Managing your kids’ food allergies can be a daunting task. Reading labels, monitoring snacks and treats from other people, and dealing with children’s desire to eat what “everyone else” is eating, can also be exhausting. Preparing foods at home can lessen many stressors for parents, including the dreaded question, “what’s in that?” But it can also create new stress; finding additional time in busy schedules to shop for and prepare allergy friendly meals. Developing a strategy can make tackling the task of meal planning and preparation easier.
1. Break Your Plan Into Bite Sized Chunks
When beginning, don’t try to do everything at once, it could be overwhelming. Instead, divide the project into smaller more doable tasks. Start by creating a simple weekly calendar that lists generalized meal types, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack, by day. Then add to each meal type, various dish types, such as main dishes, sides, sauces, soups, desserts and extras. On your calendar, designate a weekly day for shopping, food prep, special meal days and other necessary tasks. These designations can be on a single day or divided throughout the week in a manner that best fits your schedule. Your calendar can be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly; whatever works best for you and your family. Don’t worry about completing the specifics just yet. This generic calendar will serve as a blueprint for your new plan.
2. Focus on the Haves, Rather Than Have Nots
As you compile a list of foods to include in your meal plan, try to focus on what your child can eat rather than what he or she can’t eat. Managing children’s food allergies can become an exercise in denial, with kids continually reminded that they can’t have this and can’t eat that. Food prohibitions potentially create negativity for children surrounding their allergy. Try to find ways to make new meals a positive experience for your child; an opportunity to explore the many delights and surprises food items and combinations can create for their taste buds.
3. Create a Food and Recipe Binder
Review cookbooks, cooking websites that include recipes for allergen free food options, and recipes from friends and family ahead of time. It saves time and energy and allows for minor adjustments before it’s time to cook. Don’t forget to investigate all ingredients to ensure there are no hidden allergens. Do the same with favorite recipes to confirm no allergens are in the ingredients, or make minor adjustments. Create a binder of allergy friendly foods and recipes organized by meal type, and foods arranged by dish type, so they are handy.
4. Make a Menu
Create a weekly or bi-weekly menu infused with foods and recipes from your binder. Take one food from each dish type, and plug them into your calendar blueprint by meal type. In no time, you will have mapped out several weeks’ of allergy free meals for your kids.
5. Shop for Your Calendar
Shop at the beginning of your calendar, it can save time and allows you to get everything you need for the entire week, or two, all at once. Shop for some foods items like cereals and processed food in bulk. However, fresh produce should be purchased no more than a week or two in advance.
6. Food Prep Once a Week
Pick a day when your schedule allows, for weekly food prep. On that day, chop, slice, blend, and mix anything that needs to be chopped, sliced, blended or mixed. As a time saver, it might be a good idea to prep directly after shopping so that food items are ready for cooking before they are stored. When it’s time to make the meal, you need only cook.
7. Involve Kids in Food Prep and Cooking
Get your kids’ buy-in for new foods by involving him or her in food preparation and cooking. Kids are more likely to take ownership of their creations and eat foods they helped prepare. Children often enjoy being with their parents and learning how to do what parents do. Involving kids in cooking is a perfect opportunity for them to learn about food, nutrition, their allergies, and how to make meals they enjoy.
8. Make One Night “New Meal” Night
Reserve a day for new meals or recipes. Make it fun and interesting for kids by naming the day and making it a big deal. Try names like Mystery Mondays, Fresh Fridays or Try it Out Tuesdays. Cover plates for a big reveal at the dinner table. Ask your children what they liked or didn’t like about the meal and adjustments, if necessary, to make it even more enjoyable.