Cooking for people with allergies and eating preferences can be extremely confusing. It is made all the worse when it is complicated by layering multiple people and preferences together. Before you know it, it's a big hot sticky mess with no flavor whatsoever.
It is exactly this kind of layering that I deal with on a near constant basis living in a food-centric and often naturopathic city with plenty of food needs of my own. My favorite challenge so far? A vegetarian, vegan, paleo dinner party. Yes, some of those diets are almost exact opposites. Somehow we pulled it off. Not without a fair amount of stressing out, but we did it. As I continue to cook for loved ones, friends, and family with varying needs, I came to the conclusion that something needed to change and I certainly didn't want it to be people coming over for dinner. I want to always be able to say "yes! come!" o matter who they are or what they need to avoid eating. But, I also don't want to tear my hair out.
My solution? A new recipe box system.
What I wanted to accomplish
A box filled with delicious recipes where each clearly communicates the allergens inside and where anyone can pick up a single card or collection of recipes and know instantly whether they contain common allergens.
How it works
First, I wrote a key card. It lists diets and styles of eating in a color code along the top edge with a notch to mark where it is. The key card also shows where the recipe title goes, how to tell if there are notes on the back, and a code for how long the recipe takes to make.
Next, I started writing the recipe cards themselves. Once the recipe is written, I write in the restrictions it complies with along the top using the key card for placement. Once I have the holes notched, they are easy to identify. Once a second card is finished, all you have to do is hold them up together to see what restrictions they both follow.
How to use it
Say I have a vegan and a sugar free friend coming over for tea. All I need to do is pick recipes out to create a menu, line them all up, and look to make sure that both the "vegan" notch and the "sugar free" notch are punched on every card. It's as simple as that.
I have also created individual cards for people who come to my home frequently with notches in the proper places for what they avoid. That way, I don't have to always be asking them what they can and cannot have...I can simply pull out their card and check recipes against it.
Yes, this solution does take time but onmygoodness has it paid off, even just for weekly meals for roommate and myself.
If you do nothing else, find a place to collect all of your recipes in one place. Suddenly I get to browse through favorite childhood recipes all the way to the new soup we created last week. Before I know it I've got five I know we'll love and I can easily toss in one or two that we still have yet to try.