One of the overwhelming aspects of dealing with food allergies is the extra time and care required to find, prepare and serve safe foods. Grocery shopping takes more time, since it is essential to carefully read product labels. It may be necessary to search the store shelves, shop at multiple grocery stores, or even mail order suitable safe foods and substitutes. Meal preparation is often a challenge that requires a lot of trial and error before you find recipes that are appealing. Sometimes you have to make more than one dish so all of your family members can be happy and safe with their meals. The only way you can juggle all of these extra responsibilities and not be overwhelmed is to do some advance meal planning, shopping and preparation.

One effective strategy is menu planning. This can prevent the “Oh no, what can I make for dinner?” dilemma. Planning a week in advance can be a very efficient time saver, since it will, give you a chance to compile a detailed shopping list, and hopefully will reduce the number of trips to the supermarket. It will also give you a chance to figure out what, if any, products you need to mail order.

If you have the storage and freezer space and can afford the expense, try purchasing enough products from the specialty stores to last for two weeks or more. Many perishable items, such as breads, buns, and some dairy substitutes can be frozen to prolong shelf life. Canned goods, bottled beverages, and flour can be purchased in large quantities and have a lengthy shelf life. Remember to read labels at every shopping trip. Manufacturers may change ingredients, but the overall labeling may not appear different at first glance.

Another helpful idea is to prepare large batches of foods and freeze individual portions in separate containers. Soups, casseroles, breads (i.e. pancakes, sandwich breads, muffins, cookies, etc.) and side dishes can often be prepared in advance and thawed on an as-needed basis. Clearly label and date freezer items for easy identification purposes. You can also use large batches of a favorite recipe for lunch the next day, or dinner the next evening. This strategy works especially well for kids who seem to prefer the same favorite foods over and over again.

Menu planning, bulk shopping, and large batch preparation of foods can significantly cut down on the number and frequency of your grocery shopping trips, and reduce the number of hours you spend in your kitchen preparing safe meals. Advance planning like this takes some self-discipline, but in the long run, it can really can help save you lots of time and reduce your stress level in managing special dietary needs.