food restrictions

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.