Tips For Grocery Shopping With Food Allergies During COVID-19

When it comes to grocery shopping with food allergies, there’s a certain amount of food fear that comes with the territory. The worry around checking labels (did I miss something?!), the added expense when purchasing specialty foods (why are my nut-free chocolate chips $7?!), and the parental anxiety of making sure your kids are readily equipped with safe snacks (there’s a birthday party AND soccer game this weekend?!)

If you’ve followed Allergy Amulet for a while, you know that I have a daughter who is allergic to peanuts and all tree nuts (except almonds). I’ve talked about my girl in a few of our previous blogs: Dear Mother, Dear Daughter, What to Expect When You’re Expecting… An Oral Food Challenge, and Oral Immunotherapy—Three Years Later. Grocery shopping and label reading are often a challenge, and when you add COVID-19 into the mix, it can get even stickier. 

I’m not sure about you, but with COVID-19, we’ve started to primarily grocery shop online and either have groceries delivered to our house or ready for pick-up at the store. Two of our four family members also have asthma, so we’re trying to mitigate risk as much as we can. HOWEVER, grocery shopping online can be a challenge when you’re dealing with food allergies. Some stores may not have your preferred brands, while others may show only part of a food label. These are both challenges we’ve encountered. 

With this in mind, I’ve developed a quick list of tips for grocery shopping with food allergies during COVID-19. 

1.     Review how extensive a store’s online imagery is for items

If you’re grocery shopping online, some stores include an image of the ingredients list, and some don’t. Try to stick with stores that clearly display the ingredients so you don’t wind up with food that won’t work for your family. 

2.     Make sure you can select your own replacement items

The reality today is that a lot of grocery store inventory has been wiped out (ahem, toilet paper), so you may not get your first choice for each item right now. If you’re using a service where someone shops for you, make sure you have the option to pick the exact replacement item you’d like if your selection is not available (or the option to choose if you even want it replaced). 

3.     Take advantage of special store hours

If you’re planning to shop in store, many stores are starting to provide special shopping hours for certain populations of people. This may include those that are sick, elderly, or have special dietary needs. For example, my father is in his 60s, and his local store is offering special shopping hours for people over 60 from 6-7:30 am. Check with your local store to see if you can take advantage of these special shopping hours if you manage food allergies or asthma. 

4.     Use social media to your advantage

I’ll be the first to admit, social media and the digital age can sometimes feel more like a burden than a blessing. But in times like these, it can be so helpful! Is there a certain type of milk that’s safe for your child but you can’t find it? Tell your friends and family to be on the lookout at their stores in case someone else sees it and can grab one (or three 😉) for you.

5.     Plan your grocery list in advance

Make your shopping list ahead of time and proceed with intention. That way, if you’re shopping in a store you can get in and out efficiently, and if you’re shopping online, you won’t spend your whole evening trying to shop every aisle digitally. It can be a rabbit hole, speaking from personal experience. 👎

6.     Be prepared before entering the grocery store

It’s not a bad idea to come armed with disinfectant wipes and/or hand sanitizer. The goal is to keep yourself and your community safe. Importantly, according to the CDC, washing your hands can be as effective—if not more effective—than hand sanitizer. 

7.     Get a second set of eyes on your groceries

This is something my husband and I started doing many years ago when our daughter was little and her peanut allergy was incredibly severe. One of us would do the shopping, and the other would check all the labels at home as we unloaded them. If you’re purchasing items that aren’t your usual go-to’s, this is a great practice to start.

8.     Be kind to yourself in the kitchen

I love to cook. Now that we’re all in quarantine mode, it’s motivated me to cook great meals more regularly for my family. That said, since I can’t easily pop by the store for forgotten ingredients, I also have to give myself a pass and be realistic that we’re going to have simpler meals more often—which can be fun too! For example, we’ve started “snack feast” night, where we pull all the healthy snack-like items out of our refrigerator and put them on a giant cutting board, and that’s dinner!

Armed with these tips (and the street smarts we all already possess from managing food allergies) I’m confident we’ll all come out of this on the other side stronger and wiser than before. And hopefully, well fed too. 😋

– Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team

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