Meal Planning for Dummies :: Accommodating Special Diets

With a strong background in last-minute meal planning (or precisely a complete lack thereof), our family has made quite an adjustment over the past two years in order to accommodate our son’s need for a special diet. Not only does it help him with his digestive patterns, but my husband and I will be the first to admit that it has changed our daily energy levels and how we personally feel from a health standpoint. 

There are hundreds upon thousands of ideas online about what diet plans to choose, or how to plan a meal from single ingredients to serving a full meal on the table. For me, this entire process was overwhelming. As much as I wanted to help my son, I felt as if I failed immediately upon the start. I decided I needed to break it down into steps if I wanted to succeed this meal planning piece of parenting. 

1. Get to Know Your Needs

How do you even begin the process of searching for proper meal prep ingredients? Simply get to know the specific needs in your family. In severe cases, meet with professionals: doctors, dietitians, and nutritionists can be life-saving.

This can be a tough step, as it requires hard work and research. With Rowen, I needed to dig deep in order to figure out his digestive system. Taking what we know (and continue to learn) about Rowen’s diagnosis [VACTERL] and his reconstructed bowels, working with the surgeons & their team of specialists for proper bowel management tactics, as well as with a local nutritionist, we discovered that diet is the absolute key factor towards helping him properly digest anything that he puts into his body. Once I learned that, this process became even more important to me as a mother. Any constipating foods must be kept to a minimum: potatoes, bananas, sugar, dairy. We also know that he needs high amounts of fiber on a daily basis for his bowels to perform well. Upon placing all of these puzzle pieces together, we now know that our home must remain fully stocked of fiber-rich items, and less of constipating ones. 

2. Create a List (or two)

Make a list of ingredients that meet the needs of your family. Make another list of those to stay away from. 

For me, this was an easy step. I simply searched high-fiber ingredients to know what is best for Rowen to eat. I also made another list of constipating foods that we stay away from. This does not mean that we do not eat them at all, but I keep them to a bare minimum. Rowen is limited to one banana per day, and I simply no longer buy potatoes. Simple as that. 

3. Narrow Your Meal Plan Search

By making lists of “yes” and “no” ingredients, you can now narrow the search field. When searching the oh-so-populars of Google & Pinterest, seek out meals that center around those ingredients you need. 

Although I had made my lists, I was still finding it difficult to meal plan while having to avoid constipating foods. I have learned that many fruits and vegetables are constipating, and that is beyond my area of expertise. For our family, we found it easier to work with a nutritionist to help us with this piece. We worked with her to create 8-10 meal ideas to choose from for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Over time, it has become much easier as we trial and error certain meals. 

4. Schedule Your Shopping Day

Based on your needs, determine how often you need to do your grocery shopping & put it on the calendar.

With the crazy amount of fruits and vegetables that our family requires, I schedule my grocery shopping every Tuesday morning while my oldest is at pre-school, and it has become a weekly favorite for Rowen to go along and help pick out his foods!

5. Get Creative & Save Time

If you feel like taking it a step further, get creative and make visuals. Index cards are a simple way to save time, and families love to see a meal board with plans for the week. 

Each time we have a successful meal, I write the meal title on the front of the index card, with the simple ingredients on the back. Nothing fancy (and not the recipe), just something to help save me time when grocery shopping. If I know what meals we are having that week, I will grab those index cards as I run out the door to shop and save myself some time!

We also have a chalkboard in our mudroom that is placed where everyone can see it going in and out of the garage. I simply write the meal title for each day, including “left-overs” 2-3 times per week or “eating out” for special occasions. 

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