Can you still shop frugally when you are buying food for specialized diets? Yes! I do it every week.
My dear hubby has several food allergies, mainly to egg, dairy, and nuts, though there are some random ones thrown in (like certain raw fruits and veggies)! Therefore, this definitely means that I cannot stock up on all the deals and I spend more time reading labels than the average shopper, but I often can use the savings I generate from couponing to purchase more expensive, allergy-free items for less or free.
What are some other ways the food-allergy household can save money?
Focus on Substitutes.
I try to keep our home peanut-free, as this is my husband's most serious allergy. What does this mean? No peanut butter. What a sacrifice of love! However, I have become quite smitten to almond butter (almond is the one tree nut that he can have), though this is usually about 2-3x more expensive. I also buy rice milk as a milk substitute in recipes; margarine as a substitute to butter; applesauce as a substitute for egg. As I find suitable substitutes, I've enjoyed introducing my hubby to "new" foods over our three years of marriage, like my personal favorite, chocolate chip cookies! I've often utilized Kelly Rudnicki's valuable blog, Food Allergy Mama, which offers many excellent, baking recipes. Once in awhile I do crave a slice of pizza, but for the most part, we eat some delicious foods, even without the cheese.
Cook from Scratch.
Not only is cooking from scratch healthier and more budget-friendly in general, it also prevents allergens from accidentally mixing into my recipes. For example, I've recently stocked up on nearly free Nature Valley granola bars, which my hubby can technically have. They're healthy and we both enjoy them, yet still, there is the foreboding warning on the package that the bars may contain peanut and other nut ingredients. I have a private conundrum every time my husband eats one, and I quickly recall in my mind where the Epi-Pen is located. Though cooking from scratch can take longer than prepackaged meals, for my family, the health benefits are worth the time (and my sanity).
Use Your Resources and Be Aware of Food Allergies.
The Internet now provides many free resources for households with food allergies. Money Saving Mom just featured an interesting guest post, "Buying Special Diet Foods on a Budget" from the blog, When Food is Dangerous, which specifically highlights the gluten-free diet. Fortunately, there has also been more awareness raised about the danger of certain highly allergenic foods in public places. Kelly Rudnicki is a huge advocate for food allergy awareness, especially in her son's school and classroom. Personally, I still cannot fathom that airlines serve peanuts to passengers, while flying 30,000 feet in the air, and it makes me quite nervous when we fly home to family and the person next to my hubby is eating a bag of peanuts. Dairy or egg exposure is far less life threatening than peanut and tree nut exposure. But, alas, my hubby is very calm and laid back, and I try to be, too (Matthew 6:27). I also can boast that we have some pretty great friends, and my husband and I are so grateful when they try to provide allergy-free foods for us! The effort means a lot.
So you may hear me talk about allergy-free shopping and cooking from time-to-time, as this is a main aspect of our frugal lifestyle. Thankfully, as I've introduced our baby girl to yogurt, cheese, egg yolk, almond butter, and some other potentially allergenic foods, she has not shown any sign of food allergy so far. I have still not introduced her to peanuts, as I'm a little more wary of them... I may just wait until we are sitting in front of the pediatrician's office.