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.



Fighting For My Thyroid Diagnosis

Getting a proper diagnosis for your thyroid, for some reason, isn't easy. I just want to share my story so that you can know 3 things.

  1. You're not alone
  2. You're not crazy
  3. You can get a proper diagnosis

thyroid diagnosis

Let's start at the very beginning...

A very good place to start... (know what that's from?)

In 2009, my mother-in-law pointed out my neck. It was swollen. A goiter, she called it.

Insert paranoia of my neck protrusion.

2011, I was pregnant with my 4th, and my OB/GYN noticed my neck and wanted to run a test. The test came back fine. If I had known then what I do now, I could've figured this out years ago.

I had my 5th child June of 2014. He was big. He was adorable. He was perfect. Well, I ought to say, is perfect.


Then, somehow (I know how it works), we were unexpectedly pregnant in September that same year. Yes. September.

We thought we were done with #5. Well, Mr. Barlow was done. I was like, 90% sure I was done. Then, I got pregnant.

I was elated. Nervous, but elated. They’d be Irish Twins.

I had a somewhat normal, for me, pregnancy. Normal = super super sick for 10 months.

This time, I got anti-nausea medication. Hallelujah. It helped a ton.

Two weeks after Thanksgiving, I started spotting. Which was weird for me because with my 5 pregnancies I never, not once, spotted. Ever.

I called my doctor, we ordered an ultrasound. I was a wreck. A straight up mess.

We went in. As soon as I saw that little baby, I knew. She (or he) had passed.

It was an awful awful moment. I bawled. I’m so glad Mr. Barlow was there. He is like a calming drug. He can just walk in the room and I know everything is going to be okay. We held each other.

I was devastated.

Then came the worst part.

Waiting for the baby to miscarry fully. Two days later I was in “labor.” It felt like full on labor. Remember, I have experienced labor without meds. It ain’t pretty and it ain’t comfy. It hurts like hell. I don’t care what any mother-earth woman says. It hurts like hell and give me an epidural now!

No such luck. I was given pain meds and ibuprofen. That was a joke. It took it from pain 10 to pain 9.5.  Anyway, needless to say, it sucked. There was lots of blood. Contractions and misery. For several days.

The absolute hardest part was when I was in the shower and huge clots and placenta were coming out. I just prayed and prayed and prayed that I wouldn’t actually see anything that looked like a baby. Then I had to flush all those bits down the toilet. It was torture. I felt like I was flushing my baby away. My gut twists even thinking about it now. I was a bawling mess.

Heavenly Father carried me through that storm. Prayers from my family carried me through. "I’ve-been-thinking-about-you's," carried me through.

I felt a strength within me - that didn’t come from me - build and hold me up.

My emotions and heart healed quickly. I knew I’d be blessed with another precious one. Someday soon.


I felt inspired to take care of my health and my body. At that time, I only thought of lose weight, and eat right.

I started right away. I ate clean - I followed Trim Healthy Mama. (They have a new book coming out Sept 2015) I felt better. But not much was happening weight wise. I looked more into their book and they kept talking about the thyroid and hormones.

Well, I have had, for years now, an enlarged thyroid. Some would call it a goiter, but I refuse, because it sounds like something Quasimoto-ish. Yuck. No offense Quasi.

So, I started searching around for other information. I kept seeing thyroid, thyroid, thyroid. I read Wheat Belly. Well, skimmed it. Until I got to the good parts. The HOW of the book (1 chapter). Then read Wheat Belly Total Health, this book talks a lot about the thyroid. Then I read Grain Brain. And on and on and on.

Yikes. It was time to get my thyroid figured out.

I was freaking out. I was looking for natural remedies and food remedies. I did not want to go to the doctor. I have no idea why. I just wasn’t ready for that step. But all that information. All that information!

It’s overwhelming.

And discouraging. And confusing. Oh... and scary.

Who in the H am I supposed to follow? Believe? What am I supposed to do??

Enter, Mr. Barlow. He calmed me down. Said to call the doctor and take it one step at a time.

I did. I called Doctor #1 and she ran some tests and ordered an ultrasound.

Results: My thyroid was fine, but I was low on iron.

Turns out, she ran the archaic tests. Boo.

I was all set to call her back and demand further testing and to look at my neck, when a dear friend of mine pointed me to another doctor.

Had the neck ultrasound. That was weird. I'm used to seeing a baby during an ultrasound, not gray neck matter.


I called Doctor #2, and got an appointment for two days later (thanks to a cancellation). Got in, and she ordered tests.

Results: I was borderline low thyroid and incrediblely deficient in Iron and Vitamin D.

I was put on a prescription for Vitamin D3 and was ordered to take a ton of Iron. At this point I had been eating wheat free, and sugar free for 2 - 3 months, and sticking to Trim Healthy Mama.

She referred me to an endocrinologist (Doctor #3) to look at my enlarged thyroid because in the ultrasound there was a nodule found.

A nodule could mean three things:

  1. It’s fine.
  2. Your thyroid’s dead.
  3. It’s cancer.

We monitored my vitamin D and iron levels. Over the next few months they rose towards a healthy level. Doctor #3 ordered an uptake scan and blood tests. I got to swallow a radioactive pill!!


enlarged thyroid


Results: My uptake indicated that it was a "normal" nodule. No one wants to explain what that means. Basically, it’s not cancer and we just monitor it.

In the words of my endocrinologist, "It's not cancerous...[super long pause]...probably."

She forgot to tell me about the blood test results: I had to remind her a few times to get the results .

I officially have Hashimotos, an autoimmune disorder.

My endocrinologist said, "oh it goes away, you don’t need to do anything to your diet or take meds."


That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard a doctor say.

I told Doctor #2 that and she said she’d be finding me a different endo and would not be referring any more patients there.

Doctor #2 put me on an autoimmune diet and on thyroid medication.

I’m telling you. The autoimmune diet sucks. Straight up sucks. Like, I’m crying it sucks that bad.

I’ve read books on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Hashimotos and Autoimmune Disorders. They eat poop foods and take out all the good ones.

I made a list of all the foods I can eat, that I like to eat. Here they are:

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • turkey bacon
  • onion
  • berries
  • apples
  • cantaloupe
  • lettuce
  • celery
  • herbs and spices (but not the good ones like cumin, chili powder, pepper)

That’s it.

Here’s the list of foods I am not supposed to eat:

  • beef
  • pork
  • eggs
  • ALL dairy
  • nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, etc)
  • carrots
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • cabbage
  • lentils
  • wheat/grains/rice/oats
  • sugars (even stevia, xylitol, truvia, swerve)
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • bananas
  • watermelon
  • pineapple
  • corn anything
  • soy
  • nuts
  • seeds

Seriously people! Seriously.

Who wants to live like that?

They say, "oh you’re not deprived. You can drink bone broth and eat liver."

That’s disgusting; don’t come near me with your liver-bone breath. I’ll throat punch you.

The funniest bit in The Paleo Approach about the Autoimmune Protocol (you can eat beef and pork with this one, but nothing else good) said, hey, if you don't like fish you can eat offal. You know what offal is? Brains and guts of animals.

Then she said, if you want protein powder, go to the pet store. Buy some crickets. Dry them out, grind them up, and use that as your protein powder.

I kid you not. I even took pictures of the pages to prove it. Sick and wrong I tell ya. Sick and wrong.

offal and crickets

What am I eating (or not eating)?

I’m cutting out all grains (which is in EVERYTHING), sugars (except for the sweeteners xylitol and swerve). I’m slowly cutting out dairy.

That’s it. That’s most of my diet anyway. You are not taking my tomatoes and peppers from me. You are not taking the only breakfast I have: eggs. You are not taking beef from me. I don’t give a rat’s behind, you’re not going to get me to not eat that stuff. They’re my favorite foods.

I’ll eat hard cheeses and butter every once in a while. Seriously, I am not going to be miserable eating chicken breasts, lettuce, and apples for my only food for the rest of my life every meal.

I have honestly tried the other foods that I say I don’t like. I do not like them. I cannot swallow them. Will I die sooner? Possibly.

Maybe in a few months I’ll be better able to cut some more things out, or at least, scale back on my frequency of eating them. For now, tomatoes are in nearly every meal.

And I’m okay with that.

After about a month of my thyroid meds I stopped losing weight and started to feel like garbage again. I also have Adrenal Exhaustion (worse than fatigue). I am now being treated for both.

I'll go into what tests you should run and the symptoms and all that goodness in another post. I didn't want your eyes to glaze over longer than was necessary.

In the end, I was lucky. It only took me 3 doctors to get it right. Many people have to go to 5 doctors or more to get one that will run the right tests and listen to them.

Why is this the case? I have no idea.

I wish you luck if you're on a similar journey. If you ever need to talk to someone -- I'm here.