Meal prepping for a whole family can get so tricky! Everyone likes something a little different, and then you make the same meals everyone will eat. And where is the fun in that?
Prep gluten free family meals with minimal ingredients by finding recipes with similar ingredients that use different spices, preparation methods, and bases. List out what everyone likes and will eat and look for recipes using similar ingredients to save money and reduce waste.
When I owned and ran my food cart, I got great at creating recipes and menus that shared as many ingredients as possible while having as many different flavor profiles, textures, or preparation methods as I could. With limited space and resources, this was extremely important.
And these concepts are easily applied to planning meals in a home kitchen.
How To Plan Gluten Free Meals With Minimal Ingredients And Maximum Taste
If you get nothing else from this article, I hope you think about what ingredients you use and how you can maximize the ingredients already in your home to help reduce waste and diversify your recipes.
Restaurants have always done this to make their menus more profitable. And it isn’t challenging to do this in your own home to reduce your grocery bill and create a diverse menu that you won’t quickly bore your or your family.
Not only that, but you can use this method to create sets of menus with similar items. Switch out these different menus and grocery lists when you want a change in the type of food you have around.
It can be surprising how many different meals you can make with similar ingredients! You can even apply across meal types. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and snacks that have similar items.
If you’re excited to try a new meal plan or recipe, it can be hard to see why you shouldn’t buy a whole new cupboard of ingredients. But combining recipes that use similar ingredients can save so much time, money and reduce waste.
If instead of finding that tub of wilting salad, you had purchased it on a plan using similar ingredients, you would have used it before it spoiled.
This strategy can save so much money and reduce waste.
So how do you even get started?
Start by making a list of what everyone in your house enjoys eating. I like to start with the pickiest members of the family first. List what they will eat, the preparation methods they want, or their favorite foods. Try to keep it to what they will eat and leave off what they won’t.
Next, take an inventory of your pantry, freezer, and fridge. What do you already have? Is there something that will go bad soon? Put these towards the top of your list.
Next, you want to find what you have, what your family will eat, and find the recipes that will work for both of those.
You can search for recipes by going to the recipes link at the top of the page. You can also use any recipe finder app or even a search engine. Recipes don’t have to be something someone else has written down. I like to use these methods to get inspiration for what I might want to make.
The best way I have found is to search by ingredient. If you use spinach in a recipe because you have it and your family enjoys it, search for “spinach recipes” to find inspiration.
After you have your recipes, shop for the remaining ingredients you need.
Prepare your recipes ahead of time to put in a Crock-Pot, Instant Pot, or on a sheet pan for the oven. Store them in the fridge or freezer.
The last step I like to do is to have a backup. Even though I always prep meals with the pickiest eater in mind, they won’t always eat what I’ve made. Or decide that they don’t actually like something they enjoyed last week.
So I like to have ideas as a backup.
Having a backup doesn’t mean a separate meal. But if one of your kids won’t eat rice any longer, make sure you have pasta or toast around. Something that you can do with the food you have prepared to make it a little different.
How To Use The Same Method Restaurants Do
When I owned a food cart, we had limited space to store food. Space was limited in every way. It wasn’t only limited refrigerator space; it was limited space for everything.
I liked to have a very diverse menu, but we needed to ensure that our ingredients were getting used in many different ways. To do this, we used different types of preparation and various seasonings, and a wide variety of cuisines.
All restaurants do this. If they can order fewer types of food in more significant quantities, they will get better deals. If people don’t order a dish they thought would do well, they don’t have wasted food.
We can do this in our own homes as well.
In some ways, it is even easier. We don’t have to be concerned with large quantities, if meals take the same time to prepare, or what parts they need to do ahead of time.
Use this method in your home by starting with what your family enjoys eating. You can even help them branch out to some things they may want by using the ingredients they like but adding something new like a new spice or sauce but keeping the main components the same.
Why Minimal Ingredients?
I also get excited about new recipes and enjoy acquiring fresh ingredients to cook. But when we can use minimal ingredients, we can reduce waste and save money.
Throwing out ingredients that go to waste by hiding behind or under something else is always frustrating. You spent money to purchase it, you gave up space to store it, and you also lost out on what you intended to make with it.
If you use minimal ingredients, you won’t have as much waste. But more than that, if you decide you aren’t actually up for making that meal you’d planned and put in that frozen pizza instead, the ingredients you got for that meal will get used for other meals that week because you planned your meals around ingredients and not what sounded good.
So if you got some yogurt to make some Chicken Tikka Masala, but on the day you planned to make it, you were too tired or busy to get it set up, you will still have the other meals you prepared to use yogurt.
Planning multiple meals with the same ingredients means that you won’t have specialized ingredients going to waste if something happens.
For the example of yogurt and Chicken Tikka Masala, you might plan to get yogurt for fruit parfaits as well for breakfast, lunch, or snack. Sometimes I’ll use plain yogurt and jam for flavored yogurt instead of getting the small yogurts for my kids for snacks. It is less expensive, and you have multiple uses for that one ingredient.
How To Start Your Meal Prep: Your Family’s Preferences
If you are starting this system, you should start here.
Write down what your family will all eat. Our goal here isn’t to make separate meals for everyone in the house. Write down ingredients, meals, or types of foods your family members will all eat.
It might be a shortlist, but that is okay! We are looking for a place to start, not a list of an entire grocery store.
Try to keep the essential items on your list to things everyone is okay with eating. If someone in the family won’t or can’t eat raw onions, make sure to specify “cooked onions” or “grilled onions” on your list.
We don’t want to end up with a recipe that someone won’t or can’t eat. The point is to make one meal for everyone.
As tempting as it is, don’t put items people won’t eat on the list. Focus on the positive. It is much easier to find recipes that contain something specific than to find recipes that don’t have that item.
And that is why we are making this list. We are using the list to find recipes.
First In, First Out
FIFO is known well in the food industry. First In, First Out simply means to use what you have before using something new. FIFO is vital in kitchens that use the same item continuously. So the chefs should use a new container of yogurt after the older ones are gone.
Let’s apply this restaurant idea to our kitchens at home.
Think of the idea as more than just the same items. When you’re meal planning, look at what you already have before buying anything new.
So when we are getting ready to go grocery shopping and meal prep for the week, look in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards. What do you already have that you can use? If you have a lot of pasta, write that down and use it up before making recipes that call for other ingredients.
This step can make grocery shopping more manageable as well. I always seem to be getting something that we already have, thinking we were out of it. So taking inventory can save you time and money as well.
Doing an inventory doesn’t mean you should write down everything in your cupboards unless you want to. Just look around and see what you already have you could use that to make some recipes this week.
Figure Out What Recipes You Should Meal Prep
At this point, we have made two lists first, what our family likes to eat, and secondly, what we already have around.
These lists should give us a few ideas of what recipes we might make this week. Jot those recipes down first thing.
After you have those written down, see if you can find any similarities between them. What ingredients do they have in common?
If you can’t think of recipes right away, try to think of a recipe you’d enjoy making or an ingredient you want to work with this week.
Whatever point you can get to, use it to jump-start your plan for the week.
I’ll use the earlier example of Chicken Tikka Masala. If I were craving that and noticed we had a bunch of rice to use, I’d put that as my top item. Then I’d write down the ingredients used—tomatoes, yogurt, spices, cream, chicken breast, garlic, and ginger.
Once I have a list of ingredients I’ll need for this recipe, I can brainstorm several other recipes using similar ingredients. So if Chicken Tikka Masala needs tomatoes, maybe I can make marinara sauce later in the week. I’ll also want to use garlic for that. So two items in the first recipe. Maybe add some plain yogurt and jam for breakfast. And cream or half and half for coffee.
Keep adding ideas to the list using the same ingredients. The idea here is to come up with as many recipe ideas as possible at this point.
After you have finished brainstorming, go to your favorite recipe app, Pinterest, or a search engine. Type in “recipes with ___” for each ingredient you have written down. In the above example, I might type in “recipes with tomatoes” or “recipes with plain yogurt” and browse the recipes until you have more inspiration.
As you are writing down recipes, try to keep the ingredients list small. So if I start with Chicken Tikka Masala and add the marinara sauce with pasta and plain yogurt plus jam, maybe I say that my marinara sauce should have onions, bell peppers, broccoli, and mushrooms. Try to keep the ingredients close to what you’ve listed.
You can decide that you will add onions, peppers, and broccoli to the Chicken Tikka Masala.
And maybe another meal could be chicken breast with onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms in a lemon sauce with rice. Especially if you already have the ingredients to make the lemon sauce.
Some people may find that a brainstorming graph is helpful here. You can also use paper and pen. Put down the name of an ingredient at the top. You can start with yogurt. Under yogurt, you put Chicken Tikka Masala, yogurt and jam, yogurt biscuits, fruit salad, yogurt dip, and tandoori spice potato salad.
Finalize Your Plan For The Week
By this point, you will have a long list of recipes that you and your family enjoy using somewhat similar ingredients.
Doing this will provide far more ideas than you can make in a week.
Start narrowing down your list by thinking about what ingredients are needed to make each recipe on your list. In my above example for plain yogurt, I might cross out yogurt biscuits and potato salad because they don’t use similar ingredients to the other items.
Fill out your list for the week of meals, whether you are doing dinner prep only or prepping all meals for the week. I like to do all meals. Otherwise, I end up realizing we don’t have anything for lunch. It’s also a better opportunity to use up the food that week or even use more ingredients.
After eliminating the recipes that don’t use similar ingredients, start adding recipes to your list based on how similar the ingredients are. If you have ten recipes appropriate for dinner, add the 5-7 with the most similar ingredients.
Grocery Shop Before Meal Prepping For The Week
Take the ingredients from the recipes you decided on this week. Decide what you need to purchase and the amounts of each.
Lately, I have preferred to get groceries to pick up. I can go online, add the ingredients I need to my list and pick them up without walking through the store and getting things I don’t need.
Taking this step helps me save money and time. But if you prefer going to the store and shopping, make yourself a list and try to stick as close to it as you can. Remember, you have already planned out what you are eating all week, so you shouldn’t need anything extra.
Gluten Free Meal Prep For The Week
Now it’s time to meal prep. For some, you might have already accomplished this in the above steps. Sometimes the best prep is to plan everything out.
Others will want to take some time to get everything together. So now is the time to do that. Chop everything up, get out all the ingredients, and set up an assembly line.
Now is the point where planning earlier comes in handy.
The more ingredients that are similar between all the meals, the fewer ingredients you will have at this stage, the less chopping and less preparing for each meal. Add the ingredients to bags to put in the slow cooker or pressure cooker and freeze them flat to save space. Or add them to resealable containers and store them in the fridge.
The last step that I always take is to make sure I have backup plans. Maybe one of the meals isn’t able to be prepared quickly and will take some time. I like to make sure I have a backup plan of what I’ll do instead. Gluten free frozen pizzas are a favorite around here.
I also want a backup in case my kids change their minds on what they like that week. Because let’s be honest, they will. It doesn’t matter how well you prepare; someone will say they won’t eat what is on their plate.
My son won’t eat soup, but I know that if I can strain the soup, add some cheese and noodles, he will happily eat it. So I need to make sure we have noodles and shredded cheese around if we plan to have soup. It is an easy way to have different types of food while making sure he eats.
And while it is making a separate item, it isn’t making an individual meal. And eating the flavors is more important to me than in what form my kids eat them in.
Meal Prep Planner
If this was overwhelming for you, consider downloading my meal prep planner to make it easier for you.
Being gluten free, we end up eating at home much more than people without dietary restrictions. If you want some data on that, I did a survey that had some interesting results!
But if we eat at home, we can save more money than people who eat gluten. If we plan things out in advance, reducing wasted resources and time is even more significant!
The download I’ve created here will allow you to put your favorite recipes in, add ingredients, create a shopping list, and even sort your list by ingredient to make the planning easier each week!
You can also create weekly meal plans you can save and reuse to make the planning stage easy.
I created it in AirTable, and it only uses features in AirTable’s free version. If you haven’t used it before, it is a program that is like interlinked spreadsheets and very user-friendly.
I’ve preloaded a few recipes you can find on this site! Get it free by clicking here!
Click on “Copy Base” and you will be able to save it to your own account and have full access to it.