How to Cook for Specialized Diets on a Budget

Between food allergies, gluten or lactose intolerance, and the popularity of specialized eating methods such as Paleo, chances are there is at least one person in your family who has special food needs. It can be challenging to cook around food restrictions while still making foods everyone in your family likes to eat. It’s even more of a challenge to do it on a tight budget as certain substitution ingredients can be costly.
However, with a little forward planning and creativity, you can plan and cook meals that work within your family’s dietary guidelines while sticking to your grocery budget. It can take some time to learn which substitutions work well and which are simply not worth the cost. However, once you do a little research, it’s much easier to plan meals and grocery lists that meet both your food and budgetary requirements.

food allergies
Gluten-Free Cooking
Gluten intolerance is one of the most common food issues today and as such many people are trying to eat a gluten-free diet. This can be a challenge, especially when buying pre-made food as so many products have gluten in them. However, you can find ideas and inspiration easily on the internet. With the popularity of food blogs and recipe sites, you can find many people with ideas for eating gluten-free on a budget.
Along with finding lots of affordable gluten-free recipes, it’s also helpful to think through some types of substitution options when it comes to your cooking and meal planning. For example, some gluten-free recipes call for expensive substitutes for wheat flour. In many cases, the alternative flours don’t behave the same way and the altered recipe just doesn’t taste good. For the most part, it’s better to just choose a different recipe than spend money on substitute flours.
Paleo Diets
The Paleo diet is another popular trend. It involves eating a diet that is primarily meat based, with little to no starches or dairy products. This can be expensive, especially when you are buying meat that is organic, grass-fed and cage-free. However, there are a few tricks to keeping the budget on track even when you are shopping for and cooking Paleo recipes. One thing to remember is that if your budget (or other family members) absolutely require starches, you can switch from white bread and processed foods to healthier rice or potatoes.
It’s also helpful to prioritize your grocery purchases to spend extra on the high-quality ingredients that matter to you. If you really care about grass-fed beef, but not so much about cage-free eggs, then put more of your budget toward the beef and buy less-expensive conventional eggs. Other common budget advice still works with Paleo diets as well, such as: choose seasonal produce, cook from scratch when possible and limit speciality ingredients.
Vegetarianism and Veganism
While vegetarian diets have been popular for years, vegan diets are gaining ground as well. Vegans are a step further than vegetarians, as they don’t eat any animal products or byproducts. This can be a challenge, as recipes need to be modified to include non-animal fats and substitutes for eggs. It can be even more challenging when shopping for any pre-made items. Animal fats and eggs are nearly universal in pre-made food. However, as more and more people embrace veganism, companies are working to provide foods that fit the requirements.
Hampton Creek is one of the most vegan-friendly food production companies, and their products are affordable as well. They’ve developed an egg substitute from pea protein that behaves similarly to eggs even in challenging recipes such as mayo. Their egg-free, vegan Just Mayo is delicious and available in several flavors. Additionally, it’s priced comparably to traditional brands. The company is also releasing new egg-free products such as baking mixes, cookie dough, and salad dressings.
Cooking for specialized diets can be challenging, especially when you are trying to stick to a tight food budget. However, you can find help and inspiration by doing some research and following blogs or websites of other people with the same dietary restrictions. In general, it’s less expensive to just forego certain recipes that contain wheat flour rather than buy substitute ingredients such as specialized flours. It’s also wise to prioritize your food purchases and spend more on products that really matter to you.
You can also adapt traditional grocery budget tips to work with specialized diets. Cooking from scratch, shopping season produce and buying in bulk are all good ideas that work for specialized diets too. For vegetarians and vegans, some companies are committed to making vegan products that are comparable in price to traditional non-vegan options.

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  1. Thank you Traci!

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