Meal Planning 101: How Food Allergy Moms Can Save a Weekend of Time Every Year
Back before I had kids I would cook for fun. I’d watch shows on Food Network and soak in every detail. I’d find ways to create lovely dinner parties with friends and enjoy making elaborate meals. These days, I don’t even come close to cooking elaborate anything. It’s more of a mixture of simple pastas (PN, TN & GF of course) and tacos.
If you’re searching for recipes on Pinterest or Google, you’ll see the posts and headlines everywhere “365 dinner recipes roundup” or “100 allergy-friendly family recipes”. I get as enthralled with these titles as the next food allergy mom because I often feel like finding new meals that my kids will eat is the answer. I’ll catch myself thinking things like:
“If I could just find some new, safe foods our family meal times would be so much more interesting and the kids would gobble it up.”
“Maybe if I find a new recipe, the kids would actually eat the food which will make me feel inspired to cook again.”
“Maybe if I felt inspired, I would enjoy my time in the kitchen more.”
Unfortunately, even though finding a new recipe or two might offer that short-term inspiration and excitement, things never seem to last long. Which means I’m at the computer the next weekend once again, searching for that elusive new recipe.
Have you ever thought about the time it takes to find new recipes? Based on a poll I did in the Friendly Pantry Food Allergy Community, many food allergy moms spend about 1-2 hours/month looking for new, safe food for their family.
At first glance that doesn’t sound like very much, right? But if we take 1.5 hours per month and multiply it by 12 months we get 18 hours per year. That’s more than a FULL weekend working 9 hour days! A whole weekend! I mean, what could we all do with another weekend in our lives? Think of all that extra time for a family weekend trip, or games night or maybe just time to binge watch This Is Us!
Not only does finding safe recipes take time, but it can also create a lot of frustration and discouragement. I mean what happens when you’re searching for the elusive perfect recipe?
You get frustrated because that picture perfect meal you see on the Pinterest image is full of your kiddo’s allergens.
You get overwhelmed because the ONE meal you find that your family can eat has a list of ingredients and cooking steps a mile long.
You get discouraged because every safe recipe you find is filled with foods you know your kids won’t eat.
So have you ever wanted to get off the “new recipe” hamster wheel? Have you ever wondered if it’s possible?
How To Depend On Food Allergy Recipes Less
I’m here to say that it’s possible to depend on recipes less! Of course, to start off, you’ll need a base of good recipes, but with the right direction and strategy, you can get away with only 40 recipes for a WHOLE year (not 200 or even 100). How does this work??
NOTE: If you’re freaking out about finding EVEN 40 recipes, hang tight with me. Keep reading. Finding 40 safe recipes that cater to your food allergy family is doable! But, it needs to be broken down and done in stages. First lets look at how to cut recipes down to only 40.
What is Smart Food Allergy Meal Planning?
You can get off the recipe wheel and still make your life easier simply by systematizing your meal planning. First of all, meal planning is not only picking recipes for the week, writing them down and then shopping for them. Planning meals this way by not including them in a whole system was actually a myth I used to believe; but it was actually making my life harder (read about that here). This is because meal planning week-by-week ends up wasting A LOT of precious time because there isn’t a system or plan to re-use all that hard work.
A successful meal plan will help you save time by grouping and reusing your recipes. This means creating specific groups of recipes and then strategically reusing them. A good meal plan also allows for a bit of flexibility to create your own recipes if you want, too.
How REcipe Grouping Can Save Time: Food Allergy Meal Planning 101
You might be wondering HOW to group your recipes so they can be reused strategically and save you time and effort. Here are the four main groups I use.
Pantry Panic: Find or create 2-3 recipes that are right out of your pantry. Nothing is required from the grocery store. I like to call these my “Pantry Panic” recipes. Everything I need for them is something I always have in my pantry. I use them to bail me out of thinking what’s for dinner at least once per week.
Freezer Frenzy: These are meals I bulk batch and pre-make about 2 times per year. I use them every week on those days I don’t have time to cook.
Convenience Meal: Meals that are pre-made and allergy-friendly. They usually come from the freezer, but might be from the pantry too. An example might be frozen french fries with chicken strips. They may not be the healthiest meals, but they will do in a pinch (and you can always add a veggie that needs using up from the fridge). They’re usually more expensive because they’re pre-made and allergy-friendly; but I recommend having at least one of them ready to go for those days you just can’t cook (or don’t want to).
Regular rotation: These are the recipes you need to research, but by re-using them over and over, and mixing them with the recipe groups above and the technique below, the family doesn’t get sick of them. Sure you’re welcome to find new ones every once and awhile, but this can be done with a quick recipe search every few months instead of EVERY week.
I use at least one Freezer Frenzy and one Pantry Panic recipe every week. I’ll use them on the nights when we’re super busy with no time to prepare a meal. Because they’re being rotated between weeks it will be at least 2 weeks since the last time we had that recipe so we don’t get sick of them.
That leaves three weeknights and 2 weekend nights to cook for every week. I usually leave one night open in case we go to friend’s or family’s or go out. Then we’ll usually have one convenience meal or leftovers for the other night.
The Results Of smart meal planning
In short, we’re adding VARIETY to our meals while saving time and not having to FIND so many safe meals that everyone will eat.
Let’s look at it a bit deeper…
How does systematizing and grouping affect the recipe count we need? If we repeat twelve weeks of recipes during the entire school year (think Sept - May would be repeating 12 weeks, 3 times. Summer would be a different plan from June -Aug). Three recipes/week for 12 weeks is 36 recipes plus the 2 Pantry Panic and 2 Freezer Frenzy recipes. That means we need only 40 recipe total for the bulk of the year.
We can always add summer recipes to change it up, or we can continue with the same rotation. Either way, I recommend starting just with ONE set of recipes right now. The key is to stay motivated and not get overwhelmed.
By using these four recipe groups (Pantry Panic, Freezer Frenzy, Convenience Meal and Regular Rotation) I reuse the SAME recipes throughout the school year (but only 3 times, and max 4 if I use that same rotation during the summer), and they take away the need for new recipes. By grouping and strategically re-using the recipes we are creating the allusion of variety. And don’t forget about the money saving benefits too!
Creating Your Own Food Allergy Recipes for Cooking Inspiration
Now that we have how many recipes we need and what groups they’ll go into, we can start to become more creative and make meals that appeal to your family and your sense of creativity. How? By using a basic recipe formula and using items you have in your pantry, or items that inspire you at the grocery store.
Like everything that’s worth doing, this takes a little work up front, but once you learn some basic cooking techniques you can add variety and make cooking exciting again. Read this post for more details about how to do this.
Creating meals yourself is actually super inspiring and can make cooking really fun. And you don’t need to be a chef (OR have a recipe) to do it! You just need some basic cooking techniques and skills. Trust me, I was at the point of severe cooking burnout when I started cooking like this and it changed my life! I went from bored and uninspired to excited and ready to take dinnertime by storm!
Lastly, for those mamas stressing about finding 40 safe recipes for your “Regular Rotation” meals, I didn’t forget about you! As I mentioned before, this CAN be done. But by no means should you do it all at once!
Start with what you have first. But don’t just keep the ideas in your head. Make sure to write DOWN all your recipes and where you find them (book, internet link, etc.) so you can make sure you don’t forget a single one. Keep it in a safe place. You can create a binder to hold everything in one place, or do it in your favourite software. Whatever works. In the beginning, do this ONE week at a time to keep it manageable.
So here’s the truth, mama. Finding the perfect recipe isn’t what’s holding you back from more dinnertime variety with less cooking time and stress. What’s holding you back is not taking the small amount of time to PLAN how you’ll use the recipes you ALREADY have. The secret is in grouping the recipes and strategically re-using every one of them. Doing this will not only increase your meal variety, but it will especially decrease your food allergy cooking stress.
So, what are you going to do about it? Are you ready to get off the time-consuming recipe search hamster wheel by systematizing and grouping your recipes? Let me know in the comments!