How to Plan Food Allergy-Friendly Meals for the Whole Family
Planning menus for a child with food allergies can seem like a daunting task. Couple this with some children's natural fussiness, and many parents become overwhelmed.
If practical, we recommend that you try to prepare food for your entire family which is also safe for your food-allergic child. Although some of your family may balk at the change in diet, it is a lot of work to cook two different menus for each meal.
Why Plan Menus?
Planning a menu helps avoid stress
Picking up take-out food or finding other last-minute dinner solutions aren't always an option. A menu is a plan that will help you to avoid mealtime problems. Advance menu planning is an organization and coping strategy. It helps ensure your family gets fed while your stress level remains low and your sanity remains intact.
How Far in Advance to Plan?
Although it may not be necessary to make specific menu plans for breakfast or lunch, it is a good idea to plan a full week of dinner menus at once. This allows you to make one big trip to the grocery store (or stores) on your least busy day. You can then enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that you're ready to prepare delicious, healthy and safe dinners for the entire week.
If you're feeling particularly industrious, you can plan an entire month of dinners. You can then repeat this plan each month until you or your family gets tired of it.
Working Around Your Limitations
If your child is allergic to many foods or to hard-to-avoid foods, your family may need to make some major dietary adjustments. Many of your "old favorites" may now be off-limits, and you will have to learn a new approach to cooking and menu planning.
So where should you start? A good strategy is to focus on what your child can eat instead of focusing on what your child cannot eat. Shift your point of view. If your child is allergic to milk and eggs, "replicating" egg salad sandwiches or macaroni & cheese may be hard at first. Instead, think about all the possibilities of things to make using the foods your child can eat. In this example, you can focus on meals made with grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish, poultry and meats.
Keep It Interesting
An obvious key to menu planning is to try to vary the menu. You might want to make chicken on Monday, pasta on Tuesday, hamburgers on Wednesday, fish on Thursday, and beans on Friday. But what if your child can only eat two sources of protein, such as chicken and pork? Then you need to come up with a variety of safe ways to make these items. Find recipes to make them baked, sautéed, grilled, roasted, stir fried with vegetables and so forth. Use different seasonings. Combine the meats with different grains and vegetables. Do whatever you can to make things interesting.
Finding Recipes, Ideas, and Inspiration
Three meals a day, 7 days a week...you're going to need a lot of ideas and inspiration! Where can you look?
- Explore our Safe Eats™ allergy-friendly recipe collection: We have over 1,200 delicious, member-contributed recipes. Search the database by your special dietary needs, or browse by category.
- Get a specialty cookbook: There are many excellent food allergy cookbooks on the market today. Cookbooks are available through KFA's Allergy Book Shop or at your local library. If you're avoiding dairy and egg, you'll also find many suitable recipes in vegan cookbooks. Gluten-free cookbooks written for people who have Celiac Disease can help those on a wheat-free diet.
- Browse through a mainstream cookbook: Take a trip to the bookstore or library and browse through a variety of cookbooks. Look through cookbooks with ethnic cuisines, collections from celebrity chefs, and more. You're bound to get some terrific ideas!
- Resurrect an old recipe: If you're new to food allergy cooking, look through your recipe files. Check to see if there are any "old favorites" which are suitable either as is or with minor modifications. If you already have a collection of safe recipes, look for a tried-and-true favorite that you maybe haven't made in a while.