How to Grocery Shop and Cook After a Food Allergy Diagnosis

June 20, 2020

“Just don’t eat eggs.”

“Avoid peanuts.”

“Look for dairy-free products.”

Remember when your healthcare provider shared these statements with you? It sounded simple, right? But now you are home and ready to go to the grocery store, and even though you’ve been cooking for your entire adult life, it feels like you’ve been asked to spin straw into gold, Rumpelstiltskin style.

We get it. Changing your whole diet basically overnight is a lot, and allergens can hide in the places you least expect. 

Breathe. It’s going to be OK. In a few short months, this will be your new normal, and you’ll be a pro at this allergy diet thing. And in the meantime, we’re here to help. We checked in with several people who either have food allergies or cook for someone who does and asked them for insider advice.

10 Tips for Navigating the Grocery Store and Cooking After an Allergy Diagnosis

1. Ask your healthcare provider if you should see a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). In the case of multiple food allergies, an RDN can provide you with good advice when it comes to meal prep and foods to look for at the store. Some RDNs will even provide you with allergy-friendly recipes.

2. Learn how to read ingredient labels. Read them at the store. Double check them when you get home and again before you eat the food. Remember that labels and products can change without notice. Never assume that a product is safe now just because it was the last time you bought it. 

3. Go to the grocery store when you are not rushed for time and when you aren’t hungry. If you have small children, try to plan your first visit without them there. Google or ask your friends and neighbors when they’ve found local stores to be less busy. This will give you time to read labels and really explore what new products might be safe for you. 

4. Grocery delivery services can be very convenient, but you should be aware of the additional challenges they bring when shopping with food allergies. Nutrition labels are not always available on the delivery websites, and sometimes these services will substitute similar products that may not be safe for you. It’s helpful to know that many manufacturers post nutritional content online on their websites. Most delivery services will also let you select which products you will or will not allow substitutions for.

5. This may surprise you, but food manufacturers are willing to answer your questions! Many allergy families gain peace of mind from directly contacting companies and finding out more about their manufacturing processes. By calling or emailing, you can get additional clarification around a company’s allergen protocols and determine which products are manufactured in a particular facility.

6. Make meals at home with ingredients you know you are not allergic to. Reworking your whole meal plan at once can be overwhelming. It’s OK to start slow. Once you have a few reliable go-to meals, you can slowly experiment with new allergy-friendly recipes or meals you want to try. 

7. Unprocessed foods are your friend. They are less likely to include fillers and chemicals that might have hidden allergens, and they are usually better for you, too. This whole allergy diet thing might just make you healthier. 

8. Vet “allergy-safe” recipes. Be aware of common misconceptions around allergy-friendly recipes. Just because something is wheat-free doesn’t mean that it’s also gluten-free.  Similarly, a lactose-free recipe doesn’t mean dairy-free. Investigate exactly what these terms mean according to your country’s specific labeling requirements.

9. Consider using apps such as Spokin to learn about new allergy-friendly brands that might work with your own personal diet restrictions.

10. Give yourself room to breathe and mourn. People may say, “It’s just food,” but we understand that it’s more than that. It’s OK to be sad. Stand in the middle of your grocery store and cry. We get it, and we’ve been there. It will get better. We promise. 

The New (Allergy-Free) Normal

Pretty soon you’ll have a new grocery shopping routine. You’ll find new products you love. You’ll appreciate some safe foods even more than you did before. You’ll gain a greater respect for some brands—and their commitment for keeping you safe. You’ll make new food traditions that you and your family can feel good about. In the meantime, we’re here sending you virtual hugs. Hang in there. You’ve got this.