I don’t know about y’all, but I need a palate cleanser from the last couple of heavy posts. So let’s talk about food. Specifically, let’s talk about menu planning, and how to do it when you have a variety of diets in the house.
I hear about this a lot in the fitness challenge that I’m running. “But my family expects ____ on the table!” “I don’t want to make separate meals for everyone. It’s just easier to eat what everyone else is eating.” Or, “If I start making healthy food, there will be a revolt!”
Okay, we’ll address that last one in a whole other post, because there is a lot to unpack there. Today, let’s just focus on how you can put choices on the table that work for everyone. Believe it or not, it is absolutely possible to meet varied nutritional needs in a household, without losing your everloving mind.
Here are the six steps to getting it done and moving on with your week:
#1: Suit the most restrictive diets first.
We are a family of six. We are all gluten-free. Not because I enjoy making my life more complicated, but because my husband and I both have a strong intolerance to it. He has some kind of IBS/colitis situation that is aggravated by all grains, and I have elevated celiac antibodies that I can either accommodate now or wait until it develops into full-blown disease. I chose the former, because I have enough problems. At least this way, I can occasionally eat a Bad Idea Food that seems really worth it, with minimal repercussions.
Boy Marvel has been sensitive to it since he was a baby and Wolf Girl feels better off of it, so the little ones are along for the ride, also. If you’re keeping score, that’s 4 out of 6 people. It just makes sense to keep everyone on the same page. I’m not going to rely on my seven year-old to only eat the cookies that are safe for him and leave the others alone. Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, let’s be real: the genetic deck is stacked against the rest of them.
Then, of course, you have Husbandman and I being keto for the better part of three years now. In the absence of a specific reason to keep the kids keto, I’d prefer that they not be even weirder about food than they already are. So what we end up is needing a menu that is gluten-free, with keto components, and optional carbs for anyone who wants them/can eat them without feeling miserable.
#2: Take the easy road on dietary restrictions.
I don’t do a ton of gluten-free substitute foods. For starters, it’s expensive. I found a nice brand of gluten-free bread at Costco this week for “only” $3.75 per (small) loaf and I about plotzed. That’s a screaming deal. Gluten-free bagels, which are apparently made from solid gold, are 4 for $5 (as opposed to $6/dozen, which is what I used to pay; RIP, food budget). Even pasta costs about three times more than what you’re used to paying. It’s stupid.
Another reason I minimize substitutes is because they are ridiculously carby. Those solid-gold bagels? They have twice as many carbs as the old-fashioned gluten bombs. Again, our kids aren’t keto, but Husbandman and I are obviously not big fans of excessive carbohydrates, and pumping our kids full of double the carbs of everyone else seems…ill-advised.
Finally, it’s just simpler to buy normal food that happens to not be full of wheat. Rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn products, carrots, fruit…there are so many options! They don’t have the inflated price, the carb count is moderate, and you the consumer spend less time pining for your wheat-laden glory days (comparison is truly the thief of joy). Triple win. I do buy bread, because sometimes mama needs to be able to make a plate of sandwiches and call it good.
#3: Supplement the meal with options for the less restricted. Or don’t.
So what does a typical dinner menu consist of? A keto-friendly meal (in our house, that means lots of veggies and some protein), and maybe a carb on the side. Let’s say the main menu item is chicken and broccoli in some kind of sauce full of grass-fed-buttery goodness. I’ll serve a bowl of brown rice on the side and done. If we’re having pot roast, I put some parsnips and cabbage in with the potatoes, and make sure there’s a big salad or a side of green beans or whatever blows my skirt up.
Taco night? Grownups eat it as a bowl, instead of in a shell. If Chipotle can make that happen during a lunch rush, I can certainly manage putting together my own. Throwing a few sweet potatoes in the oven to roast along with the chicken is not a big deal. Pasta night is the most complicated, but even that is pretty manageable, once you get the hang of it. Protip: if you have a good sauce and protein, you can put it over anything. Roasted broccoli or zucchini makes a great base for a big helping or marinara or alfredo with meatballs, sausage, chicken, whatever. No, it’s not pasta. That’s kind of the point.
Now here’s where we get into some deep magic:
#4: Don’t eat from the serving bowls that are not meant for you.
Do you feel like saying no thanks to any item will breed disordered eating in your children? This was/is a massive concern to me, and probably one I will write about soon. Husbandman and I have explained to our kids that we feel better when we do and don’t eat certain things, which they can relate to because gluten. So they watch us load our plate with heaps of veggies and protein and eat until we’re full. We don’t make a big deal about it. We never say “Oh, that’s a bad food” or “That will make me fat.” We simply eat what works for us and leave the rest. Which, hopefully, is what we’re all striving for, for our kids and ourselves. What if one of them develops an allergy, or becomes a vegetarian? They’ll have to learn how to navigate a table that has foods that are not meant for them. It’s a life skill.
Of course, your success on this front depends on how you’re seeing yourself. Do you see yourself as a person who must eat from every bowl at the table? That’s a separate issue. We’re all adults here, so I assume you fix your own plate. Eat what you need to eat to feel like the person you want to be. You may not be able to control every item that goes on the table, but you do get to control everything that you allow into your mouth.
#5: Shift your understanding of what a “balanced” meal is.
Often, I skip making a carb altogether and double-up on veggies instead. Yes, that means my kids often eat a “keto” dinner. That’s right, they eat extra veggies or a bowl of salad instead of a mountain of rice. The HORROR. They don’t complain, because they’re no longer being raised to expect a trough of carbohydrates at every meal, which I most certainly was (and, let me tell you, it didn’t work out so great for me). They do eat plenty of carbs throughout the day, especially if they’ve been eating any of those aforementioned gluten-free substitute foods. If they play their cards right, they might get some fruit after dinner, or maybe even dessert. So even after being subjected to the abject cruelty of a low-carb dinner, they might get a nice blood sugar spike before bed.
Here’s a sample of our weekly menu. I usually post my menu to the fitness challenge I’m facilitating, so I throw parentheses around the foods that I only serve the kids. This is a very typical week in the Castle Darr:
#6: Find your groove and get into it with no shame.
I throw in a taco night and a pasta/“pasta” night at least every other week. We grill almost every weekend. We have pizza every.single.Friday.
My rotation might look a little boring, but you know what, that’s fine. I am in a busy season of life. I am in a frugal season of life. I am in a season of life where four tiny critics let me know on the regular exactly how they feel about my attempts at culinary experimentation. I just need to get people fed, on time and on budget, and with the types of foods that we can eat. That’s enough benchmarks to meet today.
What about you? What are you trying to accommodate in your house, and how can you do that without sacrificing your health goals? The two are not mutually exclusive, I promise! You can totally do this!