The stress of cooking for multiple diets

 turkey dinner

If you are like me, you obsess over holiday meal planning, attempting to design a delicious menu that will please everyone. That is stressful enough on its own, but throw in a  family member with special dietary needs or restrictions and you raise the anxiety level to new heights. NPR’s The Salt takes a look at how stressful special occasion meals can be when you have to cook for dramatically different diets of family members.

The issue can be especially difficult when the family members are teenagers. Sarah Clark, a health behavior researcher at the University of Michigan, recently conducted a poll on the effects of teens switching to special diets including vegetarianism and veganism. She found that over half of parents surveyed reported that the switch had become a source of conflict or stress.

One way to resolve this dilemma is to involve the teens in meal planning and preparation. Instead of just tacking on another chore onto your already-full list, have family members suggest dishes and help assemble and cook them. This can ease tensions and make sure everyone finds something to enjoy at mealtime. 

Since I am a control freak, it can be difficult for me to let go of parts of the meal, but I’m slowly learning to allow others to contribute. At the very least I’ll solicit suggestions for foods to make, which can lead to discovering new and interesting foods. What strategies do you employ to reduce stress when cooking for different dietary needs or preferences?

Photo of  Stateside our side: Thanksgiving dinner, incl. a decent roast turkey from Big Table, Busy Kitchen: 200 Recipes for Life 

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  • hillsboroks  on  November 25, 2016

    When my son was in his twenties he became vegetarian and suddenly my tried and true holiday menus needed to be altered. But instead of throwing things out that other family members loved I just started adding extra interesting vegetable dishes. I found that when I really dove into finding more complex vegetable side dishes (that could sub as the main dish for my son) the rest of the family quickly fell in love with them too. Some of these have now become family favorites even though my son (now in his 30s) is back to eating meat again. The whole experience turned out to be a fun challenge for me as a cook but since I embraced it willingly I never saw the conflict or stress that others describe. I've had the same results cooking for guests with other diet restrictions due to health problems. As long as I don't tell anyone that the menu is gluten-free or vegetarian friendly most guests just enjoy the meal and we talk about everything else but food restrictions.

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