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There’s a lot of food I can’t eat. I’m a coeliac so that’s no gluten. I’m lactose intolerant so no dairy. And my most recent diagnosis is IBS so I’ve gone low FODMAP too. When you look at the list of foods that I can’t eat then you will start to wonder what I live on.
Here is how I have learnt to eat healthy, affordable food that not only I enjoy but the whole family too.
When you are first diagnosed with a diet-limiting condition you may find it very overwhelming. I remember receiving my coeliac disease diagnosis and having a little cry. All of the food I loved seemed to contain gluten and now I couldn’t eat them.
Luckily, the internet was there to save my day. I researched and researched and researched what I could and couldn’t eat. When going low FODMAP I took time to learn what exactly my body could tolerate. All this information allowed me to develop a clear picture of what was available on my menu.
With this information you can start to look around for the products you can eat that keep you healthy. This knowledge is absolute in key in keeping you healthy and keeping the costs to a minimum.
Stick the word “gluten free” on something and it is perfectly acceptable to charge ten times the price. My husband joked about this yesterday. I was able to order him five fancy, fresh loaves of bread for less than half of the price of a tiny loaf of gluten free bread.
This is the reason why I don’t eat much gluten free bread. There are so many foods to choose from in the world it is highly unlikely that one, two, three or even multiple food restrictions are going to mean that you can’t find foods that are naturally safe for you to eat.
For me, root vegetables are an absolute staple. Potatoes are naturally free from the things I can’t eat. And they are super versatile. AND super cheap! Parsnips, carrots, sweet potato, peppers, leafy greens, cucumber, courgette, aubergine are all cheap. I can tolerate these foods so I stock up on them.
With a little creativity you may find that you can substitute these foods into your meals rather than the expensive gluten/diary/wheat/other allergen free alternatives. For example rather buying gluten free spaghetti, I can use courgetti. A much healthier alternative!
Someone said this to me when I first had to restrict my diet, and I scoffed. I didn’t like the idea that I would have to cook up elaborate meals just to feed myself on a basic level. But that’s not what they meant.
My cooking skills are modest at best. But with them I have learnt to create so many recipes that I felt would previously have been off limits to me. Cooking in this respect is not about learning new things, but modifying old ones.
My confession is that I love KFC. I had my last KFC on 1st November 2014 (don’t ask me why I know this). A day or two later I discovered that I had coeliac disease and felt that deep fried chicken would be forever out of reach.
Well, it’s not! I now cook chicken that is as good as KFC, safe for me to eat and much much cheaper at home. I do this with a lot of meals. There is a fab book that tells you how to make food that tastes like takeaway food at home. I’ve used this and substituted with alternatives that I can eat to recreate my favourites.
Experimenting is key. You might have to eat a few questionable meals until you get it right. However, in the end you will most likely find that what you are eating is a) not making you ill, b) just as tasty as the original, c) possibly healthier and d) almost definitely cheaper.
This can be a bit of a balancing act. When the rest of your family are muggles (non-dietary requirement folk) you may feel reluctant to share your specialist foods with them. Particularly if those foods are quite expensive.
I don’t enjoy making multiple dishes for each meal just so that everyone has something different to eat. This is also very cost inefficient. Therefore, my aim is for everyone to eat the same as often as possible.
With the idea that we use as many natural safe, cheap foods as we can. I will cook these meals and we all eat the same. Even some specialist foods like gluten free pasta works out to be just as cost efficient for us all to eat it than having a separate pan cooking gluten pasta.
There are those products that are very special to me though. When I’ve paid £3 for a tiny chocolate cake, don’t be offended if I don’t share it with you. Go get your normal cake that is twice the size for 50p and eat that instead.
Do the maths and work out where sharing works and where it doesn’t.
If you are cooking some meals that are specifically for you or one person then cook those in batches and freeze. Bulk buying and then cooking is by far cheap that cooking small portions at each sitting.
Soup is a good example of this. It makes a great lunch for me when I’m trying to avoid expensive bread and everyone else is eating gluten-filled pastries. If I’m making it, I’ll make enough to last a few days.
I pop them in the freezer so that when I go back in a couple of weeks I have a selection of soups to choose from that are all safe for me to eat and quick to cook.
This works well with lasagnes, casseroles, meatballs, chilli, bolognese and loads more. Then if you are cooking the muggles a normal meal you can always turn to one of these to save the effort of cooking two meals. A definite money saver!
For some reason, that expensive special food always seems to find themselves getting yellow labelled. I think this is fabulous! And it is exactly the time when I stock up and freeze them.
One time I went into Sainsbury’s and their fresh, bakery gluten-free bread was all reduced. I got about six loaves that day for about 30p each. This is normal bread price. And it is good bread.
Products get reduced all the time. Whenever I have to pop into Tesco I take a look to see if any of these foods are reduced. I completely object to paying over-the-top prices because of my illness.
Many lines also go clearance. This is a shame because it normally means that a company has tried to bring a new product to the market and it hasn’t sold well. But you can take advantage of this again by catching a bargain before it goes forever.
Don’t think that because there are foods you now can’t eat that you have to buy specific versions of old favourites for them to be safe. This just isn’t true. Many foods that you were previously eating could well still be OK for you.
Mayonnaise is a classic example of this. I can eat mayonnaise. There’s nothing in it to make me ill. BUT you can get free from mayonnaise. This is much more expensive. The reason it exists is for those with egg allergies. I can save myself a fortune by carrying on buying normal mayonnaise.
Some companies go even further than this and push this too far. There is one particular brand who make ready-made cake mixes who produce different frostings too. Their normal frostings are mostly gluten free. However, they took this same frosting, put it in a new packet that had GLUTEN FREE written across it and charged twice as much. Cheeky!
When you first find out that you’ve got to drop something out of your diet there can be all sorts of emotions. But it is not the end of the world. Likelihood is that you will start to feel better soon. And as time goes on, you’ll find ways of having many of the foods you love again. Without breaking bank!
Want more ways to save money on food? Check out my meal planning series here.
Disclaimer: Remember the information you read here does not represent advice. Any ideas or suggestions are just that and may not work for you. Read the full disclaimer here.
Looking After Your Pennies is an eco-friendly personal finance blog written and managed by Charlotte Jessop.
I write on a variety of topics including frugal lifestyle, eco-friendly living, money making ideas and generally how to make your money go further.
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