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How to feed a family with different diets

It can be hard enough to feed a family, but it is even harder when your dietary requirements differ. With vegetarian and veganism on the rise, and increasing diagnoses of coeliac disease, lactose intolerance, and not forgetting allergies to nuts, seafood and even avocados, it’s highly unlikely that any two people living together will have the same diets.

Compromise

The easiest thing to do is to find dishes that everyone likes, but this will probably mean some compromising. It’s easy to fall into the trap of everyone eating “kid” meals- beige foods like chicken nuggets and chips. But there can be a middle ground to be found. If one person is gluten-free, but everyone likes pasta, gluten-free pasta is a good option, as is a soup or stew. Is one person vegan? Then look at a few meals a week where everyone eats plant-based. It’s easier than ever to replace meat with alternatives- try vegetarian sausages with your mash, tofu in stir frys or seitan meatballs with pasta. Maybe everyone takes it in turn to pick a dish- that way someone gets their favourite eventually.

BYO (build-your-own

Try meals that have a neutral base that each person can add their own extras too. Things like tacos, wraps, or salad bowl, where each component can be served in separate bowls- rice, proteins, and veggies. Pizzas are another great option; you can buy a base, and everyone can choose their own toppings before cooking. Serving things independently reduces risks of cross-contamination but also gives small children a sense of free-will which increases the likelihood they will eat what they have chosen for themselves.

Stock up on Staples

A cupboard full of staples is essential when cooking for a family. Neutral, versatile foods with long shelf lives can be thrown together in many ways.

  • Canned or dry beans and legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas. These make a great base for chilis and stews and make a great meat substitute for lasagne, bolognaise and Shepherd’s pie.
  • Grains such as rice, oats, quinoa, and couscous will cover most dietary requirements and are a surprising source of protein, as well as fibre.
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables are fantastic, especially with small children in the house. A bag of sweetcorn in the freezer will outlast even the most stubborn “I don’t like vegetables!” phase. It’s also a cheap way to supply the whole family’s favourites- throw a handful of peas, carrots or spinach into separate bowls and cook in the microwave to ensure everyone has something they’ll eat.
  • Protein options, such as frozen or tinned fish, or cartons of tofu and seitan, that can be on hand to make a meal when someone suddenly announces they’re no longer eating chicken.

Fill the Freezer

The freezer is your friend! There are a few main schools of thought when it comes to meal prep, and sometimes it’s easiest to do a bit of them all. Keeping a small stockpile of meals on ice gives you some freedom on those days you just do not want to cook but also provides options meaning there’s always something available that everyone can eat (even if it’s different!).

  • Prep ingredients first- some people prefer to just cut and store staple ingredients first. Chop onion, garlic, carrots and celery and store in several freezer bags. These can be easily tossed in a pan to serve as a base for many meals, including pasta sauce, chilli, and most soups.
  • Prep batches of meals- fans of this method will typically make a week of meals on one day and then store them for use throughout the week. This will generally take a couple of hours but works out shorter than spreading the cooking time across the evenings. Casseroles, tagine, and pies freeze well and can be easily reheated in the oven.
  • Save the leftovers- my personal favourite method is to always make an extra portion or two of meals. It doesn’t take any extra time or effort but does mean that I have enough food to feed the family and fill a couple of plastic boxes that will keep in the freezer.

Get a helping hand

If you have a family of fussy eaters, The University of Alberta found that when children help prepare and cook a meal, they are more willing to eat it. The NIH has a list of suggestions of age-appropriate tasks to help children of all ages to help with kitchen tasks. My toddler loves to mix and pour and lay the table. Getting children involved early will inevitably make things harder, with food flying everywhere and everything taking six times as long to get from fridge to plate, but, in the long run, it should hopefully encourage a greater willingness to eat a range of foods and hopefully teach them the skills required to be a helpful sous chef.

Hide the Evidence

Absolutely do not hide the offending foodstuffs from an intolerance sufferer, nor should you hide meat products from a non-meat eater, but you can get creative and hide fruit and vegetables from the kids. Whizz vegetables in a blender to make pasta or pizza sauces- butternut squash and tomatoes are the easiest, but you can also throw in most other chunky vegetables such as courgettes, peas and aubergines. You want to choose vegetables that can be smoothed into a paste rather than broccoli or cauliflower that will break into small bits and give the game away. The same thing works with smoothies- hide lesser-liked fruits in with their favourites for some extra nutrients.

The range of diets being consumed has never been more diverse, which may actually work in our favour. In a family of fussy eaters or intolerances, the range of alternatives available in the shops is continually increasing, as are the expertise of recipe makers. The internet is awash with gluten-free alternatives to traditional baked goods, dairy-free desserts, and more vegan options than you can shake a celery stick at. The most important thing to bear in mind is to not stress yourself out making a different meal for every person. As long as everyone is getting fed, don’t feel guilty for reaching for the microwave from time to time.

 

peanut butter protein bars

Recipe: No-bake Peanut Butter Protein Bars

While it’s preferable to try and fulfil your micronutrient requirements through meals, after an intense exercise session, sometimes an extra protein hit is a must. And sometimes, you just want a delicious baked snack, in which case, it may as well be as healthy as possible!

This recipe makes 9-12 bars depending on how generous you’re feeling. Using zero calorie maple syrup is a great way to slash your calories in a sweet treat. I’ve used one from Bulk Powders but there are many different options including one from The Skinny Co. which I also love.

These bars require no baking, just a microwave and a fridge. They’re quick to make and perfect for taking on a long run or cycle.

Ingredients

  • 150 g instant oats
  • 225 g smooth, runny, peanut butter
  • 150 g whey protein powder
  • 3 tbsp flax seeds
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 50 g coconut oil
  • 125 g zero maple syrup
  • Two scoops white cacao buttons

Method

  1. Line a baking tray with baking paper
  2. Add the oats, protein powder, and seeds to a large bowl
  3. In a separate, microwave-safe bowl, add the peanut butter, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Microwave for approximately 30 seconds, on a medium-low setting- watch carefully. If not fully combined, mix and put back in for 10 more seconds. Repeat until fully combined
  4. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix combined into a thick dough
  5. Press the dough into the lined tin and flatten out as smoothly as possible
  6. Melt cacao buttons in a microwavable bowl, and once completely melted, spread over dough
  7. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until cacao topping has hardened

Store in a clean, airtight container.

Flexible Dieting

What is Flexible Dieting?

Flexible dieting isn’t a”diet” in the sense that we’re used to that word being used. When we hear “diet”, we imagine restriction, calorie counting, and cutting out the things we enjoy. Instead, flexible dieting is just simply a way of eating within your lifestyle. Fad diets tend to only treat the symptom of weight gain, that is, it limits how much you eat. Flexible dieting makes it easier to understand: you can enjoy food but in a healthy and measured way.

We all know about calories, but diets often make the concept confusing and more difficult to understand. They want you to rely on them to get your information. The diet industry wants you to stay in the diet cycle. The basic facts are your body burns a set number of calories a day, through bodily functions and basic daily activities. These are your maintenance calories.

If you eat the same number of calories that you burn, then your weight will not change. 

If, however, you eat fewer calories than your maintenance amount, your body takes its additional needs from the fat stores in your body. This is how you lose weight.

When you eat more calories than your maintenance number, your body takes the excess, and it is stored in your body as fat.

A basic diet should aim for 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat.

Flexible dieting believes that that goal can be achieved through eating a range of healthy foods, but even “less healthy” food can be enjoyed in moderation and within your calorie budget. Your body had nutrient requirements which should be considered. It needs vitamins and minerals to keep working optimally so these should be prioritised. But if you do eat a large amount of “junk” foods, flexible dieting doesn’t punish you. You work this into your calorie budget and continue.

 

                     

 

 

meal plan in glass box

Top Tips for Meal Prepping

1. SCHEDULE SCHEDULE SCHEDULE

The most important thing to do to get started with meal prep is to schedule it. It will take a good couple of hours, especially the first few times when you’re still getting used to cooking multiple meals and sorting yourself it- it can be overwhelming! But persevere, and it will take a lot less time than cooking a meal every day of the week, so rearrange your week. Find those days where you’re too busy for dinner and plan for a prepped meal. Also find days where actually, you do have some free time, could you rearrange some things to spread them out and free yourself up a chunk of time?

I find Sundays the best day for this, and that’s probably the same for most fans. Work out the best day for you, based on the day you can get all your groceries, and the days you have time to dedicate to prepping.

 

 

2. EXPAND YOUR REPERTOIRE

An often-overlooked element of meal prepping is how good the food actually is. Lots of photos you’ll see of meal prep spreads will look thoroughly unappealing, many focus on a plain protein and salad. Breaking news: you can prep meals you actually enjoy! That last thing you want to do is fill your freezer with bean chilli when you hate bean chilli. It’s wasting food and space that could be taken up with Shepherd’s pie or sausage casserole. If you dread what you’ve got planned for that day, you’ll begin to resent the meal prep process and quickly give up. Don’t do it! Check out a few recipes online (we have loads here!) or watch youtube videos of other preppers, and you will definitely find enough meals to keep you satisfied.

 

 

3. MAKE A PLAN

Once you’ve found meals you want to cook, plan when you’ll need to:

  1. Plan when you will eat each meal
  2. Work out what ingredients you need for each meal
  3. Check what you already have and what you’ll need to buy

Writing down your plan for the week makes to more likely you’ll stick to it. The family can see what to expect, and you can see what you have available.

 

 

4. KEEP IT CONTAINED

Decent containers are vital, you don’t want anything that leaks in your freezer or your work bag. Decide what size you need- do you want to prep for yourself or your whole family? Are you packing lunches or evening meals? It’s absolutely fine to reuse plastic containers, they often fit a perfect portion and stack well in a freezer. It’s also important to consider if you want plastic, bamboo or glass. Bamboo is good for microwaving, whereas glass can be put in the oven, so consider what your reheating options are what your meal requires.

 

 

5. SHOP IN BULK

Many meal preppers rely on grains and beans, as they store and reheat well. They are also very cheap staples that provide protein and nutrients. Lots of meats and vegetables work out cheaper when bought in larger quantities- meal prepping allows you to maximise savings and minimize trips to the supermarket. Freezing produce in meals saves space and stops produce going bad.

6. KNOW YOUR TIMINGS

Once you’ve worked out what you want to prep, work out how much each meal needs to cook, and start with the longest first. It helps to prep all your ingredients first, and then you can start assembling meals. While one meal is cooking, you can work on the next, and so on. This also allows you to maximise the use of the oven (saving on gas), and ensure you have enough pots and pans available to use.

 

 

 

6. BEFRIEND THE SLOWCOOKER

The slowcooker is your best friend. You can stick all your ingredients in and leave it for the best part of the day. They usually fit enough for several portions, minimize the washing up, and make sure food is thoroughly cooked. Stick a slow cooker meal on first, and move on with the other dishes without needing to worry about keeping an eye on it.

 

 

7. STORE IT RIGHT

Work out the best way to store your prepped meals so that nothing spoils and is wasted. Don’t store your Friday meal in the fridge on a Monday, that’ll want a space in the freezer. And don’t put leafy salads in the freezer, plan to eat those first and keep them in the fridge. You’ll also need to decide what reheating options are available. If you’re planning on taking meals to work but you don’t have access to a microwave, opt for meals that can be kept in a fridge and eaten cold. But bulkier dinners that you can put back in the oven at home can be stored easily in the freezer.

Sweet Potato and Lentil Dal

Recipe: Spinach Flatbread 

Ingredients

  • 100g plain flour 
  • Handful of spinach 
  • Water 
  • 0 cal spray for cooking 

Method

Blitz spinach with a little of the water in a blender and add to the flour. Mix well adding more water (from the tap!) until you have a soft dough.  

Split the dough into small balls, roughly the size of a golf ball. Roll each flat on a floured surface and cook in a frying pan greased with the 0cal spray. Cook for 2 mins each size. Will store in the fridge overnight, can possibly be frozen.  

 

Credit: Gemma Greig
@just-another_gem
considertheend.com

Sweet Potato and Lentil Dal

Recipe: Sweet Potato and Lentil Dal

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp olive oil  
  • 1/2 red onion 
  • 1 red chilli 
  • 1tsp turmeric 
  • 1 tsp cumin 
  • 1 garlic clove 
  • 1 sweet potato 
  • 125g red lentils 
  • 300ml veg stock 
  • Handful of spinach 

Method

Chop onion and garlic and fry on a low heat until onion goes translucent. Add chilli, turmeric and cumin and stir for 2 minutes. Add chopped and pealed sweet potato and mix with the spices, onion and garlic.  

Add red lentils and pour in the stock. You may need to add more boiling water if it gets too dry. Cook for 20mins until sweet potato chunks are soft.  

Wilt the spinach in just before serving.  

 

Credit: Gemma Greig
@just-another_gem
considertheend.com

vegan chicken noodle soup

Recipe: Vegan Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients

  • Half pack of ‘Cheatin chicken style slices’  
  • Half red onion 
  • 1-2 chestnut mushrooms 
  • 1 veg stock cube 
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (x2) 
  • 1 tsp chilli powder 
  • 1tsp garlic powder 
  • 1 portion of rice noodles 
  • Handful of beansprouts 

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200C and chop onion and mushrooms. Add to oven proof dish with the vegan chicken and sprinkle with chilli powder, garlic powder and 1tbsp soy sauce. Cook for 20mins until onions are crispy and mushrooms are cooked.  

Bring a medium pan of water to the boil, add the stock cube and 1 tbsp soy sauce and cook rice noodles in the stock as per packet instructions. Two minutes before noodles are cooked add in the beansprouts.  

Serve beansprout and noodle soup in a shallow bowl and top with vegan chicken, mushroom and onion.  

 

Credit: Gemma Greig
@just-another_gem
considertheend.com