How I Avoid Making Different Meals for Each of Our Family Members

Cooking for a family of three -- one of us with CF and all of us having different diets -- makes mealtime complicated. It's taken some time, but I finally found the key to satisfying our whole family's needs at dinnertime.

| 5 min read
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Rebekah Brooks
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Every Saturday morning I take inventory of our family's food supply: I open the fridge, take note of leftovers, check the freezer for quick heat-and-eat meals, scour the pantry to see what staples we have left, and develop my game plan. Each week I'll ask: What does our schedule look like? What meals will we eat? How much food prep can I get done tomorrow? What items will I need from the grocery store? What can I order for curbside delivery, and what items will require a mad dash through a grocery store?

Some parents can commiserate about the dread of grocery shopping and planning dinners they hope will appease the kids. Yet, navigating this already tricky situation becomes even more challenging when taking into consideration different dietary needs. While my husband does not like much from the world of vegetables, I am a vegetarian -- technically, pescatarian.

However, our daughter, Cadence, must follow a high-salt, high-fat, high-protein diet because she has cystic fibrosis. 

Everything I have to limit in my own diet is encouraged for my daughter's. How do I plan dinners to meet our varying needs?

I am not a nutritionist -- and really, for a vegetarian, I don't eat as many vegetables as I should. Thankfully, I am a planner who loves to cook; so, over time I experimented and learned tricks along this journey.  I discovered I could start with a vegetarian base, upon which I can add the salt, fat, and extra protein for Cadence. 

Since I hate to waste food, Saturdays are reserved for finishing off any leftovers and freezing anything I can. Not cooking on Saturdays means I can use this day to plan, shop, and start food prepping. 

Sundays are days of rest, so I love to use the slow cooker in the fall and winter. A black bean chili or vegetable stew makes a great meal for me with leftovers I can eat for lunch all week. To appease my husband, I can pick up a rotisserie chicken to cut up and add to his bowl. For my daughter, in addition to the chicken, I add butter (salted, of course) and cheese, sour cream, or yogurt. On Sundays during the spring and summer my husband grills burgers or steak for him and Cadence, while I enjoy a BOCA Burger. We also like to grill asparagus and corn, which is easy to load up with butter and salt for Cadence.

On Mondays, Cadence has dance classes in the early evening, so I need something fast and simple. Salmon is a favorite and it's a fatty fish that she enjoys. I usually serve it with brown rice (pre-cooked is much quicker) and green beans that come in a convenient microwave bag for steaming. I throw in more salt and butter (thank goodness for our Southern roots) and Cadence has her high-salt, high-fat, high-protein meal, while I can leave out these additions for my own healthy meal.

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Tuesdays, of course, call for tacos -- or at least taco bowls. I use up the leftover brown rice from the night before, heat a can of black beans, and prepare a homemade guacamole that my husband and daughter cannot get enough of. Any leftovers from the weekend's rotisserie chicken make a protein-packed addition for my husband and daughter, and condiments such as salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese allow me to control the portions of my bowl while piling on more for Cadence. Sometimes she asks for tortilla chips to dip, adding yet more fat and salt -- win!

Wednesdays are great pasta nights. Whole wheat spaghetti or penne cooks to the perfect al dente while I reheat some homemade marinara from my freezer. After I plate up the pasta and sauce, I add a little (or more) shredded parmesan and pop frozen meatballs in the microwave for my husband and Cadence. The spaghetti with sauce is plenty for me, but occasionally I'll add some “meatless meatballs” -- yes, that paradoxical concoction does exist.

Thursdays are busy with swim lessons, so nothing is quicker than shrimp (sometimes leftover steak or chicken from the grill) with a pre-made Caesar salad kit with extra dressing on the side. Cadence calls it “salad and dip,” because she loves to dip the lettuce into the dressing, often licking from the bowl when we're finished. I don't mind, since that dressing easily has 9 grams of fat in a tablespoon. I limit my serving, while Cadence usually gets double.

When Fridays finally come around -- and after a week of planning, prepping, and preparing a variety of meals -- I find myself exhausted and -- once again -- trying to decide: What's for dinner? Take out!

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Rebekah lives with her daughter, Cadence, just north of Boston where she teaches high school English. She completed her undergraduate degree in English and received her master's degree in teaching at the University of South Carolina. Since her daughter's diagnosis, Rebekah has also participated in fundraising for Great Strides and hopes to one day publish a memoir to help spread awareness. When she can find the time, Rebekah loves to go for runs, dance with her daughter, and curl up on the couch to enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book. You can follow her story on Facebook.

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