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Family Meal Planning - Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Be it the vegetarians or picky eaters, the keto-followers or gluten-avoiders, it is getting more difficult to prepare a single meal that appeases all eaters. While it may be impossible to find the one perfectly universal food that meets the needs of everyone’s dietary preferences and still actually tastes good, feeding a family of particular eaters is still easy to do by following the ‘two out of three’ rule.

Variety at a family meal

How it works

The rule is simple: every meal should have at least two food items that everyone at the table is willing to eat. The two items may not necessarily be the same for each person at the table, but each person should have two items that fit their dietary preference. With a family that has no specific dietary restrictions other than taste preferences, this should be pretty easy, but add in a few allergies or restrictions and a simple family meal requires a bit more planning.

Normally, following the two out of three rule can be done with just three total items (hence the name), but the challenge becomes greater with more dietary restrictions to consider. Take, for example, my family of four. My partner and I follow a keto lifestyle. My oldest daughter is starting to shy away from meat. My oldest son is a somewhat picky eater, though without any true rhyme or reason to the foods he decides not to eat. My youngest son generally eats anything, though has in the past been vegetarian. My youngest daughter is five, so that should mostly speak for itself. Regardless of the accommodations, every member should have two foods sitting on the table that they will eat.

The variety of eaters in my family (and specifically my partner and I) take away the otherwise easy, go-to meals. Namely, pizza.

Pizza is out, unless there are modifications. An otherwise easy frozen pizza supper to fall back on when there isn’t enough time for a home-cooked meal is less convenient when the crust can’t have carbs and the toppings can’t be meat-based and the cheese needs to be dairy-free and the sauce can’t have any preservatives and every other topping is contested by somebody in the bunch.

Face it, cauliflower-crust pizza just isn’t as good as the real stuff.

Soy-based cheese just isn’t as good as the real stuff (thankfully we are currently without dairy allergies in our family, but about 65% of the human population is not so lucky).

Toppings are matters of individual choice.

Cheese pizza without toppings is lacking.

Our family’s ridiculous solution is to let every family member make their own pizza. It’s fun, it’s accommodating, but it is anything but convenient and doesn’t work on a typical Tuesday night when there are fourteen activities planned for the five-hour window between schools being done and bedtime. So again, pizza is out.

What does work

To state the obvious, it needs to be easy to work. Individualized pizzas are not easy.

What about pasta?

Accommodating takes effort, and that is to be expected. If the effort is reasonable enough, then it just has to meet the two out of three criteria. If the effort of making both zucchini noodles and regular noodles is reasonable enough, then pasta could work. Add to the meal a sauce, a protein source like meatballs or sausage, and maybe even a side item like salad or garlic bread and most families can appease all members with at least two things they’d eat.

Vegans can eat the zucchini noodles, sauce, and salad.

Keto eaters can eat the zucchini noodles, protein (if chosen wisely) and salad.

Picky eaters have five or so options.

Gluten-free eaters can follow the keto eaters.

Yes, the noodle and maybe sauce modifications make for a little more effort, but it is just enough effort to give everyone options without requiring another 30-minutes of meal prep time.

Accommodations that everyone can live with

Cauliflower pizza crust works for the eaters avoiding gluten or carbs, but an eater without such restrictions shouldn’t have to pain their way through soggy crust. The same goes for zucchini noodles, gluten-free breads, highly-processed chicken nuggets, and pretty much anything that is soy-based. If it’s not obviously palatable or easily identifiable as food, the group shouldn’t be forced to imbibe or else they will rightfully become resentful.

But there are options, and when options can be found that serve the entire family, they are worth adding into the established meal-time routines. Some options that work for a variety of eaters and are pretty universally palatable include:

Fajitas – Modifiable to accommodate almost every common dietary restriction

Grilled chicken – Obviously not the best option for vegetarians, but pretty universal outside of the vegetarian realm

Salad – I’m not crazy enough to imply that every five-year-old wants a plate full of lettuce, but the variety of ingredients in a make-your-own salad should work for everyone. Who cares if the salad consists of just bacon, cheese and croutons for one of the eaters?

BLTs – Speaking of bacon, basic sandwiches with or without bread and with meat substitutes as needed are pretty universally acceptable.

Eggs – Outside of vegans, there are enough different ways to prepare eggs that there should be an option for everyone. Play around, look online, have the kids seek out their own egg recipes.

Salmon – Not a cheap option, but one of the least ‘fishy’ fish, so surprisingly palatable to even picky eaters.

Some modifications to ‘normal’ foods can yield surprisingly good results, and could be worth considering as well, including:

Lasagna – Tasty vegetarian versions and low-carb/gluten-free versions are found all over the internet, and many of these modified versions taste much better than they sound like they would.

Burgers – With or without a bun and frozen vegan options combine to accommodate most eaters.

Bread – Nope, sorry, this is misplaced. Bread should be made of wheat, not xanthan gum or mozzarella cheese.

Chili – There are enough ingredients in chili such that you don’t especially notice when one is missing. Want low-carb? Take out the beans. Want vegetarian? Take out the meat. Remove tomatoes or peppers or whatever other component that your kid will otherwise dig through the chili to find. Or better yet, leave the ingredient in the chili and watch how your child can magically pick out a tiny onion mid-bite…it’s impressive.

It takes a little effort to make sure that everyone in your home can sit down to a family meal that they are all willing to eat, and many will say that ‘you can’t please everyone.’ That may be true, but when it’s your family, it’s worth trying.

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