One Mom Dishes on the Challenge of Feeding Everyone Different Things

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©. Eleanor R. (used with permission)

The latest edition of 'How to feed a family' is familiar territory for many families – how to keep everyone happy.

Welcome to the latest post in TreeHugger's 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 features an interview with Eleanor, a busy mom of three who works full-time and has to juggle multiple dietary requirements and allergies.

Names: Eleanor, husband Chris, kids David (7), Daniel (5), Maria (3)

Location: Oakville, ON

Employment: Both of us work full-time. Chris’ job involves about 25% travel and my job requires extra work in evenings/weekends, but flexible on when and where I work.

Weekly food budget: CAD$250 (US$190) per week

Maria baking

© Eleanor R. (used with permission)

1. What are 3 favorite or commonly prepared meals in your house?

According to Chris, I keep changing my recipes all the time. I’ll make something several times and then he won’t see it again for a year or so. Generally speaking, I make each of the following each week: a) Some sort of pasta dish with veggies on the side – I make extra pasta and put it aside for Daniel for the rest of the week; b) Breakfast for dinner – usually homemade waffles or pancakes are part of it and I make extra so that we can heat them up quickly throughout the week for the kids’ breakfasts and/or Daniel’s dinner; c) A big casserole or stew - usually a double batch.

2. How would you describe your diet?

We have a variety of diets/restrictions: I am anaphylactic to tree nuts, Chris doesn’t eat gluten, and Daniel doesn’t eat meat and also has a pickiness problem to the point where he was under observation by the head of pediatrics at the hospital because he refused to eat and fell off his growth curve.

3. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

I shop once a week. I set aside a morning every week to do so. Typically, I go to a few different places. I do a bulk shop at Costco for items like meat, cheese, eggs, milk, fruit, veggies, pasta/rice, etc. I then go to a regular grocery store/specialty stores/farmer’s market (in warmer months) for the things that Costco doesn’t have, i.e. gluten free goods or any items that I don’t want to buy in bulk.

4. Is there anything you absolutely have to buy every week?

Things we buy every week are milk and eggs. I always keep an emergency jar of tomato sauce (Longo’s) and frozen meatballs (also Longo’s because the ingredients list is healthy) and a pack of pasta for emergencies. For Daniel, I always have on hand pasta, mac and cheese, almonds, yogourt, fresh fruit and raw carrots.

cooking with kids

© Eleanor R. (used with permission) – Getting the kids involved with cooking

5. Do you meal plan? If so, how often and how strictly do you stick to it?

I meal plan most weeks. Since I buy in bulk, it is only efficient and economical if we actually use what we buy. So, before making my plan, I look at what perishable items were leftover from the previous week and think about one or two new items that I want to buy and plan my menus around those ingredients. I plan two or three meals a week, with leftovers.

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

I probably spend, on average, an hour a day cooking dinner (I’m not including making breakfast or lunches – those combined are probably about 30 min per day). Some days we have leftovers, so the cooking is minimal. Other days, I cook something that can take a few hours... it varies a lot.

7. How do you handle leftovers?

We usually eat leftovers every other day and also for the adult lunches during the week.

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

We eat home-cooked meals most nights on a regular week. There are some weeks where my workload is extremely high or when the weekend is too full or when Chris is away or we are all sick. Those are the weeks where everything falls apart. We end up ordering food or going out, and we completely blow the budget. It happens.

9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and/or your family?

Everyone eats something different. When I cook a meal from start to finish for the family, I end up using all the pots and pans that we own. We have yet to master the one-pot recipes. Trying to provide a variety for the rest of the family is hard too when Daniel only eats a handful of plain foods. We toned down the extracurriculars recently, but trying to cook around after-school activities, work schedules, and school is very difficult too – in the past, I have made a pizza night to deal with that situation, but we aren’t in that situation currently.

homemade cookies

© Eleanor R. (used with permission)

10. Any other information you’d like to add?

Working from home has been a life-saver for us in terms of being able to make homemade meals. I am home three days a week and the time saved from my commute can be used to prep dinner before the kids get home from school without taking away from my hours of work. I highly recommend working remotely and/or flexible work hours to anyone who is able to do so.

To read more stories in this series, see How to feed a family.