6 Ways to Be a Happier Cook (Even if You Have Food Allergies)

How do you stay motivated to cook? And, how do you stay happy doing it? These are questions many parents and adults face as they try day in and day out to eat healthy, stay safe from food allergens, and cook for others.

If you or someone in your family has food allergies, cooking may be a source of dread and drudgery. It’s no wonder! Unless you’re the next Food Network Star, navigating food allergens, food substitutions, food preferences, and more can take its toll. It can even take the joy out of cooking. 

The truth is, cooking is essential to managing food allergies. Whether for yourself, or for your family, it benefits everyone (including you) if the joy of cooking can be harnessed.

Here are some suggestions to help you formulate a new and happier approach to what may be a dreaded daily event: 

1
Make a Plan

grocery bag
Plan meals and shop for food. Creative Crop/Getty Images

Having a plan for meals and snacks is the most effective way to reduce the stress and frustration associated with making dinner. Here’s how you do it: pick a day (e.g., Sunday) when you map out your meals for the week. Take into consideration the days where you may be busier and plan simple meals on those days. Make a grocery list of the items you will need to execute your meal plan and pick another day to shop. Shop, stock, and cook according to your meal plan. Avoid the temptation to rearrange meals or make something different. You can schedule those new ideas for the next week. Your success and happiness will hinge on sticking to your plan as closely as possible.

2
Have a ‘Plan B’

Sometimes our well-laid plans don’t, or won’t, work— a last minute meeting, or a hubby that stays late at work, or a sick child—necessitating a backup plan. Keep some allergen-free standbys on hand such as extra pasta and jarred sauce, frozen veggies and quick cooking rice, or canned beans, tortillas and cheese for these unexpected changes to the dinner plan.  

3
Use a Theme

turkey-wrap-USDA.jpg
A wrap can be a quick and healthy meal. USDA/Flickr

Meatless Mondays, Tuesday Fish, Wednesday Pasta, Thursday leftovers or new recipes, and Friday Dinner Out are some examples of theme-oriented menus to help you sort out the nutrition components and meals of the week. Meal themes can provide an outline for streamlining your meal planning, and can keep meals interesting and fun, especially if a rotation of different ideas are showcased throughout the month. If you have children, incorporate their meal ideas to the menu. This will cut down on catering meals to fussy kids

4
Keep it Quick on Busy Days

grilled meat
Grills can make meal prep go faster. Roy Mehta/Getty Images

Gourmet, six-course meals aren’t necessary, nor are they a reality for most families. Having a few quick meals up your sleeve, as well as creative ways to cook meals quickly will melt away some of the drudgery commonly associated with weeknight cooking. Employ cooking tools that make your life easier such as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, portable grill, Panini press, or microwave to speed up dinner preparation in a pinch. 

5
Make Meals a Family Affair

There’s nothing that wears down a cook more than doing it all, all the time! If you have a family, have them take part in the meal, from setting the table, making the salad, and pouring the drinks to clearing the table and loading the dishwasher (or washing dishes by hand).  

6
Take a Day Off!

Restaurant
Dinner out can be the break you need. Photo © Hernan Herrero, stock.xchng

Every cook needs a break—make sure to schedule breaks here and there to help you stay inspired. Dinner out with your spouse, a group of friends, or declaring a night where everyone assembles their own dinner can go a long way to keeping the main cook a happier one. 

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