Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Posted by Andrea Meyers
The image of a family all sitting around eating the same foods at a meal is the one I grew up with. My mother and grandmothers never made separate dishes for any of their children; we were all expected to eat what had been prepared for the family, and if we didn't we like what was served we were still expected to eat and not waste it. I think that philosophy was founded in my grandparents' farm ethic as well as living life during the Great Depression. Our family still strives for that ideal, but since I started the South Beach diet I've found that I don't always eat some of the things that I fix for my family. Phase 1 of the diet removes all fruits, flours, rice, and sugar to curb and reset cravings, something I definitely needed after the sweets-laden holidays. For the past week I have avoided all of those things, even if they were on the menu for everyone else.
Preparing the same meal for everyone certainly makes it easier to plan, but it's not always possible. Flexibility is required when one member of the family is dieting, has food allergies or sensitivities, cannot eat certain foods due to medication interactions, follows a vegetarian or vegan or other special lifestyle, or is pregnant. Last week I asked my Twitter friends how they manage situations like this and got some great responses which I will summarize and add my own thoughts.
Food allergies and sensitivities are serious and require careful planning and preparation. Cross-contamination can happen very easily, and depending on the type of allergy and its severity, families may choose to avoid a food completely, such as peanuts or seafood. Other allergies or sensitivities such as gluten allergy or lactose intolerance can be managed by keeping gluten free or lactose free products on hand for the person who needs it and keeping all preparation equipment separate. My sister has a gluten allergy and when she visits I prepare gluten free meals and desserts and make sure I set aside things for her such as butter and condiments that haven't been contaminated. Recently we discovered that our toddler has a citrus sensitivity and breaks out in a rash, particularly with oranges. This one poses a challenge because he's not old enough to understand why he can't have oranges, but everyone else in the family enjoys them. This is one food sensitivity that many children outgrow, so in a few years he'll probably be able to eat them again, but in the meantime we have to hide the oranges and avoid eating them in front of him.
Pregnancy is a common reason for modifying the diet, and there are some foods that pregnant women should avoid for safety and overall health reasons. During my pregnancies I remember the pain of having to give up caffeine, sweets, sushi, and my weekly glass of wine or cocktail, but I got used to it. My husband still enjoyed his beer and wine and I thought ahead to our baby's arrival when I felt little pangs of envy, but for the most part we ate the same things. If the partner adopts the pregnant woman's diet, that does make meal planning easier, especially if certain foods or smells make the woman feel sick.
Dieting to lose weight can be torture on a family member when everyone else still enjoys their favorite foods, but everyone in the family can benefit from eating a few extra servings of vegetables, adding whole grains, and cutting back on unhealthy fats and sweets. When possible, prepare something that everyone can enjoy, or at least make sure that the dieter's needs are addressed with a few simple modifications. Try roasting vegetables in olive oil and herbs rather than cooking them with heavy cheese or cream sauces, or grilling lean meats instead of frying.
Having one vegetarian or vegan in an omnivore family doesn't have to be difficult, but communication is key. As a family discuss the choice to go vegetarian or vegan, making sure to discuss the details of what foods are considered appropriate for that lifestyle. When preparing meals, look for ways to keep things simple. For example, when making a stir fry, set aside some of the vegetables and stir fry those with tofu rather than meat, or even plan to make a family vegetarian or vegan meal at least once a week. Make sure there are options available for everyone.
Finally, no matter what meal situation you find yourself in, include all family members in meal planning and preparation whenever possible. That is a positive way to keep the lines of communication open.
This post was written by Andrea
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