This article discusses my proven meal planning tips. Meal planning is essential for anyone following a gluten-free diet for health reasons, such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
If you follow a strict gluten-free diet, you know that meal planning is essential.
You will most likely eat or prepare the majority of your meals at home, as your home is the safest place to eat.
Unfortunately, that kind of convenience eating may have triggered my autoimmune disease, after all, gluten is the trigger that turns on your celiac genes and sets off an autoimmune reaction in your body.
The good news is that once you’re enlightened about the dangers of eating fast and cheap, you develop a better relationship with food. You enjoy eating at home because you know it’s safer and it’s where you have more control over what you eat and how it’s prepared from start to finish.
In this article, I’d like to share my tips to successful gluten-free meal planning.
(1) Make a Master List of Meal Ideas
Make a master list of meal ideas using an Excel spreadsheet or a simple Word document. It’s likely you know how to make more meals than you realize, so writing down all the meals you make will be an eye-opening experience and allows for easy reference when you’re feeling stuck on what to make.
(2) Create a Recipe Binder
A great way to keep track of all the recipes you enjoy is by keeping them bound in a three-ring binder. Sort your binder by meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert) and/or style of food (soup, salad, entree, baked goods, etc.), and then sort your recipes alphabetically within. Only include recipes you’ve tried and like in this binder.
(3) Consult the Calendar
Take a look at the week ahead to help you plan your meals accordingly. On busy nights, plan to eat quick and easy meals or leftovers. On nights when you have more time to cook, try new recipes or make more involved meals that you love. When you’re feeling stuck for meal ideas, ask your spouse and kids what they’re craving. You may not realize that they love when you make certain dishes.
You can keep a template, like this one, to help you jot down your meals for the week.
(4) Access the Fridge and Pantry (and Garden!) for Meal Ideas
See what items you already have on hand and need to cook up before they spoil. Use those ingredients in your meals so you save money and waste less. If your garden is bursting with zucchinis, for example, make sure to whip up some meals to use those delicious gourds before they go bad. Meals that require perishable foods (aka, foods that spoil quickly like lettuce) are better made at the start of the week, and foods with a longer shelf life work better as meals at the end of the week.
(5) Start Slowly
If meal planning is intimidating to you, start by planning 1-2 meals per week, then building up from there. Once you get more confident with your meal planning skills, add more meal ideas to your weekly plan. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by trying to do too much. Go easy on yourself. Over time, and as your recipe collection grows, you can start to get more creative and try new things. I tell all my clients to try a new recipe at least once every month, or better, every 1-2 weeks.
(6) Cook Once, Eat Twice
Cooking once and eating twice should be your mantra. You may even find you cook once and eat three, four or five times! Here are some tips to maximizing your meal planning endeavors and spending less time in the kitchen:
- Make planned leftovers of meals that keep and reheat well the next night. Also make extra food for your lunch and your kids’ lunches. In my house, my kids love taking dinner leftovers for lunch and they really hate when I pack boring sandwiches. I use these warm/cold thermos for transporting warm leftovers in school lunches.
- Plan for freezer meals. Can you double the marinade recipe, pour it over a second portion of fish, and then freeze it to use for another night? If yes, do it!
- Cook to repurpose meals. Use the same ingredients multiple ways. For example, grilled or baked salmon leftovers can turn into salmon quinoa burgers the next night. Just be sure to make extra salmon and quinoa the first night so you have plenty to work with for dinner the next night.
- Use one ingredient multiple ways. At Costco I have to buy a huge bag of broccoli if I want it, which is hard to use up before it spoils. When I buy broccoli, I try to incorporate it into several meals for the week – broccoli soup one night, then steamed broccoli a second night, and orange chicken with broccoli the next night. When I buy a rotisserie chicken, we’ll eat it one night and then I use the bones to make a chicken dumpling soup the next night.
(7) Create a Shopping List
There’s nothing worse than realizing an important ingredient is missing in one of the meals you want to make. Before grocery shopping, review the recipes you’re going to make for the week and write down all the ingredients you need. Sort your grocery list by section of the store (produce, dairy, pantry staples, etc.) for easy shopping. Be sure to audit your pantry and fridge for ingredients you already have so you don’t overbuy and overspend.
(8) Do the Prep Work
It might be helpful to prepare your foods immediately after going to the grocery store. This can be a good time to chop and divide vegetables for the week, portion out meat and fish, and even get your marinades ready, especially in anticipation of a busy week.
(9) Invest in Meal Planning
Meal planning is an art and takes time to prepare a solid meal plan and shop for the right ingredients. Don’t be afraid to invest time and money into getting meal planning right. Remember, your health depends on it.