10 Tips For Cooking Dinner When You Can't Eat The Same Foods As Your Family

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Or that could be titled:

How to Make Two Separate Dinners Each Night Without Breaking Down in Tears

The hardest part with major diet changes is answering that daily question, "what's for dinner?" 

There are days when I want to punch the asker square in the throat. But then, that'd be child abuse and I don't believe in child abuse.

There are days when Mr. Barlow comes home from the grocery store laden with food and as I help put it away I realize there are only three things I can eat. I don't always handle that well.


I'm still stuck in the cycle of mourning.


5 stages of food


This is real (except I don't drink coffee or vodka).

Let me share with you how I survive eating the Autoimmune Protocol Diet. AIP for short.

Okay, I'll be 100% honest, because that's how I roll. I do not follow it 100% I'm probably about 75% on target and the other 25% is not budging right now.

If you want to know why I eat this way, head over to this post, I explain it all there.

You HAVE to have a plan.

Did I just tell you to have a plan? Yes, I did. Don't slap me.

The biggest contributor to my success AND to my failures has been meal planning.

Meal planning feels like an event; an event that doesn't earn me a medal of any kind.


The easiest way is to pull out your recipes, open your Pinterest boards, and grab a sheet of paper. I just use one of those magnet list things that I got from the Dollar Spot from Target. Who else is obsessed with Target?

I plan out about 8 - 9 meals. Why that many? I don't like going to the store that often and I'd like to get through half of another week before I need to replenish the stockade. Plus, I usually run out of ideas after that many days and have too many to stop at 4. Also, who wants to drudge through the grocery store for just 4 meals only to have to repeat it again so soon?


Not I. The grocery store sucks the soul out of my body and sucks the time from my life. I feel my life being tangibly shortened each time I wander those aisles.

10 Tips For Cooking Dinner When You Can't Eat The Same Foods As Your Family

Here are the 10 tips

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1. Know your ingredients

You need to know what it is you can and cannot eat. I know that seems obvious, but if you have an allergy to corn, wheat, sugar, or dairy you need to make sure you know all the hidden ways it pops up in your food. Believe me they are in everything.

Keep an eye out for them in your regularly used products and cut them out or find substitutions.

2. Alterations are your friend

Pick your favorite family recipes. Is there a way to change the recipe so that you may enjoy them still?

There are some recipes that lend themselves to this easier than you think. There are some, like my favorite cheesy creamy chicken enchiladas, that do not. Especially when I can't have dairy or grains.

For instance, we had BBQ chicken tonight. Nearly every BBQ sauce out there has sugar in it. Or some variation of sugar. Make your own without sugar.

My favorite lie is when people say, on there's no sugar in it, but there's a elephant-sized amount of honey or cane syrup in it. That's sugar. Sure it's natural, but when you can't have sugar, you can't have sugar.

It's like saying it's organic tobacco grown on my Grandpappy's farm where no fertilizer touched it ever and only friendly animals and bugs wandered through its fields, and only the nicest, hard-working, loyal, and gentle laborers harvested and prepared it for my chew.

I'm still gonna die. 

Rant over.

3. Coordinate your meals

Say your family is having nachos for dinner. You can have taco salad, using the same taco meat that they put on their nachos.

Take what meals you have planned for the family and then build on it. If you can have the same meat, then make sure your sides are ones you can eat. If they have chips or french fries with their burgers, make sure you have a yummy side salad, or roasted veggies. I made baked french fries out of green beans once and they were pretty good.

If you can't have the main dish, or a portion of the main dish, make sure all the sides are things you can eat and then have a separate main dish for yourself.

4. Cook once for many

I love systems, factories, and efficiency. If I only have to do something once and it's set for a long time, I'm happy.

I pick out 7 different main dishes that I love.

Then each day for a week I make each meal.

If I have time to do this earlier in the day, I do. If not, I'll cook it alongside, just after, or just before I make the family dinner. It may be helpful to have the easiest dinners alive during this week, or enlist some help.

I eat one portion of the meal that night.

I then grab individual sized tupperware containersI proportion each serving out into each container. Slap a label on it and freeze them all. 

The next day I repeat. I do this for the whole week. After that week is over, I now have at least 4 weeks of dinners made for me. All I have to do is make the sides, which can be the same sides for the rest of the family.

This is my favorite way to do it. It's so simple, yet uses so much less energy.


10 Tips For Cooking Dinner When You Can't Eat The Same Foods As Your Family

5. Get help

When I was first adjusting to this new lifestyle and getting the lay of the land and figuring it out, my husband, bless his sweet soul, took over the dinner time responsibilities.

To make you really jealous, he just did it, he just planned out dinners and took over until I was ready to start up again. He's mine. You can't have him. ;)

If your husband is not friendly with the kitchen, it's time to figure out, the two of you, some easy easy meals that he can put together. You may have to be okay with them eating mac n cheese, or cold hotdogs, or pizza every other night. A few weeks won't ruin them.

Some options:

  • He can take over dinner for a week, two, or more.
  • He can take over dinner for a week each month (while you make your dinners)
  • He can take one - three nights a week to be in charge of dinner.

What if you're single? Or if your husband works weird shifts/is gone a lot

Is there someone you know and feel comfortable asking to come over and help you prepare meals, bring your kids dinner every once in a while, or be with the kids while you cook? Or even cook for you?

Get some friends and have a cooking day with each other to prepare as many meals ahead of time as possible. You'll have great company and the time won't be as painful.

If you have weird schedules work around the schedules you have set. My sister-in-law's husband works graveyards so they have a big lunch together and then make their dinner more like their lunch time. If she was doing this, she would just switch her big meal prep and help to lunch instead of dinner.

6. Embrace the necessary tools

I used to only use my crockpot for pot roast. Oh, how I love pot roast. I have finally learned that I can cook good meals, even healthy ones, in my crock pot.

Just learn to love it if you don't already.

7. Do as much as you can ahead of time

I just started reading this book, Chicken Dump Recipes. I made 5 meals in 30 minutes, 4 of which I can eat. It's fabulous. They aren't gross, icky, filled with cream of mushroom, and laden with cheese, and stuff. They're simple, tasty, and easy meals to make. I love that they don't take up much room in my freezer either. I can't wait for her to write Beef Dump Recipes.


I tried once a month cooking many years ago and don't think I'll ever attempt that again. I don't think it helped that I was pregnant at the time and very sick. I can't eat any of those meals from that whole month ever again. I can't even think about them without getting ill.

Do what works for you. If you can prep a whole week for the family really fast, then do it. I did it on a Sunday afternoon when the kids were playing or napping.

Prep all your snacks ahead of time. Get all those foods washed, chopped, bagged, and put where you can grab them quick.

I have my protein shake ingredients all put in snack baggies so I can just pour in the almond milk, the ice cubes, and dump the dry ingredients in there and whirl it away.

8. Have special ingredients on hand

Don't run out of those special-to-you ingredients. That's when your snack monster will attack and you'll find yourself eating Oreos... ahem.. not that I would know anything about that. 

9. Have lots of sides & easy meals

  • Have an abundance of sides ready for you to munch on.
  • Have lots of snacks ready for you to munch on in an instant.
  • Have the family's easiest and quickest meals stocked and ready to go.
  • Have YOUR easiest meals ready to go always.

You'll thank me later.

10. Last thoughts

Have dinner with your family.

You won't feel as disconnected and lonely in your journey to health. Plus, you'll feel better, even if you can't eat what they're having.

Don't make your old favorite meals (the ones you can't have any more) on bad days. 

If you've really had a hard time with your diet change, or just a stressful day that has left you in tears, do not make that delicious pasta recipe or that dairy laden recipe that you can't have any more. Not unless you plan to eat it any way.

You'll just make a hard situation harder. Go easy on yourself. Set yourself up for success. It's okay to have bad days. It's okay to be tempted by food that your body doesn't love any more. Just accept that it's a rough day, and grab that easy meal, or let your husband know that he needs to take over tonight.

Your husband loves you, he wants your success. If you've already talked to him, you already have easy meals stocked for him to use on nights like these, it'll be a breeze. If your kids are old enough, start teaching them to cook. Win-win.


I wish you the best of luck.



10 Make Ahead School Lunches (Done the Lazy Way)

10 Make Ahead School Lunches (Done the Lazy Way) + free download | rochellebarlow.com When lunchtime swings around I push it off as much as I can because I just can't stop what I'm doing. Or it'll all crumble beneath me.

Can you relate, or is that just me and my ridiculousness?

Well, hungry kids usually make sure that I don't forget to feed the family.



Can I get an amen?

To help not put off lunch time, and make it super simple, I make-ahead as much as possible; it's really the only way. How can I not feed them lunch if it's already been made for me? Er, by me...

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If something is a project, I'll be sure to schedule it into my week or day and get 'er done. Don't ask me to explain my brain.

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There's a variety of ways to do it:

These won't make you work too hard. I'm all about efficiency and not putting more work than necessary into something.

Make an extra batch of lunch for a week.

Say, I'm making classic PB&J's on Monday. Instead of my usual 5 sandwiches, I'll make 10. Serve the 5 and freeze the other 5. That's one day of lunches already prepped for me.

Each day that week I can make-ahead an extra batch, for whatever it is. I can freeze it, or just pop it into the fridge for the next day.

Make a week's worth

Pick a day of the week that works for you. You don't need a whole bunch of time to do this, unless you're making crazy meals. Then, by all means, take more time.

Grab the ingredients for a week's worth.

I usually count a week as 5 days, for school days, and then leave the weekends open for whatever spontaneous meals we'd like to have. Go over to grandma's and eat her sandwiches. Use puppy dog eyes and words like pretty please with cherries on top.

Assemble one meal for each day.

I do one meal at a time to make it efficient. Assembly line the stinkers and it'll go so much faster. Seeing as you're a parent, you figured that out eons ago.

Make ahead for a whole month!

Now, before you click away, this is not as complicated, nor as crazy as a month's worth of dinners. I tried that a few times and I nearly died.

You can take a few days to do this. Do half of the lunches on Saturday, and the rest on Sunday. Or do it all in one go. It's up to you, obviously.

To make it simple I decide on 5 - 10 lunches. Then, I'll look at the calendar. 4 weeks in that month? Spectacular. Now, all I have to do is make 2 or 4 batches of each lunch. That's 2 or 4 days worth of PB&J's.

I assign days for the lunches as well. Monday is PB&J, Tuesday Pizza, Wednesday Hotdog, etc. That way when that day rolls around, I just pull it out.

Another option is just to have the lunches in the freezer, labeled clearly, and tell the kids at breakfast to pick what they want. When the mini pizzas are gone, they're gone and they have to wait for the next month's batch to be made. There's still a bunch of other lunches ready to be scarfed.

Well, okay, but what am I cooking here?

Nothing fancy, I promise.

  • PB&J
  • Ham & Cheese mini bagel sandwiches
  • Muffins
  • Burritos
  • Hotdogs
  • Kebabs
  • Southwest Roll-ups
  • Pizza pockets (homemade)
  • Ham & Cheese pockets/croissants
  • Turkey & Cheese wrap
  • Chili
  • Mini Pizzas
  • Corn Dogs
  • Homemade Lunchables
  • Quesadillas

I clearly lied right to your face when I said there were 10 lunches. I might have remembered some more and was too excited about it to remember to change the number. Whoops. My bad.


I've seen people say that when you freeze them you need to cut them all crazy like a Crustable (is that what they're called?). Not so. Just slap the PB&J on the bread, wrap in foil, slip into a freezer bag and voilà. You speak french and you've got some sandwiches.

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Ham & Cheese Mini Bagels

Just as they sound, put some ham and cheese on a mini bagel, wrap in foil or saran wrap, stick a whole bunch in a big freezer bag. Now, if you want to have condiments on them, I'd wait until they're defrosted before slapping that on. Or if you want to add any lettuce or tomato, wait until the day of. You'll be sorry otherwise.

You can pre-cut or shred any topping you'd like and put them in baggies so the kids can just grab what they want and you can sit back and sip your herbal tea or change that alligator-of-a-baby's diaper.


Who doesn't love muffins? Don't answer that.

Grab some of those huge Costco muffins and freeze 'em. Make a batch of homemade ones and freeze those. Do whichever kind you'd like and freeze them. For this lunch, you will probably want to add in two sides with it to make it a more well-rounded meal.


Grab your favorite burrito recipe (I'll share ours soon), and assemble. Wrap them in foil, but let them cool before you plop them in a freezer bag and the freezer. Don't ask me why, that's just how it works.


I don't freeze these. Sorry, there really isn't an easy way to pre-assemble these. Gosh, I just ruined everything didn't I? Well, you can't win 'em all, right?

You can do these for days when you're feeling extra motivated to whip up some lunch. You might have just lost respect for me when I said making hotdogs makes me feel like a champ.

Kebabs (or kabobs)

I don't mean the real-deal kebabs, though you're certainly welcome to fire up the grill and make some awesome kebabs. I've got my stick, I'm on my way over.

Grab a wooden skewer, carefully, and fill it with ham, cheese cubes (or sliced up string cheese), some veggies, and now I've really earned my "champ" award.

Pop 'em in a baggie, freeze. Wipe your hands and give yourself a high-five.

These are fun if you serve them with a strawberry & banana mini kabob.

Southwest Roll-ups

These are very much like burritos, except they're made of chicken.

Here's a recipe I have used for these roll-ups, I usually change it each time I make it, because that's the way I cook. Add a spice here, add a veggie there. I'm one of those annoying people that don't measure their spices: I just toss it in.

Pizza Pockets

Now, you could really cheat and bust out some Hot Pockets, but those can get expensive. They're pretty simple to make.

Get the recipe in the download.

When you want to eat them, just pull them out while you're making breakfast and then heat them up for a bit when it's lunchtime. About a minute or so in the microwave, or 10-20 in the oven.

Ham & Cheese Pockets/Croissants

These are nearly the same as the pizza pockets, but with fewer ingredients.

My family loves these. They couldn't be easier. Well, I suppose if someone else made them for you, they'd be easier.

You guessed it, the recipe is in the -- ? Download.

Turkey & Cheese Wrap

It's a turkey and cheese sandwich, in a tortilla. If you put it in a tortilla it's not a sandwich anymore, it's cool. Don't make the mistake I did one time and put lettuce in it before I froze it. Ew. Slimy lettuce is no bueno.

Roll them in saran wrap or foil before you put them in a freezer bag. You can add anything you want day of, or just eat it as is.

[Tweet "Put sandwich fixin's in a tortilla and it's no longer lame sauce #lunch"]


Okay... well, I lied. Again. This would be labeled under fancy.

Make some chili, some good, homemade chili. Put it in tupperware containers. You can put it in a container that will hold a meal's worth, and stick it in your crock pot, or just defrost it and warm in the microwave. Or, you can put it in individual-sized containers and just heat up one serving at a time.

My recipe is in the free download. It's pretty great, so check it out.

Mini Pizzas

These are super easy. Some people use english muffins, but we use those Sandwich Thins . Each sandwich thin makes 2 mini pizzas. Spread on your sauce, cheese, seasonings, and add-ons (if any). Broil for 1-3 minutes, depending on how hot your broiler is and how done you like them. We like our cheese a bit brown.

You can pre-assemble, freeze on a cookie sheet, then put in saran wrap and a freezer bag. Take them out and broil them day of.

Corn Dogs

We get these in the freezer section, so this has little to no prep for me. Just bake (or microwave if I'm in a hurry). Eat. Yum.

Homemade Lunchables

This is another easy mom-victory meal in our home. Ritz crackers, slices of cheese, slices of ham (or whatever lunch meat you love), and a plate.

To make ahead just slice up the cheese and ham, put one person's worth in a snack bag, put them all in a freezer bag. Put the crackers in a snack-sized bag, and set aside in the pantry for safe keeping.


I ate these every time I went over to my cousin's house to play. Tortilla + cheese.

Recently, I made these for my kids and they said to me, "So-and-so's mom puts other stuff in her quesadillas. Like chicken and tomatoes." I held my tongue. Parenting win.

For dinners I always have extra yumminess in them, for lunches, sometimes they just don't get more than cheese. I put out sour cream and loads of salsa for dipping. If you have some pre-made chicken, or heck, even deli sliced chicken, torn into bits, put that in there. You can cut up some veggies to your liking, sprinkle them inside as well.


A quick note

We do re-use the ziplock bags, and the foil and saran wrap as much as possible to cut down on waste and cost. Let's be honest, cost is my main motivator, planet takes second place. I know, I know, respect has just dropped even lower.

Just pop the lunch out of the freezer at breakfast time, and unless your lunch is 30 minutes later, it'll be ready for you when your stomachs start growling.

Grab the FREE download with recipes, planning sheets and full instructions.

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Make-Ahead Lunches Freebie

What goes with all this goodness?

  • Grapes
  • Orange slices
  • Baby carrots
  • Apple slices
  • Strawberry & Banana mini kabob (on toothpicks)
  • Apple Sauce
  • Mini Salad
  • Crackers (of any sort)
  • Frozen Gogurt
  • Yogurt
  • String Cheese
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn

We'll put the refrigerated sides in a container in the fridge, or the bottom drawer. I do have them pre-portioned out into snack bags. They just go in there and grab the side they want, or to make sure they get a specific side, I just grab it myself.

Pantry sides go in snack bags in a container set aside from the other snacks inside the pantry. It helps keep Mr. Barlow from munching on school-snacks without realizing it.

To help manage kids eating when they're not supposed to, or eating too many of the ready-made sides, I tell them, once they're gone, they're gone. If you eat all the sides in two weeks, you have to wait until the next month to get new ones. A few days of testing me and they realized it wasn't worth it.

What does Mom eat?

I have a unique situation in that I have major dietary restrictions thanks to Hashimoto's and adrenal fatigue. I don't eat what they eat.

Making ahead their lunches really helps me in the day-to-day. There are days when I'm feeling extra grumpy that I can't eat what they're eating, or extra tempted to just sneak a bite. When I just set the food out, and have to handle it as little as possible, it helps my mental state.

For some reason it's not tempting to grab some PB&J when I'm making 50 of them.

I have two options to make it simple on myself.

Fruit + spoonful of peanut butter. Or I'll make a protein shake. It's pretty good.

Snicker's Shake

Blend it up. This fits just perfectly in my single serve blender. I often have this for breakfast too.

When you cut out all sugar, gluten, wheat/grains, most dairy, and more you usually get really full on your heavy protein meals really easily and you don't need to eat as often. I could probably go a whole day without eating and not really get hungry.

Because of this, I don't really need a lunch, I just eat a bit of fruit and peanut butter just to keep my blood sugar level. When I do have lunch, it's a late lunch and this smoothie is perfect.

Make Ahead Lunches Freebie


Click the picture to grab your free download.

For the summer

This summer I have thought about doing bento-style lunches, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to set myself up for failure.

The kids are fascinated with lunch boxes though. We'll probably do more picnic lunches this summer and the coming school year as well. Even if they're in our own back or front yard. Then they can use their lunch boxes and feel awesome.

Maybe I can get my mom to send me my New Kids On The Block lunchbox and thermos, then I could have my own cool lunchbox, too!


What do y'all do for lunches? I'm all for adding new goodies to my files. Feel free to share your links and such.


Oh, check out my pin board for school lunches and snacks. Follow Rochelle Barlow's board School Lunches and Snacks on Pinterest.

 Check out more great lunch ideas by clicking this pic.