Today's guest blog comes from Ellie Sears. Ellie is a wife of 12 years and a stay-at-home-mom to a beautiful three year old girl. Ellie and her daughter both have food allergies. Ellie enjoys homemaking and trying new food allergy friendly recipes. She stays active in advocating for food allergy awareness through her blog and in her hometown. Ellie blogs about life with food allergies at blessedlittlefamily.wordpress.com.
What's for dinner tonight?
A year ago, I could not have answered that question. We ate out a lot and would bring something "safe" for SG, our then two year old who is allergic to dairy and eggs. It became very expensive. I also became hesitant to exposing SG to allergens in restaurants as she sometimes broke out in hives from restaurants even though we brought her own food, her own booster seat, wiped everything down, and she had her own plastic mat for food.
But planning dinner and cooking every night. That seemed insurmountable. Then I remembered reading something that suggested for anything to become a habit, I must do it every day for a month. A month of cooking and no eating out?!?! It seemed impossible but I decided to give it a try.
After a month, I was successful (mostly!). So I kept on. And on. And I'm still doing it!
Not a big menu planner? Does it seem overwhelming? Start with planning a few days of meals for the week. Once you accomplish that, try planning an entire week. Work your way up from there. You can do it!
Here are some tips to menu planning and stretching your grocery budget at the same time. These are all things I do:
1. Look for sales and couponed meat. My local grocery store periodically puts chicken drumsticks and chicken thighs as low as 69 cents a pound and the chicken breasts as low as $1.69 a pound. Another grocery store discounts its meat with up to $3.00 off each package on the day before the sell by date. I take advantage of these deals and buy as much meat as my budget allows. I store the meat in freezer bags, as that takes up less space. It's important to always label and date the meat.
2. Prep the meat before it goes in the freezer. Sometimes I have time for this. Sometimes I don't. I always appreciate it when I defrost the meat and I've already trimmed it and it's ready to go. Taking steps beforehand saves time later. I try to always have some cooked and seasoned ground beef portioned in our freezer. It makes spaghetti or taco night a breeze!
3. Menu plan around meat in the freezer. I make a list of all of my meats and plan my menus around that. It's a great way to save money in the grocery budget and get organized!
4. Vary the menu. I try not to have too many meals back to back with the same protein. I like to also make a few meatless meals a month.
5. Repurpose leftovers. I make a delicious pork tenderloin in the slow cooker. We eat the pork one night with side dishes. The next night it gets repurposed into burritos, tacos, nachos, or a barbecue sandwich. The family gets variety and I get away with only cooking one protein for two meals. It's a win-win!
6. Use dried beans. Soaking and cooking beans is beneficial in so many ways. It takes time, but it saves money. One bag yields a lot of beans. It is much cheaper than canned beans. The beans are perfect for meatless meals in the menu. (Nachos, rice and beans, soups, meatless taco bake, etc.)
7. Keep frozen vegetables in the freezer. Nights when I'm plain exhausted, steam in the bag frozen broccoli florets save the day. Frozen or fresh vegetables are mainstays in our diet.
8. Use the internet. I've found some great blogs and new recipes online. Pinterest is my go to for finding and organizing allergy friendly recipes.
9. Try new recipes. Know that some recipes (especially ones that are adapted because of food allergies) might fail. In that case, laugh, enjoy a sandwich for dinner, and keep trying. I've had my share of cooking failures. I've had more successes, though, and that's the important part.
10. Make a list of favorite recipes. When planning, refer to this list. Plan a few favorites and pencil in some of those new recipes that were pinned on Pinterest. Add new successful recipes to the favorites list. After a few weeks, the list will be longer and it will be easier to plan a varied menu with all of these recipes right at your fingertips. This works well for me.
I do every single one of these steps and it saves us time and money. Living with food allergies can be expensive and stressful. Meal planning doesn't have to be either.
Do you menu plan? Please share your tips below.