This Family Navigates Allergies and Pickiness When Planning a Weekly Menu

©. Sara Y. (used with permission)

In week 3 of our new series, "How to feed a family," you'll meet Sara, a working mom of two, who has to satisfy multiple palates when putting food on the table.

Welcome to the third instalment of TreeHugger's new series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.

Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process. This week's interview features Sara, who has two kids and, like so many other parents, has to deal with pickiness and allergies when preparing meals. (Responses are written by Sara and edited for clarity.)

Name: Sara (42), husband Rich (41), daughters Kate (11) and Kennedy (9)

Location: Ontario, Canada

Employment: Sara works 4 days per week, 9 am to 4 pm. Rich works full-time 12-hour day and night shifts

Weekly food budget: $200-$250

Favorite meals: Gluten-free pasta with Hunt’s tomato sauce (4 cheese blend), ground beef, and Caesar salad, sometimes with garlic bread; this is a staple for lunch for Kate and Kennedy. Roasted whole chicken with mashed potatoes for Kate and Rich, sweet potatoes for Sara, and noodles or rice for Kennedy, with beans, carrots, or broccoli on the side. Beef chili for Kate, Rich and Sara (Kennedy chooses to have leftover pasta).

1. How would you describe your diet?

I would describe our diet as seasonal, with restrictions based on preferences, intolerances, and allergies. Sara and Kennedy eat a gluten-reduced diet. Kate, Kennedy, and Sara are lactose intolerant, so we eat a limited amount of dairy. Sara has a tree nut allergy and she chooses not to eat pork. We try to eat food that is in season, and fresh fruit and vegetables as much as possible. We also order chickens from a local farmer and a quarter of a cow twice a year from a local farmer.

2. How often do you shop for groceries?

We do two large shopping trips each week, but will often need to grab something from the store once or twice during the week. Every week we MUST buy gluten-free noodles, Hunt’s 4-cheese pasta sauce, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, bread, cheese, lactose-free yogurt, Kraft cheese slices, turkey bacon, and chicken breasts. Kennedy enjoys KD macaroni and bagels, so we get these weekly as well, but in a limited amount as she is sensitive to gluten and they are full of chemicals and preservatives.

3. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

We make a list and try to remember to bring it! We spend most of our time on the edge of the store. We try to buy few overly processed foods.

4. Do you meal plan? If so, how strictly do you stick to it?

We do a weekly meal plan for dinners and stick to it about 90% of the time. Things come up and the meal sometimes needs to get changed, but we purchase food based on the plan.

kid cooking

© Sara Y. – Scrambling eggs

5. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

I try to cook large amounts of food on Sundays (especially for mine and Rich’s lunches). I also cook the pasta sauce on Sundays for the week, as Kate and Kennedy take pasta to lunch 3-4 times a week. I will cook a whole chicken on Sunday to use throughout the week in meals that require chicken, such as fajitas. During the week either Rich or I will spend 1-2 hours cooking dinner each evening. I use the crockpot a lot in the winter if Rich is working a 12-hour day shift, so I have food prepared when I get home from work.

6. How do you handle leftovers?

If we have leftovers, Rich usually eats them for lunch the next day.

7. How many dinners per week do you cook at home? How often do you eat out or take out?

On average we eat 7 days a week at home, or at a family member’s house. We eat takeout or go to a restaurant for dinner once every other week, but sometimes we go longer between outings.

8. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and your family?

The biggest challenge is handling picky eaters, myself included. Kennedy is very picky; she has about nine things she will eat with minimal complaining. Kennedy loves to eat carbohydrates – pasta, KD, bagels, bread, crackers – but she has a sensitivity to gluten and feels unwell with increased anxiety when we let her eat too much gluten and refined carbohydrates.

I choose not to eat pork and I do 90% of the cooking, so I don’t cook pork; that eliminates a lot of options for variety in dinners. I also limit the amount of white potatoes, gluten, carbs and pasta that I eat, so I often make a separate dinner for myself.

Another challenge is time management in regards to preparing dinner and getting the kids to their activities. Sometimes ease and convenience win and we cook rice in the microwave in 3 minutes versus cooking rice on the stovetop for 40 minutes. As life gets busy the routine can get disrupted, but we try to eat as healthy and clean as possible. Some months are better then others!

I find as a family we go through phases of eating more healthy options and then a phase of eating at restaurants more often then I would like. I find meal options more limited in the winter; in the summer we barbecue most meals. As a whole I feel we eat healthy – but we could we eat healthier? Yes, absolutely!