What's Eve Eating Now?
Simple ways to accommodate special diets
Eating can be complicated. At least in my house, it is. My son Angus eats everything, including fast food whenever he can get away with it. Typical teenager. My younger son Emmett is incredibly picky. He eats three, maybe four things. Nothing unusual there, either. My significant other Ben prefers a steady diet of beef and vodka martinis, with occasional salad binges. Not the healthiest diet on the planet, but he won’t touch fast food. I’m on board with that.
And then, there’s me.
My job is to write books with celebrities and experts, and many of my clients’ books are diet books. I am what I call a "method writer"—whatever the method, mode, diet, or lifestyle I’m writing about, I practice. When I wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating, I went totally gluten-free. When I wrote The Mediterranean Diet, I ate the Mediterranean Diet. When I write books with various nutritionists, trainers, doctors, or celebrities, I eat whatever we’re telling our readers to eat. That means sometimes I’m vegan, sometimes I’m low-carb, sometimes I’m organic, sometimes I’m a locavore, sometimes I’m raw, sometimes I’m juice-fasting. I like to know exactly how a specific diet plan works so I can write about it with real knowledge. And when I’m writing a book that has nothing to do with food, I prefer a whole-food, plant-based diet.
From an outsiders' perspective, what I do can seem very confusing. On date night, Ben likes to follow my long detailed spiel to the server about what can and cannot go on my plate with the breezy comment, “Well, I have no dietary restrictions.”
But I love eating this way. To me, food is a great adventure, and provides me with the perfect avenue through which to tweak my physical body as well as my mind. I find it fun and fascinating, like a grand science experiment. What will give me the most energy? What will make me feel mentally sharp? What foods taste irresistible, and which foods are more, well…meh? How much food is too much? How do food choices impact the environment.These are the questions that populate my brain, that drive my decisions when I enter the kitchen or pick up a restaurant menu, that make my career.
But my family just wants to eat. Other than the occasional comment like, “Why is everything in this house made of soybeans?” or “I can’t find any food because the refrigerator is too full of vegetables,” they don’t even ask me about what I’m eating or why. And that’s fine with me. I don’t like to impose my beliefs on anyone, especially when I’m not even sure what they are, beyond the urge to explore the next dietary frontier.
And this brings me, finally, to the point: When people in your household have different diets, how the heck do you cook dinner?
Here are some ideas that might help you, if you’re also struggling with feeding a family or group of people who might not all want to eat the same thing. With these easy meals, anybody can find enough to eat:
Cook any combination of grass-fed beef burgers, turkey burgers, and veggie burgers all at the same time (if not necessarily in the same pan). Provide heaping plates of tomato slices, lettuce leaves, avocado wedges, sauteed mushrooms and/or onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo. Offer organic cheese slices and nitrite-free bacon, if you are so inspired. Serve wholegrain buns separately, for those who want them. Also serve a huge salad. Those who don’t want buns can put the burger of their choice atop a salad (my favorite way). Include a big bowl of fresh fruit.
Fill plates and bowls with any of the following, and let everyone assemble their own: warmed wholegrain tortillas, corn tortillas, beans, grass-fed beef, organic turkey, wild-caught fish, vegetarian meat crumbles, shredded cheese, crumbled goat cheese, chopped tomatoes or salsa, chopped white onions, sour cream or nonfat Greek yogurt, guacamole or avocado slices, and shredded lettuce or cabbage. For a side dish, include a plate of orange slices, with cinnamon on the side for sprinkling.
Cook brown basmati rice and buckwheat noodles. Stir-fry a big bowl of veggies, then flavor with tamari and sesame oil. Set aside. In the same wok or skillet, stir-fry some protein—beef, chicken, fish, or tofu cubes, or some of each (if using tofu, start with it first, then do the meats after.) Let everyone assemble their own bowls. Sliced pears go nicely with this meal.
The main principle is the same for all of these ideas: the meal is DIY, assembly required, and simple. Nobody has to cook different dishes for each person, and beyond having to wash a lot of serving bowls, clean-up is simple, too. Everybody gets good, healthy, fresh food, which they can customize to their own dietary preferences. As long as you always include some raw vegetables and raw fruit on the table, and then let people pick their proteins and additional carbohydrate sources, you’ve got your bases covered.
As for me, I’ll continue to enjoy my food adventures and my ever-shifting diet, secure in the knowledge that I’m also feeding my family well.