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I love organizing. My house is not always clean, but it is neat. Life feels better with everything in its place. This command center came from my need to organize and simplify allergy-friendly meal planning.
meal planning mayhem
Allergy-friendly meal planning is key to saving money AND your sanity. If I don’t have a meal plan, I know the race to get dinner on the table is going to be even more difficult, if we even make it to that. More likely than not, I’ve already texted my husband and asked him to pick up Chipotle (our go-to allergy-friendly take-out option), thereby ruining our budget.
I don’t mind meal planning. I hated constantly searching through printed recipe sheets, unorganized cards, and Pinterest boards, especially as links are always broken. In our new house, I revamped meal planning, as one wall was meant for this command center. As the house was being built, I drafted multiple versions of the command center and even shared them with friends for input. I am so cool, I know.
the command center
The main feature is this dry-erase magnetic calendar. Below that is another magnet board from IKEA. All of our meals are written on these magnetic strips, with color-coded categories. Our categories are crock pot, dinner, soups, sides, and other. This is what works for our family. We don’t like soup more than once every other week. I like having crock pot its own color as a visual reminder for when we need to get dinner started before heading out the door in the morning. Sides are also really important. We have plenty of main options but I struggle with toddler approved, healthy sides. If it were up to Ollie, we’d have tater tots every night. I can’t say I blame him. Giving sides their own category helps me come up with healthy accompaniments.
In this recipe box, which was a bridal shower gift, are all of our recipes sorted into the same five categories. Before moving, my husband and I spent about a week finding all of our favorite recipes and transferring them to cards. This was the largest undertaking of the whole command center but it honestly probably only took us about 10 hours total. I’m very thankful my husband supports all of my crazy organizing endeavors. You also don’t have to write everything on a recipe card, but everything should be on a magnet. I don’t include recipes for things like taco night, breakfast for dinner, burgers, or baked chicken. If you know the ingredients and have a general idea how to cook it, no need to make a card for it.
We still try new recipes quite often too. If I find something, I bookmark the website or pin it to a board and write the new recipe right on the calendar with a dry-erase marker. Anything new gets a first-round test before being given a magnet and recipe card of its own. Additionally, I clean out the magnets every once in a while. After six months of living in our new house, if we hadn’t made the dish, the magnet was donated to one of Ollie’s bags on our refrigerator.
Whenever we plan, I pull out the recipe cards for everything on the calendar. I make my grocery list at the same time so it’s easy to consult the cards and magnets to note what we need. The recipe cards stay on the little silver dry-erase magnet board above the calendar until we cook that meal. Quick and easy. Next to the mini dry-erase board is a pocket with two folders in it: To Do and Coupons & Receipts. This houses the aforementioned items, bills, medical forms, and anything else not ready to be filed away to a permanent home yet.
When I’m meal planning, I’m always considering the meat we have in our freezer and the produce that is on sale that week. I look at a flyer and then look at all the magnets to quickly find what meals fit best with that week’s sales. The magnets also afford a lot of flexibility. They can quite literally be moved around if a surprise doctor appointment gets in the way of dinner plans. Same can be said for if I find an unexpected sale and have produce to use. It is easy to slide a few magnet meals around and adjust based on what needs to be used first. There is no erasing pages of a journal or arrowing meals to different days. My OCD self wouldn’t handle that well.
You may be wondering why I don’t have Pinterest boards with each of the category names instead. Well, in addition to the extreme anger I developed due to broken links, I’m working really hard to have my phone in my hand less. I have my phone out with my son too much. We also try to limit his screen time, but I want him involved in meal planning. The fact of the matter is that Ollie will always have to deal with food allergies. It’s highly unlikely he’s going to outgrow everything. At this point, I’d be happy if we stopped adding new allergens to his list. Just like it’s important to cook with him, it’s important to meal plan with him.
Right now, it’s more just doing the process when he’s around. If I need to meal plan, I ask Ollie what he wants to eat that week. He likes to pick out magnets and ask what they say. Do we follow all of his picks? Most definitely not (he dips blackberries in ketchup, after all), but it is nice to have him involved. To start, it’s one less thing to do after he goes to bed. If he’s involved, even by playing with the magnets I’m not using, it gets done. When he does select a meal, we remind him it is his meal when we’re eating it and you’re guaranteed he’ll try a few bites. We don’t face this question too much yet, but friends with older children always comment that they need our calendar so they’re not constantly being asked what’s for dinner. In our case, as my husband is usually the one home first, he can look at the board and start prepping dinner for us.
One last point? We always eat our most complicated meals at the start of the week and meal prep on Sunday. My husband and I spend two or three hours together cutting fruits and veggies for the week and cooking things that can be made ahead of time. This week it was a soup base and some mini meatloaf muffins. My husband for sure picks on me for ‘geeking out’ with this level of organization but the command center allergy-friendly meal planning methodology has made cooking much easier for our family. Think you might give it a go? Have a tried and true method of your own? Let me know!