Catering to multiple preferences and dietary needs at dinner — probably the one meal in the day we may all sit together at the table and share — can be a serious challenge for even the most seasoned cook. But whether someone needs to avoid gluten or prefers no meat, it is possible to keep both diners and cook happy (and sane) without channeling your short-order cooking skills. Here are some suggestions to avoid making separate meals for each diner.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Make a game plan and stick to it, says one Whole Foods Market staffer who followed a vegan diet challenge and still wanted to have dinner with her omnivorous husband. “When you plan ahead, you map out a meal plan you can both enjoy,” says Marisa Pryor, global marketing and communications team member, who still uses many of the lessons she learned while cooking during her diet challenge. With meal planning and grocery shopping, you can avoid ordering out foods that may not be as satisfying and good-for-you as something homemade that you share.
Find Common Ground
Choose a popular food — say, these easy tacos, pizza or pasta — that lends itself to customization for a safe bet to please everyone. A great example is a whole-grain English muffin pizza for a weeknight dinner: Top some with only cheese, garnish some with pepperoni, keep some sauce-less — all are delicious and everyone is happy. These pizzas are an ideal jumping off point for dinner; serve a big green salad and some fruit or raw vegetables in bowls for everyone to share.
Treat Meat, Pasta or Dairy as Sides or Toppings
Meals where you can garnish with lots of options are another way to incorporate foods for everyone’s tastes. For example, start with a common dinner idea and have toppings, condiments and sides that can act as garnishes.
Pasta. Marisa used ground turkey as a filling protein she could quickly cook for her husband’s pasta dish; she served grilled portobello mushrooms over her marinara and spaghetti squash.
Gluten-free or vegetarian rice bowls. Serve with diced chicken, sliced jalapeños, kimchi and grated carrots over brown rice.
Vegan chili. Have regular or vegan shredded cheese, sliced radishes, fresh herbs, crumbled tortilla chips and cooked sausage or leftover brisket can serve as garnishes for those who want to add some flavor while still avoiding or enjoying dairy, grains or meat.
Salad night. Have sliced hard-boiled eggs, avocados, rotisserie chicken or canned tuna, beans, whole-grain croutons, canned beans, cheese and a simple vinaigrette for diners to build their (hearty) dream salad.
Experiment with Alternatives
Gone are the days of just subbing tofu in place of meat. The dairy and egg case, noodle aisle and produce section abound with great-tasting options for different diet needs. For example, Marisa had great luck using vegan cheese in a veggie lasagna; she said her diners didn’t really notice the difference and were pleasantly surprised when she dropped the swap-out news. Try soy-based chorizo, gluten-free rice noodles, rice milk, almondmilk or seed butters to cater to all the needs and preferences at the table.
Keep it Simple
Some meals are already satisfying and simple (and naturally gluten-free, vegan or grain-free): veggie burgers served in lettuce wraps, hearty vegan chili, loaded baked potatoes, grilled veggies over beans or spaghetti squash tossed with marinara.
The idea is to sit down together and share something you can all enjoy. Sign up for our newsletters for inspiration and recipe ideas for families and see our special diets section for more information on cooking for everyone in your house.
How do you cater to the tastes, needs and preferences of all the diners at your table? Do tell us about your favorite go-to ingredient or meal to accommodate many diners!