This post was co-written by Lisa Hugh MSHS RD LDN CLT and Gabrielle McPherson MS, RDN, LDN.
Simple Meal Planning Strategies for Food Allergies:
A 7-Step Guide to Creating Safe and Nutritious Meals
Let’s face it, meal planning can be daunting. Sometimes it can feel like that dreadful thing you don’t want to do but have to do– like unclogging the shower drain or cleaning gutters–*long sigh*.
When you have food allergies and food sensitivities, meal planning can be of greater complexity.
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or even tired of eating the same meals over and over? Does meal prep seem like a huge challenge? Maybe you’ve experienced pain or discomfort from accidentally eating something that may not be on your safe foods list.
Keep reading because things are about to get easier for you.
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Most things in life take planning.
We plan for our education, vacations, careers, exercise, and even our entertainment.
Menu planning is just as important as all other aspects of our lifestyle. And meal planning needs extra attention when you have special dietary restrictions that impact your health and well-being.
7-Step Guide to Meal Planning When You Have Food Allergies And/Or Food Sensitivities.
This guide will help liberalize your current way of eating!
1. Make a list of foods that are NOT safe for you to eat.
More than likely, these are the foods that you know trigger a reaction for you. Some of this list may be coming from your specific laboratory test results.
Example: For example, if you can not eat any dairy products, corn, wheat or tomato, you might write down: “I can not eat dairy, corn, wheat or tomato.”
2. Make a list of foods that are safe for you to eat.
For this section, it may be helpful to start with a food group (like protein) and make a list of protein foods you know are safe for you to eat.
Then move on to making a list of foods in other food groups. (See list below
It may be helpful to include flavor enhancers such as salt, lemon juice, vinegar, herbs and spices.
These safe foods are going to be the building blocks of your daily or weekly meal plan.
Here is a simple list of food groups:
- Protein Foods
- Starchy Carbohydrates
- Dietary Fat
- Flavor Enhancers
Example: Your list of foods you CAN eat may look like this.
Protein Foods: Eggs, Chicken, Beef
Starchy Carbohydrates: Rice, Black Beans, Quinoa, Potato
Fruits: Apple, Orange, Banana
Vegetables: Asparagus, Carrots, Mushrooms
Dietary Fat: Canola Oil, Olive Oil, Almonds
Flavor Enhancers: Salt, Black Pepper, Lemon, Parsley
In real life, most people will have longer lists than this. But in some circumstances the lists might be relatively short. Either way, it is helpful to have a physical list to work with.
3. For every food listed in Step #2, identify ways the food can be purchased, and list them.
Here are various forms of foods that can be purchased.
- Freeze Dried
- Pureed / Ground
Tip: For this step, I recommend focusing on foods that contain only one ingredient. This helps you avoid hidden ingredients and has other benefits as well.
Example: Here is a list of various ways that rice can be purchased.
- White Rice
- Basmati Rice
- Jasmine Rice
- Rice Cakes
- Puffed Rice Cereal
- Rice Noodles
- Rice Flour
- Rice Crackers
- Rice Protein Powder
Example: Here is a list of various ways that black beans can be purchased.
- Dried Black Beans
- Canned Black Beans
- Black Bean Noodles
- Black Bean Flour
- Black Bean Hummus (be sure to check the added ingredients)
- Black Bean Chips (be sure to check the added ingredients)
Tip: If you need more help with this step, check out this blog post about how to multiply your grocery list.
4. For every food listed in Steps #2 and #3, identify ways the food can be cooked or prepared and list them.
Example: Different ways of preparing rice.
- Steamed Rice (May be prepared in a cooking pot, rice cooker or instant pot.)
- Fried Rice
- Rice in a Casserole (Baked)
- Boiled in Soup (Such as Chicken and Rice Soup or Congee.)
- Rice Flour may be used as a breading / batter on another food and then fried.
Example: Different ways of preparing black beans.
- Boiled black beans
- Grilled black bean burger (Be sure to check for other ingredienets.)
- Stewed – such as black beans that are cooked with Jamaican Oxtail in an Instant Pot.
- Pureed in to black bean hummus
Here is a list of ways that food can be prepared.
- Fried: Air-Fried, Deep Fried, Pan Fried
- Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker
- Slow Cooker / Crock Pot
5. Consider types of meals
Think about the different types meals you can make with your safe foods. Here is a list of types of meals.
Here are a list of meal types:
- Cold Meals (Think Sandwiches, Cold Salads, Fruit Plates, Salad Plates)
- Hot Meal of Entree and Side Dishes
- Pizza / Flatbread
- Sandwich / Wrap (May also include tacos and burritos).
- Stir Fry
Sometimes it is helpful to think of themes when meal planning.
Here are some examples of meal plan themes:
- Slow Cooker Sunday
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Friday Fish
- Sandwich Saturday
- Pizza Night
- Pasta Night
- Breakfast For Dinner
- Quick and Easy
- Homemade Takeout (Copy Cat Recipes)
- Chef’s Choice
- Lazy Leftovers
- Soup & Sandwich
6. Grocery Shopping
For this step, you might make a grocery list, place an order for grocery delivery, go to a grocery store, OR “shop” from your own pantry.
In fact, it’s a great idea to get in the practice of planning meals based on what you have on hand. Doing this can help you save money putting together easy meals.
7. Make a balanced meal with your safe foods
Generally, meals should have a protein, a starchy carbohydrate, a fruit and/or vegetable, and dietary fat. You may also want to include information about flavor profiles or seasoning you will include in the meal.
Fill in the blanks from your safe foods list.
This is a super easy strategy to serve healthy meals in a hurry. Meals like these often take 15 minutes or less to prepare.
Eating foods in this combination is a way of ensuring nutritional adequacy, balance, variety and moderation — in other words, good nutrition. The portions of each food group can be adjusted to meet your individual needs and preferences.
As a rule of thumb, plan to eat 3 balanced meals every day. This helps prevent getting overly hungry and then making less suitable choices. I recommend this strategy for most of my clients and even more so when someone has any type of dietary restriction that makes food choices more challenging.
Example: Planning A Balanced Meal Based On Food Groups
Meal Pattern: Protein + starchy carbohydrate + fruit/vegetable + dietary fat +flavor
Sample Meal: Salmon + black beans + asparagus+ olive oil drizzle + lemon wedge
For this step, keep in mind that some foods might fall in to more than one category. For example, beans may be used as a starchy carbohydrate or as a protein source. Peanut butter may be used as a dietary fat or as a protein source.
Meal planning can feel daunting if you don’t have a clear strategy.
However, using these 7 steps can become a good habit that helps you reduce stress, eat better, and enjoy your meals.
If you need more personalized help with meal planning ideas for your special dietary needs, work with a Registered Dietitian (RD) or a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT). They can create a tailored meal plan for you that can expand your diet without compromising your health and nutrition needs.
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