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Women, men, toddlers, teenagers… We might all live under one roof, but we all have different caloric needs. I know that if I eat exactly the same meals as my metabolically-gifted other half, the pounds will pile on faster than you can say “French fries.” However, I don’t want to serve as a short-order cook preparing different dishes at every mealtime — ain’t anybody got time for that!
Luckily, I’ve found that a completely different dinner isn’t necessary. Here are some of the ways I try to follow a lower-calorie diet while still cooking family-approved meals.
Side swaps: I have a permanent supply of canned and frozen veggies that I can heat quickly to have with my meal instead of the potatoes, noodles, or other rich sides that the rest of the family prefers. If someone asks why I’m having green beans instead of macaroni and cheese, I simply explain that I like vegetables better and ask if they want some, too. I don’t want to make anyone, especially kids, feel guilty for eating what they enjoy, but I also want to set a good example and show that veggies are delicious too!
Portion control: When I was a kid, my mom would serve my dad and me heaping mountains of food while she ate a portion that was at least three times smaller. This worked for her, but seeing her eat so little bothered me, especially when I was a teenager and felt more self-conscious about my figure. Now that I’m an adult, I understand that her caloric needs were different from mine and she ate accordingly; however, I think it’s better to serve everyone a reasonable, equal portion to start and to let the rest of the family take seconds or thirds if they’re still hungry.
>> Need to keep your portions in check? Use these helpful comparisons!
Different versions of the same recipe: Some recipes are easier to do this with than others. For example, I might make two versions of mini-quiche: one with ham and cheese and one with egg whites and vegetables. There’s not much extra prep time involved, just a matter of a couple of ingredient swaps. Any “build your own” type meal works well. Tacos, sandwiches, or even mini pizzas are easy (and fun) to personalize. Think of it as a sneaky way to get kids to participate in meal prep!
>> Read more: 9 Healthy Snacks You Can Make With Your Kids
Add the extras at the end: When I make chili, salad or even pancakes, I start with a healthy recipe full of whole food ingredients. I serve the meal plain, and let everyone add their own cheese, butter, sour cream, croutons, dressing, etc., at the table. This way we all enjoy a healthy meal and I can avoid the calorie-dense extras my family loves.
Dieting alone is a challenge and my willpower isn’t always strong enough to resist an extra helping or a handful of fries. Overall, though, I try to eat according to my needs and remember that women and men don’t have the same nutrition requirements.
How do you balance your diet and cooking for your family?