What's for supper tonight?

And the next night, and the following night.....Don't you just sometimes wish someone else would decide for you, pop to the shops to buy it all and maybe cook it whilst they're at it?

So imagine cooking daily for one vegan, one fussy meat eating, 'I'm hungry all the time' teenager, one gluten and dairy intolerant adult (me) and phew, thankfully one who'll eat everything. I think most of us find cooking for a family, can at times be challenging.

I enjoy cooking, especially for guests, it's the time to indulge a little, to take time out of the day just to cook and try out new recipes, hopefully with a delicous result. Cooking on a day to day basis however, is another beast, relentless and often unrewarding, even if what is produced is happily scoffed.

Strangely though, since our family has had a shift in our diets, having to accommodate for specific dietary requirements, although it can be harder work, has actually reinspired my culinary fervour. A great believer and fan of healthy wholefood cooking, I can indulge myself in researching lots of lovely new vegan and gluten free recipes and cook up all those dishes I've been salivating over but never dared for fear of family rebellion.

One of the key factors to keeping a teenager happy however, as all parents of teenagers will know, is making sure they're not hungry. Hunger equals disaster for all of us. Whilst my husband and I have been happy to embrace vegan meals with loads of lentils, beans, whole grains and vegetables, my son has not. That's fair enough, it's his choice. He's pretty good with eating most vegetables and it's fine if he wants to eat meat, my husband and I still do, but just less of it and I always make sure what I do buy is either preferably organic or at least higher welfare and grass fed. Eating meat less often, but of better quality makes it more affordable, plus eating more sustainable foods, helps the environment. Getting my son to eat whole grains, is shall we say, still a work in progress.

The key to not losing my sanity cooking for our diverse family needs has been planning. So many of my cookbooks extol the virtues of planning ahead, yet I've always ignored this, not finding the time or really appreciating the benefits. Yet the downsides of not having the right foods in the house, when you're trying to cater for different needs, means usually eating something that doesn't taste great and may not be very nutritionally balanced. Planning allows you to stock up with the right foods to cook something which is both nutritious and appetizing.

Taking some time out over the weekend to think through what I'm going to cook over the next week, means less stress on the day. It allows me to shop for all the ingredients so I'm never (well nearly never), without what I need and cuts down on food waste.

So if you're wondering what do I cook, well it's pretty varied. The great thing about having a vegan in the house is that we now eat many more vegetable and legume based dishes as our main meal. Last night for instance I made a chinese style aubergine dish with rice and a side of green beans. For my son, I took some of the main dish and added some diced lamb to it. We had brown rice, he had white, not ideal, but I think it's better to keep trying rather than to force these things. After watching a tv programme extolling the virtues of quinoa together the other day, he agreed to give it a whirl (despite me banging on about it for ages). "Tastes a bit like seeds" - maybe not up there with fried chicken for him, but it wasn't a no and he's willing to try it again.

Recently I made pasta e fagioli from Leon's Fast Vegetarian Book, a really delicious vegan friendly pasta dish made with borlotti beans. I swapped the pasta for courgetti, although I could have had rice pasta, my favourite non gluten pasta alternative as it tastes more like the real thing. You could if preferred, make a separate portion adding in meat. Shredded chicken would probably work quite well, but I always like to make sure all of us have some non meat days.

There are many traditional family dishes that you can add meat to just by separating part of the base sauce, bean chillies, stir frys, casseroles, wraps and tacos all work well. I tend to base my dish around my daughters needs, being vegan she needs to make sure she is getting all the nutrients she would normally get from a meat and dairy based diet. So it's often easier to think of a dish for her that I can either add meat or fish to on the side, or that I can separate out into another pan.

To increase your vegetable intake, try adding in some leafy greens, swede or celeriac to your mashed potato or better still swap your white potatoes for sweet potatoes. They are a better source of fibre and vitamins and have a lower gylcemic index, which means they release their sugars more slowly than white potatoes, so don't spike blood sugar levels, helping to control mood levels and hunger.

There are many ways you can sneak in a few extra vegetables to lots of dishes. Courgettes, celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions and garlic left to sweat in a pan for a few minutes with a little olive oil, combined with a tin of chopped tomatoes, makes a more nutritious basic sauce than just tomato. Or for another quick sauce, try roasting peppers, garlic and tomatoes, add a little olive oil and seasoning and blend together. Adding a sprinkling of smoked paprika to it, makes it a bit more interesting.

Always try and avoid shop bought sauces as these have lots of added sugar. Making your own is quick and easy and you can make batches of sauces and freeze them in portions so you have a ready supply.

Half the joy of trying out new recipes is experimenting, so if I have time I'll make anything from falafels, bean patties, sweet potato cakes or quinoa risotto. These will form the main focus of the meal which I may swap with some chicken or salmon accompanied with rice, more veggies or salad. Another great benefit is the leftovers, my daughter and I nearly always now have something readily available to eat for lunch the next day that is gluten, dairy and meat free.

What's for dinner tonight? Well according to my planner it's lentil dal with some lamb to add in for my son, with brown rice and a side of purple sprouting broccoli - seasonal and tastes great.

Second thoughts I might just switch the rice for some of that "tastes like seeds" quinoa stuff....

P.S. If you're looking for some more healthy, family friendly recipe ideas follow my blog, I'll be posting some new creations soon.

#healthyfamily #familyfood #familynutrition #Hbloggers #healthyselves

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