Allergy-free cooking has a reputation in some quarters as being expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. It can be more challenging to cook allergy free when you are on a tight budget, but then it can be more challenging to cook full-stop when you are on a tight budget. You don’t need to order expensive, exotic ingredients via an international parcel service to cook allergy free. You just need a little bit of knowledge and some planning skills.
Allergy-free brands can be pricey. If you’re buying gluten-free bread, for example, or dairy-free desserts, you might find that you’ll struggle to find foods that you can afford within your budget. Specialist foods are not always easily available in standard supermarkets and have to be bought from health-food stores or ordered online. If you are on a budget, even accessing allergy-free foods can be difficult, as you might have to travel further to get to stores that sell them.
Depending on what your allergy is, you might find that there are some standard brands that you can buy that are safe. These are nearly always going to be cheaper than the specialist allergy-free brands. For example, some low-fat products are dairy-free, and if they are being marketed as low-fat rather than allergy-free, they’ll probably be cheaper. If you check labels carefully, you should find some brands of certain foods don’t carry the standard warnings that they are ‘made in a facility that handles nuts’ or similar. Search for brands you can trust.
Other than that, the usual budget shopping tips apply. See if you can collect coupons to help you out, buy in bulk when you can to save money, shop around and look out for special deals. Allergy-free goods are sometimes discounted, just like anything else.
The best way to eat cheaply and allergy-free is to know how to cook from scratch and to plan your meals accordingly. Don’t buy pre-prepared, pre-packaged foods: learn how to make your own instead. As well as meaning that you reduce costs, you’ll be confident that the food you’re eating is definitely allergy free. For life-threatening allergies such as nut allergies, that is particularly important, but it is reassuring for anyone who has an allergy to be absolutely certain that their food is allergy-free.
Many cheaper meals rely heavily on gluten-packed carbohydrates to bulk them out. Pasta dishes, noodle stir-fries, cheap sausages and pizza are often the staple standbys when people are on a budget. Wheat flour is used in numerous sauces and stews in standard cooking, and again, these kinds of foods are often the mainstays of cheap, family cooking in the West. However, there are plenty of cheap, filling, tasty alternatives that are allergy free. Rice or pulse based dishes are great, and don’t need any special shopping. A plate of rice and bean chilli for example is super-cheap, filling, tasty and gluten-free. Batch-cook stews and sauces thickened with cornflour rather than wheat-flour: it does the job just as well and is cheaper than specialist gluten-free flours. For bread and pastry dishes that you cannot use cornflour in, try bulk-buying gluten-free flour to make them with, rather than relying on shop-bought equivalents.
Dairy foods are often used to make cheap dishes tastier, and as a cheap alternative to meat. Lots of cheap, family mainstays contain cheese and/or milk, such as fish pies, or macaroni cheese. If this is the kind of cooking you grew up with, it can be difficult to think how to cook cheaper without using dairy. Soya-based alternatives can be expensive. Rather than try and replace dairy products in traditional dishes, look for other ways of flavouring food. Herbs and spices can be used to good effect in this way, and are healthier than using fatty dairy products too. Pulses of any kind are a great, cheap protein alternative. For desserts, choose fruit based options such as sorbets and fruity rice puddings.
Staying nut-free on a budget is relatively easy as long as you are prepared to cook from scratch. Buying ready-made foods is difficult, and many cheap legumes (beans and peas) are considered ‘high-risk’. Find some safe, cheap foods that you can guarantee are nut-free and base meals around them. Home-made vegetable curry for example, is easy to make, tasty and nut-free, and can be batch-cooked. Rather than using potentially dangerous store-bought tinned soups and the like, make your own in bulk and freeze in portions.