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Ten Clever Hacks for Saving Money While Grocery Shopping for Common Food Allergies and Special Diets
Many of us are stuck with how much we make every month, and it can be a challenge to make ends meet. As we all know, food allergies can cause our grocery bills to skyrocket. Despite this, there are ways to save some cash. Here are a few ways that have worked for our family.
1. Create a grocery list & stick to it.
By focusing on a list, I find I'm much less likely to have impulse purchases. I know, there’s value in going through the store to find new items every once and awhile. I mean, isn’t it great when you find that new, safe product that’s perfect for your toddler’s snack time? But a full-on new product search definitely doesn’t need to happen EVERY week.
The time you save when you’ve got a list can really make a difference. Not only does a list help you avoid reading all those extra labels from items you don’t need or even end up buying; but you’re able to focus on just to the items you know you’ll need and actually use that week. Wondering what to put on that list? Meal planning will help with this (see #3).
If you’re looking for a done-for-you food allergy meal planner with easy shop and go grocery lists, check this one out.
2. Avoid the expensive pre-packaged allergy eats and special diet alternatives.
I know we all have our go-to safe alternatives, and these can be super helpful at times. But limiting them and focusing more on whole foods will decrease the time it takes to read labels (and call companies if needed), as well as helping our bank accounts. Just eliminating the need to read some long ingredient labels makes this one appealing for me, and all the more reason to use simple ingredients.
Avoiding the pre-packaged allergy alternatives means limiting going through the middle isles of the grocery store. Most of the simple, fresh foods are in the perimeter of the store like produce and meats.
Get my list of Newbie Food Allergy Cooking Mistakes so you can make meal planning for food allergies easier.
3. Become a food allergy meal planner.
If you know what you’ll be eating the next few days, you can then buy exactly what you need, and avoid buying extra foods that will go bad. If you’re having trouble creating a plan, try a Google or Pinterest search for inspiration. Find five safe recipes that look good and you think your family will like. Bookmark the recipes (or print them off) and write down what you’ll need from the grocery store to make them (hint: if you type this list up, you’ll be able to re-use it!). You now have a plan that you can use for the next week.
Put this plan in a binder so you can re-use it later, and after a few weeks you’ll have created a full rotation of weekly meal plans. If you’re looking for help or want a pre-made allergy-friendly plan, click here.
4. Eat the leftovers.
I know this is easier said than done some days! There are some things my kids just gobble up and others they won’t touch. But my hubby and I try to finish leftovers for lunch within a day or two so we don’t forget about them.
One thing that helps with this is storing leftovers in glass containers. This way we see what’s in each container and remember to eat them instead of searching through the fridge unaware that they’re there.
If you don’t like leftovers the next day, freeze them as a second meal to eat later, or even in individual containers as a work or school lunch. You can defrost and heat them in the morning and send them to school or work in a thermos for a warm and hearty lunch.
5. Buy frozen fruits and veggies instead of fresh.
Not only are these pre-washed, but they’re picked at the peak of the season and they won’t end up bad in your fridge. I’ve also heard that flash freezing keeps more of those precious nutrients. Keep all frozen veggies in one spot so you can find them in your freezer (see next tip).
6. Organize your fridge and pantry.
Create sections on your shelves. Think vinegars, grains/rice, cereals, baking goods etc. By organizing you know where to look when you’re making a salad or stir fry or when your baking. If things are easy to see and find, you’ll keep from re-buying the same thing over again. Not only that, but you’ll be more likely to use those items before their best before date. Organization in the pantry will also help you if you’re trying to cook from the pantry more often.
I find that I need to go through my pantry and get rid of old boxes, clutter and expired items every 1-2 months. It also helps to put duplicate things together (anybody else find boxes of cereal that are almost empty along with the almost full box?).
Hint: If you choose to keep food items that aren’t safe for your food allergy kiddo in your pantry, make sure to keep it in a sealed bin or high shelf so it isn’t accidentally eaten. Label the bin or item clearly.
7. Use up what you have before buying more.
Further to # 6 above, but worth mentioning separately. If you keep piling new products on top of unused items, you won’t be able to see them any more. Use what you have before buying more so your pantry doesn’t become one unorganized mess.
Every once and awhile search through your fridge or pantry to find foods that need to be used. Then search Google or Pinterest to get recipe ideas that will use up whatever you have. I know this takes a bit of organization, but it’s worth it when you’re trying to save dollars.
Also, prioritize a clean of you fridge and freezer at least once per year. This will ensure your fridge is organized and it’s easy to find things so you don’t keep buying the same thing over and over.
8. Grocery shop no more than once per week.
Not only does this save time, but it also saves money because you’re not going every time you THINK you need something.
Grocery shop your fridge & pantry first before buying more. Make substitutions in your recipe to accommodate and use what you have. For example, if you’re making a stir fry and your recipe calls for peppers, but you have a bag of snow peas, use the snow peas up instead of heading to the grocery store for more peppers. This also saves on those impulse buys while at the grocery store and buying more than you need.
I’ve become so good at this since I went back to work, and our budget and the number of strange smells due to rotting foods in our fridge have really decreased!
9. Be careful about “deals”.
You may find that “NAME BRAND” items are on sale at the end of the isles. BUT I find that even though those prices may be less than the regular prices for those name brands, you’ll still find a less expensive “no name” option. Coupons for brand name products are similar.
One exception to this is if there's only a certain brand that’s safe for your food allergy, and you must buy it no matter what. In this case, watch for those deals & coupons and use them whenever possible.
10. Grow your own fresh herbs.
Basil, mint and cilantro are useful staples to have any time of year and add SO much to salads, smoothies, and other dishes. There’s nothing like adding fresh herbs to sauces, stocks, sandwiches and almost anything. If I’m ever cooking something and it’s a bit bland, I reach for my fresh herbs to add pizzaz. By growing your own, you’ll save money AND they’ll always be fresh and won’t end up as a wet, brown rotten mess in your fridge.
Many money saving ideas at the grocery store come down to spending a bit of time up front. Yes, there are some quick and easy ways to save money, like eating leftovers, buying frozen fruits & veggies and not getting sucked in by so-called “deals”; but the best and most effective long-term solutions take a bit of time and effort. By adding these solutions into your regular daily, weekly and monthly routines, you’ll create habits that will save you loads of money on a yearly basis!
What are your favourite tips for saving money at the grocery store? Please share them with us in the comments!