STEP 1: Take stock of how what you eat now stacks up under the new rules.
We want to develop a menu for the first week or weeks of the Challenge that relies as heavily as possible on foods you already know you like and you already know how to make them. To start, make a table with 4 columns. In the first, make a list of all your family’s favorite foods – what everybody likes to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the snacks in between.
In the second column, put a check mark next to any food that still ‘flies’ under the new diet restrictions. However many or few of them there are, these are going to be the first building blocks of your Challenge diet menu.
Next you want to identify the foods that need to change, but not necessarily by very much. In the third column, put a check next to any food for which you can easily substitute one ingredient. These foods will be your secondary building blocks for your Challenge menu.
In the fourth column, put a check next to anything that’s just-plain-hard to substitute in for (though you will find lots of suggestions elsewhere on our site). These are the things like ‘roasted almonds’ on a nut-free diet, or ‘cheese and crackers’ on a dairy-free diet.
STEP 2: Design a menu for Week 1 of The Challenge around all the things you don’thave to change.
Now that you have your list, you’re ready to go to work planning out a menu to get yourself and/or your family through the first week of your challenge. Start by making yourself a simple chart with the days of the week across the top and 4 blocks – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks – down the left-hand side.
For your first week, see how many of the blocks you can fill in with just your column 2 foods – those foods that you (and/or your family) currently like but that don’t break any of the new rules. Remember to take into account leftovers to help fill in the squares.
Next add in as many of your column 3 foods as you can – ones that contain one or more element that is no longer allowed but for which you can make an easy substitution.
Depending on how many and which restrictions you’re trying to do, you might have a pretty full menu by now – or you may have quite a few holes still before you. Either way, you’ve made sure that your week will have as many familiar foods in it as possible.
STEP 3: Learn some new tricks to fill in the holes.
To fill in any remaining holes, you have two options. First, you can search on our site for new recipes that don’t break any of your new rules.
Second, you can use our Guides to Common Diet Restrictions to find additional substitutes you might not have thought of that can help you move a dish back from column 4 (out of reach) to column 3 (works with a substitute). We’ve saved this step for last only because it can take some time and patience, and depending on what you’re looking for can frankly be a painful exercise in realizing just how unattainable some of your favorite foods are becoming – at least for now.
STEP 4: Give it a go.
Now that you’ve made your plan for the first week of your Challenge, you’re ready to head off to the grocery store and give it a go. Allow yourself some extra time; you’ll need to take time to read all the labels and check out new brands you’d always rushed by before. But keep your head high -- over time, this will get easier. And we invite you to check out our blog, living freedibly, for more tips on how to survive this new diet of yours.