meal planningFor food allergic families where convenient food choices are limited, meal planning is a necessity.  Without the proper organization, however, your meal planning can become overwhelming and time consuming, especially if you are new to food allergies and not as familiar with the foods that are safe for your family to eat.

Thankfully in the modern age of technology, there are a lot of tools from software and apps, to spreadsheets, calendars, or planners to help you stay organized.   Whether you choose to take advantage of any of these tools or just stick to old fashioned pen and paper, remember these 10 simple steps to help save you the most time and money on the food your family eats everyday:

1. Check Inventory

If you are using an app or software system, this step may already be done for you.  But if not, go ahead and look in your fridge and pantry to find out what you already have.  Make a special note of perishable items that need to be used sooner than later, as you’ll want to make sure you plan to use these items first.

2. Check Sales

Take a look at the current sales going on at the stores you like to shop, and make note of food items you can use (especially fresh produce) that is on sale for a great price.  For great deals on non-perishable items, plan to stock up.

3. Brainstorm Dinner Recipes

Next, considering the ingredients you found in steps 1 and 2, brainstorm as many meal ideas you can think of for family dinners (I try to plan at least 2 weeks at a time so I am only going to the store every other week at most).  Again, this is where a computer program or app can come in handy as it may already do the cross-referencing for you.  Remember to include foods from each food group that everyone in the family can eat and enjoy.

4. Make a List

Whether you are using an electronic meal planning system or a paper system, you should already have all of the ingredients you need for each meal.  This could be something as simple as a 3 X 5 index card with the name of the dish on the front and the ingredients listed on the back (be sure to include quantities for each ingredient).  With this system in place, you are prepared to simply flip over your cards and make one master grocery list of all of the ingredients you need for each meal.  Again, an electronic planning system can generate this list for you automatically.

5. Add Lunch & Breakfast Items

Add any items you will need for breakfast or lunches during the same time period that you planned your dinner menu.

6. Shorten Your List

Looking at your grocery list, look again at your pantry and fridge to determine what you already have and check or cross that off your list.  This is another step that an electronic planning system can do for you automatically.

7. Add Staples

Hopefully, you already have a convenient place where you can jot down notes of any staples you are getting low on as you notice the need.   This is the time to refer to that list and add any items found here to your master list.

8. Categorize by Store

Once your list is complete, go ahead and divide it up based on what store you plan to purchase it at.  This is an essential step for food allergic families that often use specific brands for some items and different brands for others.  Remember to include online shopping resources here as well!

9. Shop, Shop, Shop!

Plan a large enough block of time to do all your shopping at once.  Lumping grocery store trips together not only saves time, but you’ll spend less money on gas as well.

10. Update Inventory

Remember to plan time to organize and put away your groceries when you get home from shopping and make note of what you have and when you plan to use it.  If you are using an electronic planning system, be sure to record what you ended up bringing home so your planning system will know what you have in stock and remind you when to use it!

Meal Planning may feel like a lot of work all at once, but as you implement these steps your daily life will feel more convenient and you’ll make a lot less trips to the grocery store, which means you’ll spend less money too!

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