The first time that my daughter had dairy-based infant formula, we ended up in the emergency room.
Following skin and blood testing, a pediatric allergist diagnosed my five-month-old baby with peanut, tree nut, egg, dairy and sesame allergies. At that point, my husband and I had no previous experience with food allergies or specialty diets. We can’t explain it, but our second child, born two years later, has no food allergies.
Once our daughter was eating solids, I quickly realized just how expensive her diet was going to be. We spend almost $4 for half a gallon of soy milk, and because we were so paranoid about accidentally mixing up our kids’ sippy cups, both of them only drink soy milk. After my daughter finally outgrew her dairy allergy last year, I tried to switch them to cow’s milk, which is half the price. But they don’t like the taste of it now—and won’t touch it.
The longer the list of allergies, the harder it is to find healthy and safe ways to feed your food-allergic child. Luckily, my daughter has also outgrown her sesame and egg allergies. But we still spend a chunk of money on everything from granola bars to pasta labeled “peanut- and tree nut-free.”
And those products aren’t the end of it. Every year, I buy $100 prescription EpiPens and $30 of Benadryl for my home, purse and daughter’s school. While I could have returned to an office job after my stint as a stay-at-home mom, I decided to do freelance work, in part so that I’m always available in case of an emergency, and so that I never have to worry about safe after-school care. I’m also clocking extra hours as a volunteer parent, so I can help plan parties and chaperone field trips where accidental exposure may occur.
My family’s situation is not unique. Nearly 8% of children in the United States live with food allergies—or 6 million kids. And a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics estimates the overall cost of food allergies to clock in at around $24.8 billion annually. That’s $4,184 per food-allergic child. To put that in perspective, raising a kid with food allergies increases your annual costs by about 30%.
It’s clear that childhood food allergies are taking a toll on families across the country, but there are some smart ways that you can keep costs down.