In my last blog post I showed that ‘free from’ foods can cost double, triple or even more compared to their standard equivalent. We’ve certainly noticed a sharp increase in our food bills since having multiple food allergies and intolerances in the family. We’ve talked about this over on my Instagram stories earlier this month and my lovely followers have shared some of their money saving tips. If you’re feeling the squeeze from the extra cost of avoiding dairy, gluten or any other food, here are some suggestions for you.
1. Plan Your Meals
This was the top tip from other mums of children with food allergies! Personally, I couldn’t live without my meal plan. Once a week, I plan out a whole week’s meals in advance: breakfast, lunch and dinner, and do a big shop. Then I top up with fresh fruit and veg later in the week as needed. Or at least, I text my husband what he needs to pick up on his way home from work! This helps to avoid last minute expensive purchases from convenience stores. It also means we make use of our leftovers instead of throwing them in the bin. Plus, it helps my sanity if I know in advance what I’m going to cook each night!
Want to try meal planning but don’t know where to start? Sign up for my free Meal Planning Challenge – coming soon – and be the first to hear when it launches!
2. Make A Shopping List – And Stick To It
Once you’ve done your meal plan, use it to make a shopping list and only buy what’s on the list! Remember the supermarkets are set up to tempt you into buying more than you really need. I find online shopping is better for avoiding temptation and impulse purchases. And as the old saying goes, never go shopping on an empty stomach!
3. Use What You Have
Before you do your meal plan, look at what you’ve already got in stock and make a plan to use it up. For example, left over veg can be used to make soup – a filling yet economical meal.
Personally, one week a month I try to ‘shop’ from my own kitchen, using up what I already have in the fridge, freezer and cupboards, and only buy fresh bits. Usually in the week before payday! This saves money and helps to reduce food waste.
4. Read Labels Carefully
This goes without saying, but if you’re shopping for someone with food allergies, always, always, always read the label. Manufacturers can change recipes without changing the packaging. This is a safety issue first and foremost, but also helps to avoid costly mistakes, where you buy something only to get home and realise it’s not suitable.
5. Drop A Brand Level
Can you drop to a cheaper brand? If you buy name brands, can you switch to supermarket own-brands? Or even the economy brands? You can get own-branded products even in the free-from aisle these days, so it’s worth taking a moment to compare prices.
You could even drop a supermarket level and shop at discount supermarkets like ALDI and LIDL. The downside is they don’t always have all the free-from products you can find in other stores, but they’re great for fresh foods and cheap basics like teabags and rice
6. Avoid ‘Free From’ Foods
They are very expensive and you often only get tiny portions. Only buy them for the things you really can’t live without, or for special occasions! Instead, buy food that is naturally free from allergens, such as rice, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, meat and fish (obviously this depends on your individual allergies). Plus, they’re much healthier for you than heavily processed free-from foods.
If you’re avoiding dairy you can often find foods that are ‘accidentally’ dairy free. For example, some supermarket brands of garlic bread don’t actually contain any butter. Chocolate bourbons are usually dairy free, along with Hob Nobs and Ritz crackers. You don’t have to buy everything from the free-from aisle.
7. Stock Up On Special Offers
Thankfully, supermarkets are now starting to do special offers on free from foods. I often stock up on gluten free sausages, coconut oil, gluten-free flour, etc whenever I spot them, but also on normal foods. You do need good storage to take advantage of these offers. I have a larder cupboard to store bulk buys of flour, pasta, biscuits etc, and a second freezer under the stairs which is handy for meat, fish, frozen vegetables and even bread and other baked goods.
8. Buy Food on Amazon
Yes, really! Did you know you can save money by buying things in bulk on Amazon Grocery. For example you can buy enormous 5kg, 10kg or even 20kg bags of rice. This is great for branded items, but they also have their own label, Solimo, for the best bargains. For Prime members they also have Amazon Pantry, where you can fill a box with food items for a delivery fee of £3.99. [Hint… for Amazon Grocery and Pantry check out the vouchers and outlet to get the best deals.]
For regular purchases, you can Subscribe & Save for automatic deliveries and even bigger savings. Perfect for things like nappies, pet food, fabric softener, toiletries and so on. Make sure you compare prices as I’ve noticed not *everything* is cheaper – but I have set up a Subscribe & Save for our children’s multivitamins, probiotics, and cat food. These do cost less than the supermarket, and I don’t have to remember to buy it as it is delivered automatically each month! (You can skip months if you need to.)
9. Batch Cooking
Another money saving tip is to always cook more than you need. You can use the leftovers for lunch the next day, or freeze them and save them as home made ‘ready meals’ for days when you don’t have the time or energy to cook, rather than relying on expensive free-from convenience foods.
10. Use Cheaper Cuts Of Meat
(Mince is cheap and versatile, chicken thighs are cheaper than breasts, and stewing meat is cheaper (but has to be cooked slowly). Buying a whole chicken or large joint of meat is usually less expensive than buying meat in portions – could you cook a roast at the weekend and use the leftovers in meals through the week?
11. Meat Free Meals
On the other hand, if you’re not already converted to a plant-based diet, eating vegetarian meals once in a while can save you a bit of money, as meat is usually the most expensive element in a meal. It’s also said to be healthier, better for the planet, and of course more ethical.
12. Buy Local
Buying fruit and veg from farm shops, farmer’s markets and veg box schemes can help you to save money, and they’re also better for the environment = win-win! We get a local veg box delivered weekly, and as well as costing less it gives us much more variety than the supermarket.
13. Buy Frozen
Frozen fruit and veg is far, far cheaper than fresh. An a strawberry that has been flash frozen within a few hours of being picked is also much more nutritious than one that has been lingering in your fridge for days, turning to mush. You can buy a huge variety of fruit and vegetables frozen: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mango, spinach, peas, brussels sprouts, sweetcorn, mushrooms, peppers… They’re often pre-chopped too, so a time saver to boot!
For more tips on shopping with food allergies and meal planning, check out my book, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies, out now on Amazon. Visit the link to download a free sample chapter today!