What? Carrot sticks and cottage cheese for dinner AGAIN?
July 22, 2011 1:34 PM   Subscribe

How do you diet as the primary cook for a family of non-dieters?

I really have to recommit myself to losing weight. Pictures of me from a recent vacation do not make me happy.

How do those of you who cook for a family manage it? Does everyone eat the same (presumably healthy diet-appropriate) thing or do you make separate meals? I feel like this is the biggest hang-up for me since in the past when I was dieting I could just eat my weird food by myself and not have to inflict my choices on others.

I do most of the cooking and with a somewhat picky 3-year old and a husband who can eat whatever and however much be wants to accommodate, I often default to stuff that probably isn't in the best interests of myself. And then as soon as I get off-track because of a family meal, I find it hard to get back on track since I've already screwed things up. And then I also make the mistake of eating what my daughter doesn't finish since I hate to waste food.

In fact, balancing my own interests with others is often the problem with lots of things so I'm not surprised about the food stuff. But I also don't really want to be making two menus for every meal.

I'm guessing the answer lies in find stuff that everyone can eat and like and that doesn't put me over my Weight Watchers points for the week. How? What?

I usually plan dinner meals in advance so anything that can work with that sort of system would help. Also, I work full-time and can definitely try to make time at work be more diet-friendly since I don't have to accommodate anyone else's food preferences in my breakfasts and lunches during the week.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wouldn't it be good for the whole family if they were eating healthy food too?
posted by LZel at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you want to eat better in order to be healthier, don't you want that for your family as well? You make the food, the food is healthy, everyone eats it, everyone is healthy. This is a win-win.

What makes this even easier, is that it is summer. You have so many great vegetables to choose from! It is squash, tomato and everything is awesome season! Relish in it, please!
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

My mom did Weight Watchers while my sister and I (also a picky eater) were growing up, and I don't remember her eating anything different from what we ate. What I do remember is that she measured all her portions, and usually ate a lot more salad than the rest of the family and didn't have dessert. I would guess that portion control would be a useful tool.
posted by easy_being_green at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm no expert or anything, but if you're eating "weird food" you're doing it wrong. Cook the same healthy, balanced meal for everyone, and just eat less of it. Healthy meals will be better for the whole family in the long run.
posted by phunniemee at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

My parents had a pretty solid this is what I made for dinner; if you don't like it, you're on your own policy.
posted by willpie at 1:44 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Why would you're family eat food that's less healthy than what you eat?

You could eat smaller portions than your family.
When you cook your delicious baked chicken with green beans and biscuits on the side, maybe you eat a smaller portion of the chicken and skip the biscuit.

IANAD (or nutritionist) If you're really only eating carrot sticks and cottage cheese, then you may be engaging in a diet that's unsustainable - you'll do it for a short time, but the changes you've made won't remain.

What your daughter doesn't eat can go in a container in the fridge, or to a compost pile, or to your husband.

I don't know what your 3-year-old prefers, but what a great age to begin to broaden his/her tastes so that s/he will be able to comfortably select healthy foods in the future. As my mom used to say, "Don't like it"? Don't eat."
posted by jander03 at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2011

I am in the same situation currently. I am a diabetic and so try to have few carbs, the other two in my house like meat and cake. So, I do it like this:

I see meals as being made of three components: protein, carb, veggies. Whatever I make I am sure to cook the carb separately so I don't have to eat it. It is simple. I will make a delicious bolognese sauce and pour it over steamed brocoli for me, pasta for them. Or I will make a stir-fry which is over rice for them, but wrapped in lettuce leaves for me.

These accommodations take just a few minutes.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:48 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

Actually, Weight Watchers meals are not particulary "weird" -- simply prepared chicken or fish, vegetables and a small portion of something like rice or pasta. So it seems to me that you could base the meals on Weight Watchers-friendly recipes, then "enrich" your husband's and kid's servings with bigger servings of the starch, butter on the veggies, or even gravy or sauce on the side for the protein portion.

The other point you bring out is that if you can be fairly strict with points at breakfast (Egg Beaters are a great solution) and lunch, then dinner can be somewhat more relaxed. A big part of the Weight Watchers method is portion control, so when it comes time to serve up dinner, you can offer hubby and child as much as you think they'll eat, while carefully measuring your portions.

Another important point here is that you do need to count the points, even if you're having pork and mayonnaise salad served over biscuits. Then at least you'll know where you stand.
posted by La Cieca at 1:51 PM on July 22, 2011

I guess I should clarify that it's not like I'm planning deep fried mozzarella sticks and bacon sandwiches every night. Generally we do eat "healthy" - lots of fruits and vegetables, no red meat, whole grains, hardly any prepared foods or frozen stuff, lots of organic stuff. I like to cook and I'm a pretty good cook but I do have limited time, especially on weekdays. We have a share in a CSA and i go to farmer's markets pretty regularly.

By "weird" I meant that when I was single, I could eat a gardenburger and a salad every night for a week. My daughter does eat pretty broadly but yeah, she's 3 and it's not the same as feeding an adult.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:52 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make lots of vegetable and fruit side dishes. Make sure you are serving a fruit or vegetable with every meal, even if your picky three-year-old won't eat it -- if she gets used to having veggies on her plate as a regular thing that everyone else in the family eats, that will increase her chances of will eventually warming up to them. Trust me -- my son used to be the pickiest kid EVER -- I mean actually starving himself off of the growth chart picky -- and these days he eats broccoli and green beans and peas and carrots and sweet potatoes and summer squash and even sometimes spinach if it's on a pizza. It was a lot of work getting him to this point, but I just never gave up trying.

When you are serving the food, just serve yourself a smaller portion of the main dish and a larger portion of the fruit/veggie side dish than you serve the other members of your family. That way everyone is eating the same thing, and you only have to cook once, and you won't feel left out of the family meal.

I have a HUGE guilt problem when it comes to wasting food myself (which is a really awful thing to live with when you have a kid who regularly finishes less than half of what's on his plate). To get around this issue I serve my son smaller portions (with the option of getting more out of the container / pot if he wants to eat more later) and I compost what leftover food I can. It makes me feel a bit better to think that it's not just going into a landfill, but is actually going to grow more food in my garden.

(Psst gardening is another really good way to get kids interested in vegetables. Green beans you grew yourself taste better.)
posted by BlueJae at 1:54 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make healthy diet food for the family. Weight Watchers online has a lot of great recipes. Don't even tell your family it's healthy, just make it. You're actually in a better position to diet because you're the one who shops and cooks. In my family, I'm the dieter and my husband is the shopper/cooker. Needless to say, I'm doing pretty bad on my diet...

If you wanted to make a little side of something your husband/kid would eat that you wouldn't, just make enough for them and compliment it with a huge salad or something.
posted by katypickle at 1:55 PM on July 22, 2011

You can also simply cook less and let them have an extra snack or something if they're still hungry.

I generally cook a little less than I think we'll eat because I can never get the portions right for two and I'm also the kind of person who tends to finish other people's food. Leftovers generally get forgotten. If we end up having some fruit or yogurt to top ourselves off, no big deal.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:56 PM on July 22, 2011

My mom did this is the 80s. She would cook us dinner, then sit with us and eat a Figurines bar (a diet snack bar, a precursor to Slim-Fast). On Sundays she would eat dinner with us. You could do this with a protein shake of some variety, I suppose, if you had an iron will (seriously, I have no idea how my mom did that). But, it would probably not be the best lesson for kids, because you'd be showing them that to be "thin" you can't eat normal food.

I will note that I did not receive that message, personally, but that's because I love food too much, and now have to drink my own protein shakes for dinner.
posted by cabingirl at 1:57 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I totally get what everyone os saying about making everyone in the family eat healthier- but speaking as someone who's boyfriend only puts up with all the green leafy stuff because i hide mayo somewhere else in the meal... sometimes the balance is a little more complicated.

My boyfriend and I have very diffenent food tastes and nutritional needs- he is a meat-eating-dude who only really gets hungry once a day, while I am an exobese lady vegetarian. He really needs to have a large, calorie heavy dinner because he'd lose weight if it were under 800 calories. I however graze all day, and in order to not balloon like a blowfish i need to watch my numbers. We CAN eat the same meal- but the proportions have to be individualized. I'll make the salad dominate my plate and have small portions of other sides. He'll have a porkchop, some salad and three pieces of cornbread.
posted by Blisterlips at 2:02 PM on July 22, 2011

I just did weight watchers for a few months as the primary cook for a family of one vegetarian (me) one meat lover (my husband) and one extremely picky two-year-old. We end up just kind of subbing out things--like we'll have tofu and rice and broccoli, heavy on the rice for the toddler, heavy on the broccoli for me, and the husband has chicken instead of tofu. As long as you're not relying on food substitutes like frozen meals, it's all about portion control and eating the right stuff, not necessarily about eating some weird "diet" food or eating meals that you've never had as a family before. Also, you can totally have a gardenburger and salad for dinner if you want—we build in "FFY" (fend for yourself) nights, largely so I can satisfy my cravings for very spicy Asian soup and he can eat popcorn and ice cream.
posted by editrixx at 2:05 PM on July 22, 2011

Back when I was still living at home, my mom did most of the cooking for our family. She decided to lose weight and so the family basically ate what she ate. Sometimes, she'd cook something different for everyone else, but usually we all had the same food and the non-dieters among us would just have larger portions if we didn't feel "full" from the first serving.

This seemed to work fine for us, and it had the added benefit of making the rest of the family healither, because we were being "forced" to eat healthier food than we had in the past.
posted by asnider at 2:18 PM on July 22, 2011

It sounds like your general menus are healthy-- how much adjusting are you thinking of doing in order to "diet"?
Maybe portion control as mentioned above will be the largest adjustment you have to do.
If you have healthy snacks in the fridge, then your family can snack on those if/when the main meal is not enough.
And I'd ask your spouse to do the clean-up if you think you'll be tempted to clean up the plate after your daughter.
posted by calgirl at 2:21 PM on July 22, 2011

Ah ha! Finally another good reason to not have to do the dishes!
I think portion control probably is a lot of the problem. My super skinny husband can eat huge amounts of food at one sitting and often skips meals during the day so is ravenous at dinner. I think I have a hard time figuring out what's normal in comparison to him.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:33 PM on July 22, 2011

I totally feel your pain, and you don't need any more pressure on how to cure your picky toddler. I am in a similar situation, with two toddlers (one is extremely picky) and a SO who doesn't like salad, or many veggies. My solution is basically the same as munchingzombie. I just don't eat whichever carb (grains/pasta) is served with dinner, and I eat salad instead of the grains/pasta. We try and eat family-style, so now there is a bowl of salad on the table, and my toddlers see mama eating salad. My littlest one has started to ask for it occasionally now. It only takes me about 2 minutes to make the salad because I use pre-washed stuff, then throw in some pine nuts and maybe a little dried fruit.
posted by Joh at 2:35 PM on July 22, 2011

In the summer, I like to mostly just keep a running salad bar in the fridge, and only cook occasional other meals; and it worked really well when my son was young.

So I'll always have cleaned, ready to use lettuce, spinach, and other, rotating salad components stored separately; then have fruits, maybe cottage cheese, tuna or chicken salad, cold salmon, pasta or quinoa salad, maybe gazpacho, changing things up so it doesn't get too tedious.

It worked pretty well for us, because we'd have healthy, ready to eat food available, and we didn't have to eat exactly the same thing all the time.

My real motivation was to save energy and keep the house cool, as I didn't have central cooling, and heat makes me wilt and not feel like eating or cooking much; but it might work for your issue too.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:43 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm in your position: busy trying to lose weight with a husband and kids who aren't dieting. I also eat "weird meals" that I wouldn't serve to them. Here's some things I do to help myself stay on track:

*I make lunch the biggest meal of the day for most days, and I usually eat lunch late.
*And/or I fill myself up with salad or my "weird meal" *before* dinner. Often then I'm not hungry for dinner at all, or just a few bites - so I can make something else for everyone and not feel bad I'm not having any.
*I make something that I can alter for myself (for example, pasta and vegetables - I only take a little pasta and way more veg).
*Sometimes my husband makes dinner for himself and the kids while I eat my own thing, which helps so I don't have to cook something I won't be eating.

I hate, hate, hate throwing out food and I'm pretty likely to eat their leftovers, so I had to train myself to plan for this -
I ask my husband to clean plates if the kids leave leftovers;
or I put them in the fridge as leftovers and eat them for lunch;
I serve small portions to them on small plates so there's less waste;
and sometimes I just build in the idea that I'm probably going to eat their leftovers and accommodate my calories for that (by taking a smaller portion for myself at the meal).

To cope with the "falling off the wagon and feeling bad which snowballs into staying off the wagon", I actually find I lose weight better if I build in so-called "binge days" - not really bingeing, but eating over my allotted calories for one day a week. This helps if there's a holiday meal or something really delicious I want to make sure I get to have some of. It's not whole-hog-go-nuts - like if I'm going to have a nice meal out, I'm going to eat lightly during that day until the meal. And if I have a bad day, where for whatever reason (I'm tired, I'm stressed, I really want to have that piece of cheesecake, dammit) I just keep eating when I know I should stop, I call that day my binge day and start over fresh on the counting calories the next day. This works because then you don't feel deprived so it's easier to stay on the wagon, and it works for your body losing weight because IT doesn't feel deprived and start hanging on to fat.

Also I use exercise to help keep me on track. For me personally, if I've exercised, I'm less hungry and more thirsty, so I drink a lot more water which fills me up. And if I've exercised, it motivates me not to eat too much - I don't want to undo the hard work I already put in. But this works too if I eat a little over - I can shrug and I say I already burned off those calories so I have a little breathing room, or I can promise myself I'll do a workout that night before I go to bed to burn it off!
posted by flex at 2:48 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been following the No-S Diet for about 4 months now and have lost about 30 lbs so far. In addition to the basic rules (no seconds, no snacks, no sweets, except on days that start with "S") I also eat lunch and dinner on a salad plate.

I don't think I'm a terribly unhealthy cook, but I don't have any qualms about cooking/eating things such as full-fat sausage, regular cheese, burgers, fries, etc...I just eat less of it at meals, and I don't eat anything between meals most days.

My husband and I are inveterate leftover lunchers, so that's not an issue. He does eat a LOT more than I do at dinner. However, the volume of food he eats actually has no appeal to me. If there's one thing that No-S has taught me, it's that 2 cups of mashed potatoes is not the slightest bit more enjoyable to eat than 1/2 cup.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:21 PM on July 22, 2011

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