How to Cook for 3 Different Diets (Without Going Crazy!)

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Do you struggle feeding dinner to a family that is following 3 different diets at the same time? Is making those meals healthy and budget-friendly overwhelming? Solve your dinner problems with these 3 steps!

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One of the most frustrating food challenges readers approach me with is how to meal plan or make-ahead your dinners when you have several different diet needs in the same house. 

For many of our families, on any given night we have one adult on Whole30, a child who refuses to eat anything but macaroni and cheese, one who might be reacting to gluten, and an adult who just wants normal meat and potatoes.

Let’s be honest. The truth is many of us we live in a culture of endless options. We are not living in Little House on the Prairie, where dinner is dinner and this is all the food there is. Instead, our reality is gluten-free diets and picky eaters. It’s very normal for one house to have 3 different food goals under the same roof.

We have endless mealtime options and it is completely overwhelming.

For example, this is what meals look like at my house: My husband is on a high-protein, high-calorie fitness regimen because he’s a beast and is recovering from 3 years of surgeries and physical therapy. I am following my own fitness nutrition goals – mostly flexitarian with a low-carb evening meal. My kids are just trying to eat pizza and tacos every day. Meanwhile, one of them was recently diagnosed with more food sensitivities.

On top of that is our constant goal to save money and eat healthy.

Maybe you are in a similar boat. Maybe you have a child with food allergies and a spouse who just wants pizza. Or maybe you have health issues and your kids aren’t on board with eating new weird food.

First, let’s be clear.  

If the people at your table have multiple diets and food goals, I do not advocate making 3 different meals for dinner. That is domestic suicide. Feeding people real food 21 times a week is hard enough without becoming a short order cook. Your time is worth more than that.

While everyone is in a different season and has different circumstances, here is what we do to handle 3 different diets on a budget without going insane.

salad

Pick 3 Meals

Step 1

What dinners work for all of you right now? They don’t have to be everyone’s favorites. They just have to be meals your people will eat with the least amount of resistance.

Step 2

Keep this in mind too:

  1. Health – I would have the happiest kids if I made pizza every day. But that’s not good for us, so we picked something else
  2. Budget – What meals do we all like that aren’t super expensive? I’m going to focus on those ones first

A Few Ideas:

Cajun sausage beans and rice
Cajun Sausage, Beans & Rice

Step 3

Now pick 3-5 dinners to keep in your regular rotation. If you’re the kind of person who needs a different meal every night, go for it. But when you are overwhelmed with multiple diets, maybe you are in a season where simplicity is king.

Honestly, we have 3 meals we rotate through every week. Occasionally, we change it up on weekends or if we get something interesting in the CSA box.

Make-Ahead Ideas 

I do not cook every meal from scratch every evening. Instead, we follow a simple, flexible make ahead structure. Similar to my tips for going Keto on a Budget, instead of prepping whole meals, we prepare meal elements that can be combined into flexible meals 15 minutes before dinner. 

This structure fits better into our lives right now. 

Example Week:

Our meals this week are:

  1. Chicken, sweet potatoes, salad
  2. BBQ Chicken, rice, steamed veggies
  3. Taco-something-or-other (usually this nacho dip)

One day of the week (or maybe across a few like this) I’ll prepare:

The rest of the week, all I have to do is assemble the meals 15 minutes before we actually eat – a few more if I have to make rice.

toddler crying

Selective (Picky) Eaters

Selective eaters probably require their own post. Everyone has to decide how they will deal with this in their own home. But I will share 5 quick tips that have served me well over the years:

  1. Hungry children eat better than children who have not been active or have had too many snacks between meals
  2. Babies and toddlers get a lot of grace. As long as they eat a somewhat balanced diet overall, I don’t worry if they go through a bread-and-sweet-potatoes-only phase
  3. No seconds on anything unless you have cleaned your plate – because if you are hungry enough to eat more bread, you are hungry enough for salad
  4. If you simply aren’t hungry, you do not need to clean your plate. We practice listening to our bodies at meals
  5. Kids who learn to help prepare meals from a young age are more open to eating interesting food
Vertical overhead of creamy macaroni and cheese

That is how we deal with multiple diets and preferences in one house. It keeps us fed, sane, and since everyone likes these meals, we all enjoy dinner.

What You Can Do Now:

Start your list! Go to Step 1 and choose 3-5 meals to try in the coming week.

Are you juggling several diets under one roof? What has helped you stay sane?

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