A family full of loved ones is a family full of food preferences — and sometimes these preferences can be at odds with each other.

It’s unrealistic to cook different meals for everyone each night and sometimes the roster of meals everyone likes can feeling it is shrinking because you eat the same foods over and over again.

There are strategies you can try for truly picky eaters, but there are also scenarios in which you have a gluten-free, dairy-free family member alongside a meat lover and a vegetarian.

While these food allergies and food preferences may seem impossible to overcome, here are five techniques you can try to keep everyone fed and happy at the table.

If cooking sounds exhausting and you’d rather eat takeout, read this

1. Make one big meal and some sides

This is different than making everyone an individual meal. Say one day you make a roast chicken that most of your family will eat, but the vegetarian in your family won’t be able to eat it. Make a hearty side salad with a protein like chickpeas or black beans, along with some roasted or steamed vegetables and a carbohydrate like rolls or mashed potatoes.

If you roast the chicken, throw together the salad, steam vegetables in the microwave and serve it with store-bought rolls. It doesn’t need to eat up a ton more time than you originally planned on allotting for dinner.

But make sure to change up the main course. The next day, consider making a vegetable-filled quiche with bacon and fresh fruit on the side. By alternating between a meat-centered main course and a meat-free main course (with enough sides and vegetarian-friendly protein to constitute a good dinner), then you can keep everyone relatively happy.

2. Focus on build-your-own meals

Burrito bowls, salads, tacos, pizzas, pasta bowls and so much more can be easily customizable and a great way to get family involved in cooking while also catering to differing lifestyles and palettes.

A build-your-own pizza bar doesn’t need to be that much work: pick up some grocery store pizza dough, divide it into individual portions and offer an array of toppings like chopped bell peppers or cut-up grilled chicken, so everyone can have something they like. Building your own pasta bowls is an option, too: just cook up some pasta and make a meat on the side like meatballs or grilled chicken. Have plenty of vegetables that can mixed in with the pasta and allow family members to mix up their own bowl.

This can work great for lunch the next day — just have family members pack up a lunch with the leftovers.

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3. Make customizable meals

You’d be surprised by how easily you can change up dishes.

Say you really want to do a tomato soup and grilled cheese night, but the meat lovers in the family want bacon on their grilled cheese, you want Brie and apple instead of cheddar and your vegetarian family member wants a heartier bread.

It’s not a ton more effort to change the toppings and bread in this case, since you have to make each sandwich individually. Sandwiches and salads are a good example of a meal that you can make in different ways without it being more of a hassle.

Say you go through with grilled cheese night and you want to put some apple on yours, but nobody else wants apple on theirs? Use the rest of the apple for a baked apple dessert or for sliced apples on the side.

Here’s another example: burgers. Grill up some regular burgers and a black bean burger for any of your vegetarian family members. It’s the same basic meal and most of the toppings can be shared, but in this case, you’re accommodating everyone’s dietary choices or needs.

4. Always start with a salad

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There are plenty of reasons to always start with a simple green salad: for one, you can eat more vegetables. Another reason is it can help you with weight management by aiding in calorie management. But another compelling reason to do this is to help you manage different tastes around food.

If you have a salad with vegetables and someone doesn’t love the main course, they can eat more of the salad and sides to balance it out. Offering a simple salad with some protein on it, like some chickpeas or quinoa, can help you manage different styles of eating.

5. Have something on the table that everyone likes

If you know that your vegetarian family member just loves garlic mashed potatoes and you’re making steak as a main course, make the garlic mashed potatoes. If your gluten-free, dairy-free loved one adores chicken enchiladas with corn tortillas and dairy-free cheese, and another family member doesn’t like dairy-free cheese, make a salad with regular cheese on the side.

In short, find different ways to make sure that there is at least one dish on the table that a family member can be enthusiastic about, even if that’s not the main dish.

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