The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning With Allergies

The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning With Allergies

Finding out that you have a food allergy can be overwhelming. It’s a discovery that not only affects you but also your loved ones or those who live with you. It forces you to always be alert and mindful of the foods you eat. To add to this, you have to constantly explain the severity of your allergy when you’re at school, restaurants, social events and many other places. 

Taking this into account, food allergies can quickly take a toll on your emotional well-being. Many victims feel like they’re living with ticking time bombs. You don't know if and when an allergic reaction will happen, even when you’ve taken all the preventive measures. 

To make things a little bit easier for you, this post tackles one major challenge: meal planning around food allergies. Read on to learn more:

What Are Food Allergies and Intolerances?

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to two entirely different concepts. 

A food allergy is an immune system reaction that gets activated when you consume a particular food. This is because the immune system perceives this item to be harmful. Food allergies are further classified into two: immunoglobulin E (IgE) and non-immunoglobulin E (IgE).

With immunoglobulin E (IgE), the immune system instantly triggers a reaction in response to the alien food it’s identified. This manifests in the form of anaphylactic shock or a breakout of hives. In the latter, the body takes longer to react, and the symptoms aren’t as life-threatening as with the IgE reaction. 

The most common foods that people are allergic to are 

  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk
  • Legumes such as chickpeas, peas, peanuts, soybeans
  • Tree nuts, especially walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds and Brazil nuts
  • Wheat

Food intolerance simply means that your body is incapable of digesting a particular food(s) to completion. In this case, the immune system is not involved in any way. Just to illustrate the difference, having a milk allergy is different from being lactose intolerant. 

Usually, a food intolerance happens when you’re lacking essential enzymes that enable the gut to digest that food. It could also be that your body is highly sensitive to additives or chemicals present in the food. Regardless of the cause, it’s rare to experience the sort of severe reactions associated with food allergy. 

Another likely cause of food intolerance is irritable bowel syndrome. This health condition can lead to complications, such as diarrhea, constipation and stomach cramping. 

You now understand the difference between food allergy and food intolerance. But how can you tell when you’re experiencing either one? This brings me to my next point:

How to Tell if You Have a Food Allergy or Intolerance

Given that food allergy and food intolerance are different, their symptoms also differ. In the case of an allergy, the symptoms can be mild, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin inflammation
  • Inflammation and itching of the lips
  • Hives
  • Tightening of the throat and a hoarse voice

In the worst case scenarios, the victim may experience:

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Itchy feeling on the palms and soles of the feet
  • Fainting
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness

Meanwhile, a food intolerance is characterized by symptoms such as:

  • Stomach pains
  • Bloating
  • Farting
  • Diarrhea

Meal Planning Around Food Allergies and Intolerances

Whether you suffer from a food allergy or food intolerance, you have to be extra cautious when planning your diet. This way, you don’t end up incorporating ingredients or foods that can trigger acute symptoms. 

The first step you should take is to identify the specific food(s) that you’re allergic or intolerant to. Not sure how to go about this? Try the elimination diet! As implied in its name, this dietary plan is all about recognizing and removing the foods that don’t work for you. Here’s a more detailed review:

The Elimination Diet

In a nutshell, this plan is meant to help you identify foods that you’re “toxic” to so you can remove them from your diet. You can reintroduce these foods later on (one at a time) while keeping an eye out for symptoms or reactions that they might trigger. The elimination diet occurs in two phases: elimination and reintroduction.

Elimination Stage

In this phase, you have to get rid of any foods which you suspect to be harmful. They’re harmful in the sense that they cause adverse effects upon consumption. 

For instance, if you suspect that you’re allergic to nuts, soy, wheat, citrus fruits, gluten, dairy, eggs or seafood, then remove them from your diet. Do this for the next two to three weeks, and take note of how your body responds. Are you still experiencing severe reactions, or have they subsided?

Reintroduction Stage

This entails reintroducing the foods you’d eliminated gradually. Reintroduce every food group individually, and observe your response for two to three days. While you’re at it, watch out for signs such as:

  • Stomach pains and cramps
  • Bloating
  • Unexpected changes in bowel habits
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Increased fatigue
  • Rashes or other changes on your skin
  • Difficulty breathing and sleeping

If you don’t experience any side effects upon introducing a particular food, you can conclude that it’s safe and move on to the next thing. But, if you do experience the signs mentioned above, then it’s likely the cause of your intolerance or allergic reaction. This means you should eliminate it from your diet altogether.

The whole process - including elimination and reintroduction - takes about five to six weeks. Also important to note is the essence of consulting your general physician or dietician. Once you identify the trigger food(s), let your doctor know. They’ll recommend healthier substitutes so you don’t end up with severe nutrient deficiencies.

Meal Planning Tips with Food Allergies

The elimination diet only helps you identify the food that you’re intolerant or allergic to. But at the end of the day, you still need to create a meal plan that works for you. So here are a couple of tips to help with this:

Look For Allergy-Friendly Recipes

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, you don’t have the liberty to eat what everybody else eats. This means you have to do due diligence and come up with a list of allergy-friendly recipes. 

You’ll need to keep an open mind as you’ll likely have to experiment with foreign ingredients and cooking techniques. To get you started, check out these allergy-free recipes. They’ve eliminated the use of common allergy-triggering foods like milk, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts among others.  Other resources for similar recipes include cookbooks, and social media platforms like Pinterest or YouTube.

Create a Master Recipe List

By the time you’re done researching, you’ll have encountered hundreds of recipes. This doesn’t mean that they will all work for you or that your family will like them. So you’ll need to narrow down your selection and compile a master recipe list.

Be sure to get your family’s input as well. You can try out the recipes one at a time. Any recipes that you and your family approve can be added to the “Master” list. You can compile the list on a sheet of paper or spreadsheet document; just ensure that it’s easily accessible. 

Plan Meals Ahead

Now that you have a list of allergy-friendly recipes to pick from, this part should be a walk in the park. Again, sit down with your family and decide the meals you’ll have for each day of the week. 

Planning your meals in advance offers several benefits. For instance, it helps you create well-balanced meals. Since you’re not rushing to prepare your meals at the last minute, you have ample time to decide the most nutrient-rich dishes to include for each meal.

However, what I love most about planning meals ahead is that it saves one a whole lot of stress and time. You don’t have to spend half an hour or more trying to figure out an allergy-friendly meal for your family. 

You also don’t have to run to the grocery store for ingredients every other time. Since you already have your chosen recipes, you can buy all the ingredients at once and save yourself time. 

Prioritize Well-Balanced Foods

Living with a food allergy or intolerance means you’ll likely avoid eating certain foods. But even then, you’ll want to ensure that your meals are well-balanced. 

A graphic showing a plate divided into categories: fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and protein.

Click the image above for a more detailed view. One tool that can help you create a well-balanced diet is MyPlate. As shown above, this means incorporating a variety of food groups in every plate of food, specifically vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy. 

If you’re allergic to dairy, you can omit it or swap it with a milk substitute that’s rich in vitamin D and calcium. 

Think About the Appeal

Just because you’re living with dietary restrictions doesn’t mean you’re limited to dull-looking food. Besides, if your dishes are never visually appealing, there’s a good chance that you won’t eat them for too long, no matter how nutritious. 

Sure, this isn’t mandatory. But it’s one hack that will help you achieve a well-balanced and allergy-free diet.


Getting diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance can be overwhelming at first. But, it’s still possible to live a healthy life by making the right food choices. 

Start by identifying your allergens (the elimination diet can help with this). Next, look for allergy-free recipes and compile the best ones with the help of your family or roommates. While you’re at it, look for well-balanced meals and make them visually appealing.



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