I do meal planning without the thrills and frills. I don’t use any fancy planner, journal, or printable to make out my weekly meal plan. The only thing I do, to feed myself and 2 growing boys, and save money is take out a piece of paper, a pen, and get to work planning our meals. . I’ve found that when you keep planning simple, especially as an allergy parent, you cut down on that feeling of being overwhelmed and the feeling dread that comes with planning meals for a limited diet. Keeping things simple for me, means I have more time in my day to get things done, enjoy being with my kids and taking time for me, without having to think about meals or going to the grocery store.
Meal planning is simple (if you make it simple) and doesn’t take up a lot of thought process and time, if you do it the way I show you. Below, you will find how I meal plan, how I cut down on food expenses, food waste, and save my sanity all at the same time. <this post will contain affiliate links>
- Pick a day and time to devote to meal planning.
I devote 20-30 minutes Saturday mornings to meal plan as I enjoy my first cup of coffee (and yes, there are plenty more cups of coffee to be enjoyed on Saturday). As I plan, I think to myself, “What sounds good to eat?” Then I ask my boys what they would like to eat for school lunches and dinner. Now I will say this, my boys give me their ideas and sometimes those ideas are fit for royalty and should only be eaten by kings! When they boys give me their extraordinary meal ideas/lunch ideas, I just look at them, in amazement, and ask, “Your Majesty, will you eat all of that?” I get a few chuckles or no response at all, because apparently, they were being serious… my bad! With their more realistic ideas and my ideas, I come up with meal ideas to compile into a list, which better helps me navigate recipes I look for on Pinterest, in cookbooks, other blogs, and my weekly coupons. I also keep a binder of recipes that I have made or have found online
- Start with Breakfast (the most important meal of the day)
With brekkie being the most important meal of the day, I also find it’s the easiest to plan. Some allergy momma’s may not agree with that, but for me, my boys eat very simple during the school week mornings. They eat safe cereal, coconut milk, and a protein (sausage or bacon). They also have a choice of eggs/egg muffins, pancakes, or waffles, oatmeal, and grits, if they want. On the weekend, because we have more time, their choices are a little broader and more filling, but my boys, like most boys (whether they have allergies or not), choose cereal and enjoy eating it anytime of the day or week.
If breakfast is hard meal for you to plan, ask yourself this: “What does my child or myself like to eat for breakfast?” and “What can my child or myself have?” Never think about what can’t be had. When you think about what can’t be had, you will see that you aren’t as limited as you think.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to stick with traditional breakfasts either. Pizza, chicken nuggets, toast with dairy free cheese, or leftover dinner make for awesome breakfast options. Either way, keep breakfast simple and plan, plan, plan. Make a list of foods/meals that your family will enjoy eating for breakfast.
- Pack a lunch that’s simple
I find that school lunches are the hardest to figure out. My sons, due to allergies and pickiness do not eat a hot lunch at school, so I have to use some extra brain power (and drink an extra cup or two of coffee) to figure it out. My sons, God bless them, are a creature of habit and even though they will give me ideas of what they want for school lunches, they always seem to give me the same menu as the week before. So, I’m always digging around Pinterest for lunch ideas. What I do, do is make sure they have a protein, a carb, a fruit of some sort, and sweet treat (juice and antibacterial wipes are also put into their lunch bag). As long as I stick within those perimeters (protein, carb, fruit, sweet treat), they have a balanced lunch to eat. If you want to include cute little notes, tooth picks, lunch toys, or anything that will encourage your child to eat all of their food, then definitely feel free to be as creative as you can be.
4. Dinner (my personal favorite meal of the day)
I never ask anymore, “What do you want for dinner?” With my family, we all eat the same dinner. There might be a different carb, but we eat the same dinner (do you see where I’m going?). I’ve learned over the past 7 years that I stress less when we are eating the same thing. No more making 3 different meals because this one can’t have this or that one doesn’t like that. Momma’s (and daddy’s), please don’t do it to yourselves, get your family eating the same foods, especially dinner. You may need to play with different flavor profiles of foods, but once everyone is on the same page, you will be making one dinner’s that everyone will enjoy, night after night, no matter if they have a food allergy or not. Surf the web, buy cookbooks, and create your own recipes. Again, you will definitely stress less if you keep your meals simple.
5. Snacks, please don’t forget the snacks!
Ughh! Snacks! Are your kids, “snacky kids”? My kids are. I can’t say I love the snacking. Growing up we had 3 meals a day plus 1 snack, 2 if we were lucky. Now kids have 3 meals and 10 snacks. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but they do eat a lot of snacks. I usually buy the same snacks weekly, but I still make a list of the snacks they eat, due to taking the guess work out of my planning. Our snacks include, fruit, cereal, fruit snacks, turkey sticks, granola bars, tortilla corn chips (Late July makes some awesome tortilla chips that taste just like Doritos) homemade cookies, pre-packaged cookies (Home free is the way to go when you are avoiding T0p 8 allergies, plus some uncommon ones like rice and potato) and crackers. They eat these snacks at home and at school.
6. Batch Cook, when you can.
Freezer meals, pancakes, waffles, homemade breads, pizza crust, cookies, crackers, chicken nuggets, egg muffins, breakfast muffins, granola bars, etc. If you can make them in big batches, it saves money, and you will always have something to grab out of the freezer when you are running low on time or can’t figure out what to cook. I normally batch cook 1-2 times per month just depending on what we are running low on. My grain free/gluten free nuggets stay fully stocked in the freezer along with yuca fries. If you do decide to do some batch cooking, write down what it is you would like to have stocked in your freezer at all times and go from there. When I batch cook, I do my meal planning and grocery list earlier in the week and go grocery shopping before the weekend, so that I can devote 2-3 hours on the weekend to do nothing, but batch cook.
7. Get ready, get set, now GO to the grocery store!
Now that you have planned out all your meals, made your grocery list, checked your weekly flyers and coupons, you are ready to hit the stores.
Do you have a favorite store? I normally shop at a local café and market for my hard to find allergy friendly brands. I also shop at Wal-Mart and Publix. Publix has a lot of BOGO, plus you can use coupons on them. Wal-Mart has Savings Catcher (price matching app) and to date, I have gotten back $400+ for using Savings Catcher. I have used the money I received back towards more groceries and also Christmas presents. Another app, I love is ibotta. With ibotta, you get money back on items you purchase from grocery stores, online, restaurants, drug stores, etc. I have received $85+ to date and received my money back in gift cards, including Amazon, Regal Cinemas, and Starbucks. And let’s not forget Amazon. Amazon has great savings and with Prime, you can get what you need in 2 days (sometimes less).
….And that ladies and gentlemen is the way I meal plan and stay within my grocery budget. Remember to simplify your meals, ask for ideas, surf the web, and experiment in the kitchen with some of your own recipes. Keep in mind that you can make any recipe allergy free just by switching out the non-safe ingredients with your safe ingredients. There is tons of information on the web regarding substituting ingredients.
Let me know if these suggestions have helped you and your family better plan your meals and save money.
Happy Meal Planning! ~Lisa, Realistically Allergy Free
photo credit: anotherlunch.com <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/44176993@N03/8614512841″>Lock & Lock bento lunch with puzzle cheese and crackers, salami and grapes</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>