Making time for meal planning can be a challenge for every busy parent. First, you have to take the time to plan what you’ll eat, when you’ll eat it, and then you actually have to get to the store to buy the ingredients that will turn those plans into reality. Throw in a food allergy and a picky eater or two, and meal planning can easily be upgraded from “challenging” to just plain “complicated!”
As a Together Counts ™ program ambassador, I’m always thinking about making mealtime a great experience for my family. But because three out of my five family members have food allergies (to gluten, oats or MSG), I have to plan very carefully to make dinners that all of us can safely eat and enjoy. Time, experience and a couple of mild mishaps have helped me develop a few tips to make meal planning with family restrictions a little simpler.
This may seem overly-simple, but it’s key! One of my best strategies is to take stock of what’s in the freezer and the pantry on Saturday afternoon. When I do that, I at least have a mental meal plan to start the week with – even if I don’t get around to writing it down until Monday.
Use a Formula
You know what your family likes and what they can eat, so develop a simple “formula” of sorts for your family meals. The formula that works really well for us is “Meat + vegetable + gluten-free grain = dinner.” It might be pork tenderloin with carrots and celery with a side of brown rice or beef roast with salad and quinoa, but it all follows the same pattern. Sure, once in awhile we go crazy with a tasty soup or some gluten-free pasta and marinara sauce, but in general sticking to the formula saves me a lot of time.
Have a Fail-Safe Meal Ready
Let’s face it, even the most carefully planned menus fall apart sometimes. Whether you forget to start the slow cooker or get a flat tire on the way home from work, every once in awhile you need to pass on the plan and just make dinner – NOW! A good strategy is to always keep ingredients on hand in the freezer and pantry for a “go to” family-favorite meal that you can make quickly. In our family, it’s a mild meatless chili made of diced tomatoes, corn, chili beans, and kidney beans. I always have the ingredients in the pantry for when we need an allergy-friendly meal fast.
These guidelines keep my family dinner plans flowing pretty smoothly from week to week. How do you plan dinners for your family if there are diet restrictions?
For more Mealtime Planning tips, check out these Together Counts resources:
Jenny Rapson is a writer and social media project manager who lives in southwest Ohio with her husband of thirteen years and their three great kiddos. When she’s not cutting up grapes for her toddler or serving as referee for her school-agers, she co-authors the funniest parenting and lifestyle blog ever (written by first cousins, that is) over at Mommin’ It Up with her cousin Emily Berry.