Cooking for a family can be stressful enough without considering different tastes, meal times, and dietary restrictions. Yet, sometimes this is a necessity.
Creating meals for family members with different eating restrictions requires some pre-planning and a bit of ingenuity to avoid last-minute stress at mealtime. A few tips can make the whole process less painful and even enjoyable.
Take the time to find out more about what your family members can and cannot eat and why. Educate yourself on the nuances of their restrictions and what rules are applicable for health reasons and which are a matter of personal preference.
Eating restrictions based on personal ideology are no less important than those related to health; it just helps to know either way.
Meal planning is essential when feeding a family with differing dietary restrictions. Meal plan for a week or two at a time, so you are prepared to cater to everyone's eating habits.
Write down meals and post the daily dish somewhere everyone can see it so that your family members have time to plan for something different if necessary.
The best way to feed a family with different dietary restrictions is to serve meals with multiple food groups. For instance, a plate with a protein, vegetable, and starch is a classic structure, and you can mix and match the necessary items — animal and plant protein, or regular and gluten-free pasta — to accommodate different dietary restrictions.
Emphasize do-it-yourself plating, so that everyone in your family can choose what they want to include as part of their meal. This is ideal when creating meals with various options that cater to different restrictions. By allowing diners to plate their own food, they can take as little or as much of certain food groups as they desire, avoid toppings with problematic ingredients (such as if someone is allergic to tomatoes), and double up on one thing if there's not enough to satisfy them in another category.
This is applicable to adult family members because children cannot make an entirely different meal. If you are unable to accommodate the dietary restrictions of a family member for an upcoming meal, communicate this in advance so they have an opportunity to plan an alternative meal instead of being surprised at mealtime.
Instead of creating multiple components before dinnertime, consider creating different meals on different days, and freezing specific items for the next shared meal. Not only does this reduce the risk of contamination when cooking for people with allergies, but it also saves you time and stress. Having extra "leftover" freezer meals also gives family members another option if you cannot accommodate their needs that day.
Ask family members with dietary restrictions to help with meal creation. This is an opportunity to bond and learn more about different ways of eating. Moreover, it puts the onus on the person with restrictions to participate in ensuring the dish they eat is exactly what they require.
Focus on the simple staples as much as possible. Rice, vegetables, proteins like chicken, and potatoes all basic ingredient options that make for a simple dinner and suit a wide range of diets. Again, keeping the problematic ingredients to the side as add-ons lets you prepare a single meal with options, rather than two, three, or four completely separate dishes.
Meal delivery is a great option if you realize at the last minute that you did not accommodate one family member's dietary restriction. You don't have to go with fast food either: most restaurants and even markets have take-away and delivery options that will ensure a healthy and hearty meal that meets the everyone's needs.
If the diet in question is one the family member chose due to personal ideology, try it with them. For instance, if you're family member is vegan, why not prepare a vegan meal once or twice a week, rather than worrying about how to incorporate all the eating styles. You might be pleasantly surprised by the innovative flavors and textures you discover when you get outside of your comfort zone.