If you're eating with food allergies, you know that it requires more cooking and baking from scratch. Planning allergy free meals ahead of time can really minimize stress and maximize your grocery dollars.
Are you ready to answer that age old question, "What's for dinner?"
A well planned meal is well balanced and provides a variety of foods in order to get a variety of nutrients. A good guide for planning balanced meals is MyPlate, the latest nutrition guide from the USDA (it replaced MyPyramid).
As you can see, MyPlate has several different sections. Each one represents the different food groups that should be incorporated into your meals. They are:
Some main dishes can combine many or all of these components into one dish. For example, in chili made with ground beef or turkey, the meat counts as the protein, the beans and tomatoes can both count as vegetables (beans are considered a protein AND a vegetable). If you add gluten free cornbread, that is your grain. Add a glass of fortified milk (dairy group) and some baked apples for dessert (fruit group) and you've covered all of the sections of MyPlate!
Not all meals are going to have a fruit or a vegetable. Many people don't have vegetables at breakfast and often don't have a fruit with dinner. However, at breakfast, you could easily have two fruits (for example, dried fruit in your oatmeal and a glass of orange juice). And at dinner, you could easily have two servings of vegetables (a baked potato topped with broccoli). What matters is that, over the course of the day, you're getting a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal.
To read more about what foods are in each group, serving sizes and recipe ideas, go to choosemyplate.gov.
Here are some more things to consider when planning allergy free meals
When planning your meals, consider the colors of the main dish and side dishes and try to vary them. This not only makes a meal more appealing but it also helps you to get a good balance of nutrients. Similar colors of fruits and vegetables, for example, often contain similar nutrients. For example, take a white plate, add a grilled chicken breast, mashed potatoes and a side of cauliflower and you have a meal that blends right into the plate. Compare that to a plate with a grilled chicken breast, green beans and baked sweet potato fries - which one would you rather eat based on appearance?
When you're planning allergy free meals for the coming week, consider a couple of meals that are made with some of the same ingredients. For instance, if you plan to have spaghetti with meat sauce on Monday and a casserole that calls for ground beef on Wednesday, you can brown 2 pounds of hamburger all at once and reserve half of it for your casserole on Wednesday. This goes for chopping veggies, too. You can freeze these "pre-prepped" ingredients if you won't be using them right away, too.
You can also save some time by making double batches of a meal. I do this with spaghetti sauce all of the time. I make double the amount that I need and then freeze half of it for another meal in a couple of weeks. When I'm in a rush to make dinner and don't have a plan, I am always thankful for that frozen container of spaghetti sauce in the freezer!
Watch for Savings
Before you plan your week of meals, take out the grocery store circular and see what's on sale. This could serve as inspiration to help you come up with meals and can save you money, too.
If you are a coupon clipper, take out your coupons when you're planning and see if you can use any of them for the meals you're planning on having. Food allergies can make eating more expensive so save money wherever you can!
Get Ready to Shop
Now that you've planned your meals and gathered your coupons, it's time to make your grocery list. Try to list what you'll need in the order that you'd find it in the store. For instance, write down all produce first, then meat, then specialty foods, then frozen foods, then canned foods, etc. This will just save you time when you're at the store.
When you're making your list, go through the meals that you have planned and write down everything that you don't already have to make those meals. Don't forget spices, oils, condiments, etc. and keep in mind amounts or sizes of ingredients that you'll need, too. Be specific if you must. For instance, if you're trying a new recipe and your list says "mushrooms" you might need to specify what type of mushrooms or, if using canned, the size of can required.
Take short-cuts wherever you can. If you're making stir fry one night, look for pre-packaged stir fry veggies (if it comes with a sauce packet, be sure it is "safe" for you and your family). Use pre-minced garlic and other pre-chopped produce. Packaged herb blends and sauce mixes can add a lot of flavor to your meal and be a big time saver.