If you follow a strict gluten-free diet, you know that meal planning is essential. You most likely eat or prepare the majority of your meals at home. If you want to successfully have lots of yummy food to eat, you need to plan ahead!
Prior to my Celiac diagnosis, I would eat out often or eat packaged, convenience food. It was easy for me to grab a quick bite to eat on the run, or heat up a TV dinner.
Unfortunately, that kind of convenience eating may have triggered my autoimmune disease.
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 you enjoy controlling what you eat and how it’s prepared from start to finish.
If you’re new to Celiac, or want to plan your gluten-free meals successfully, here are my meal planning tips to make cooking at home easy, breezy and fun.
6 Tips to Gluten-Free Meal Planning
(1) Make a Master List:
Make a master list of meals you know how to make and enjoy (an Excel file works well). My list includes favorites such as Asian BBQ Meatballs, BBQ Chicken, Grilled Asian Salmon, and Chipotle Lime Turkey Burgers. Review your recipes weekly when selecting meals for the week. I also recommend keeping recipes you enjoy in an organized, three-ring binder for storage and easy review. Only include the recipes you’ve tried and enjoyed in this binder.
(2) Consult the Calendar:
Take a look at the week ahead so you plan your meals accordingly. Busy nights should have quick and easy meals or leftovers, while nights when you have more time are good nights for experimenting with a new or more complex recipe.
Feeling stuck for ideas? Ask your spouse and kids what they’re craving. You may not realize that they love when you make Gluten-Free Chicken Lettuce Wraps and can’t wait for you to make them again!
(3) Review the Fridge and Pantry (and Garden!):
See what items you already have on hand and need to cook up before the item(s) spoil. Use those ingredients in your meals so you save money and waste less. Your garden will help you eat seasonally, and usually the produce on sale at the grocery store is what is in-season and most delicious at the moment!
(4) Pick a Few:
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 meals to your planning list. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by trying to do too much. Be easy on yourself.
(5) 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:
- Make purposeful leftovers of meals that keep and reheat well the next night. Also make extra food for your lunch and your kids’ lunches – no one likes eating a boring sandwich everyday so this is a great way to enjoy home cooked meals twice!
- 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?
- Cook to repurpose meals. Use the same ingredients multiple ways. For example, grilled salmon and quinoa leftovers can turn into salmon quinoa burgers the next night. Just plan to make extra salmon and quinoa the first night!
- Use one ingredient multiple ways. When I shop at Costco, I have to buy a huge bag of broccoli. I try to incorporate broccoli in several meals for the week – think about making a broccoli soup one night, then steamed broccoli a second night, and broccoli quinoa bites a third night. When I buy bone-in chicken to make a roasted chicken meal, I plan to make chicken soup using the bones the next day – so I make sure I buy veggies and noodles for my soup as part of my meal planning.
(6) Keep 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.
Also, keep a pad and pen on your kitchen counter and jot down items you run out of that you use often (onions, GF teriyaki sauce, etc.). I like to keep my grocery list on my phone (using Notepad app) so I never find myself at the store without my list. Never shop without your grocery list… that goes against everything meal-planning stands for!
In addition to these 6 Gluten-Free Meal Planning Strategies, I’ve added some bonus tips:
Other Tips to Meal Planning Success:
- Portion out meat so you only make what you need. Thick chicken breasts should be filleted in half for double portions and for quicker cooking. You’ll also save money when you only cook what you need (unless you’re making purposeful leftovers, of course).
- Cook with your perishable foods during the first part of the week. Don’t let that spinach wilt before you cook it.
- Don’t let the weather sabotage your meal planning efforts. Invest in a grill pan like this one for easy, quick and delicious indoor gluten-free grilling year round.
- Cut veggies ahead of time (if the veggies hold well), especially in anticipation of busy nights.
- Purchase warm/cold thermos like this one for yourself and your kids to take warm and cold meals to work and school. This will encourage you to make purposeful leftovers and avoid the lunch making rush in the morning before school and work.
- Variety is the spice of life. Make it a goal to try a new recipe at least once a month – more if possible – and add to your recipe binder from time to time. Challenge yourself in the kitchen and be open to learning and growing your culinary skills along the way.
- Find recipes on Pinterest – create an inspiration board of “Recipes to Try”.
- Visit your local library and check out cookbooks… or invest in some new gluten-free cookbooks from Amazon. Photocopy recipes you want to try and keep them in a folder to refer to during your meal planning process.
- Always cook with Vitamin L (love). Making a home cooked meal for yourself and your family should be done with love and joy. Don’t lose site of this when rushing to create meals – your family will taste and appreciate Vitamin L as the most essential ingredient in your kitchen.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to products I talk about and recommend.