kids (4 and 2). It helps me be creative and think outside of the box. Sunbutter on graham crackers or saltine with a piece of fruit; frozen berry and banana smoothies; homemade fruit muffins with preserves…etc. It really has helped me, hope it helps you too. And while it might not be easy, I totally think it can be fun to experiment with new foods. Like Erin’s meal with the Red Quinoa… I haven’t tried quinoa yet, but her recipes are always so simple and easy, even if we don’t like it, we’re only out of pocket $3 bucks and we can say we’ve tried it :)

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miss yvonne June 9, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I personally am GFCFDF I cook meals for my family and make adjustments to recipes to accomodate me. My favorite snack is rice cakes with almond butter and fresh raspberries. I will use any fruit, this is my version of PB&J. Be careful of Sunbutter, it has evaporated cane juice which is nothing but sugar in another form. I recently checked labels more carefully, I was amazed at the amount of evaporated cane juice in my GF items.
I would agree with looking for a co-op in your area. The one 45 minutes from me offers store made sun/cashew/almond butters. They have nothing in them but nuts. Are you familiar with Larabars? There are several homemade versions on the web. They are great for a salty/sweet snack and if you make your own you can make your own conncoctions. My favorite is mock Almond joy bars.
Thank you for sharing your story. It allows the rest of us the realization we are not alone.

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MrsD05 June 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

I don’t really have any advice for you since I don’t deal with these issues myself, but I just wanted to offer encouragement. It can’t be easy finding things to feed your family with their various allergies and needs. I hope that one of the resources the other commenters provided will be helpful to you.

We’re all pulling for you.

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Jennifer June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I feel the same way. I have a child with a dairy and egg allergy and 2 kids avoid artificial colors. Makes like interesting. I try to cook special foods in bulk for my dd with the allergies. I keep them in the freezer. Then I can just pull out something for her while the rest of us have a regular version or something different. I try so hard to make dinner time safe for everyone. We usually eat something different for snacks and lunches to accommodate everyone. It kids tiring, but what can we do? My recommendation is to have safe stuff in the freezer for your allergy child and then try to find some new meal recipes that are safe everyone. Good luck.

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marisa June 10, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I am so amazed at the feedback I have received from the posters. It got me teary eyed reading them because it reminds me I am not alone. I feel like I slave in the kitchen sometimes, racking my brain for different recipes and trying to cut back on my time spent in the kitchen.

But I realized that this is how I need to provide for my family. I have no choice when it comes to medical needs and tactile issues, but I CAN make healthier choices for them, more wiser with our money and start including them in the process.

I love each and every one of the suggestions. My husband was so excited about sun butter! I can’t believe all the resources out there for allergies. I was 17 when I had my oldest and back then, well I was young too, nothing was offered like this to us. It was so hard watching him suffer with his eczema and only able to eat 2 foods.

I wish my children only had an intolerance sometimes. But looking at the Epi-pens in our cabinets reminds me it’s very serious. I real labels like you wouldn’t believe. It’s odd but certain foods, like if the egg is cooked in bakery items, my son is okay.

I have decided that fruit snacks, goldfish crackers and chips won’t keep them satisfied in between meals and probably isn’t too healthy everyday. Thank you all for your input and than you Erin for posting my dilemma, which isn’t a dilemma anymore!

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mrs spock June 10, 2010 at 4:32 pm

My son has a dairy allergy, and our pediatrician prefers he drink almond milk instead of soy, which is quite expensive. My husband is lactose intolerant and drinks soy milk. I used to spent $25 a week on these dairy alternatives, and now spend $12 by buying large quantities of almond and soy milk coupons from coupon clipping services on Ebay.

I make snacks every weekend that are adapted to be dairy-free: blueberry muffins, oatmeal raisin cookies and whatnot. My son is allowed to choose from these or fresh fruit for snacks. I send lunch and two snacks with him to day care so I know everything he eats can be dairy-free.

I follow quite a few dairy-free blogs in my reader and have a constant stream of new dairy-free recipes to choose from.

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Shannon June 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm

@mrs spock,
Mrs. Spock I wonder why Almond milk? tree nuts are such a high food allergy item. My daughter was allergic to milk, excema, bloody stool, I gave her goats milk, Soy milk is not an option I’d choose with its high levels of estrogen, but that was my decision, I didn’t even ask my dr what to give her, I told my dr what my choice was. Just curious if you had ruled out Goats milk and why.

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mrs spock June 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm

@Shannon,
He does tolerate goat’s milk, and will drink it, but the expense is prohibitive. He has never reacted to tree nuts, and tolerates the almond milk well- dairy, cats, and mold appear to be his only triggers thus far. If he had a tree nut issue, we would just go for the goat’s milk. Our Pedi does prefer we limit daily milk intake of any kind to 12 oz or so as well. She’s not a big fan of getting a lot of calories from drinks.

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Julie June 11, 2010 at 12:28 am

You are definitely not alone. It is very frustrating to have family members with different allergies, intolerances (as we have) etc and to try to cook healthy and have everyone happy. Five of the six of us are Wheat free/ dairy free/corn free and soyfree.
We eat mosly cooked, but we also eat alot of raw fruits and veggies. I use http://www.rawfoodtalk.com for lots of recipes. I have her recipe book too. (Erin, I hope its ok to put another website/recipe book on here if not sorry).
We have lots of smooothies for breakfast. One in particular is the following recipe:
We call it chocolate smoothie
1 cup water
1 cup ice
1/2 cup almonds (raw) -we have also used cashews and walnuts(or whatever nuts you want
1.5 TBS cocoa
salt (just a pinch)
vanilla ( i don’t measure just put a bit in)
sweetner (we use agave usually, but honey or stevia would work as well)
1-2 bananas
blend until everything is blended smooth and drink
you could add almond butter too and have a chocolate peanutbutter smoothie.

Another thing we do when the avocado are less expensive is make pudding.
1 large avocado
1/2 cup agave
1/4 cup cocoa
water(enough to be able to blend)
blend all together until smooth and pudding like consistency and eat.

We also make this pudding with frozen strawberries avocados, sweetner and water. We sometimes make the strawberry and chocolate and then layer them in a cup and eat.
You can not taste the avocados- my kids don’t like avocados, yet they will eat this until it is gone everytime. And they even know what it is made of.

How about blending bananas and mangos (and sweetner if needed) to make a pudding. We do that too and love it or you can freeze and make popsicles. All of our neighborhood kids love our fresh frozen popsicles. We never buy popsicles from the store anymore!
I don’t know if these ideas will help you much for meals. However, we do have smoothies for breakfast and the pudding is usually a large part of our lunch when avos are more cost effective.
You can make your own nutbutter and depending upon the price you pay for the nuts it can be less expensive then buying from the store and you know exactly what is in them. We make our own almond butter now and don’t buy it anymore.

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Jaimee June 12, 2010 at 9:57 pm

My kids are still pretty young and I only have two so far… but my sister -in-law shared with me what has worked in her home as far as snacks are concerned… She gives each kid two “snack cards” a day that they can cash in on at any point during the day around their regular three meals, but when they’re gone, they are gone. She said that this has helped a ton in cutting down on the snack foods. Good luck!

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Jennifer June 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm

If you use these items, here’s where I found the best deals (I have to eat gluten, egg, dairy free):

Rice Flour: Buy it at an Indian store. It goes for around $1 a pound there.
Almond/Rice Milk: Watch for sales! Our grocery stores battle sales between Silk and Almond Breeze – with coupons, I can normally get a half-gallon for $1.50!
Quaker Rice Cakes – Walmart has them for $2 each pack – and Walmart seems to keep the best fresh supply (i.e. don’t taste stale)
Crunchmaster GF Crackers – Costco – $7ish for a box. They last a long time.
Ener-G Pretzels (small pack) – Walmart $1.68 a pack
Puffins Cereal – Whole Foods – $3.99 a box, plus printable coupons sometimes help
My in-laws always find good snacks on the army base, too.

Hope this helps!

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