Q: Hi Erika,
I hope this email finds you well. […] I am embarking on a journey to make some major changes in my lifestyle regarding fitness and they way I eat. I recently found out that I am prediabetic, have slightly elevated cholesterol, and I can’t seem to keep my iron levels up.
I’m also about to make a move to live with my long-time boyfriend. One of the expectations we have discussed is that I will primarily do the cooking. I love to cook and experiment with recipes, but I know that I will need to place our southern favorites on a lower rotation. I’m excited about combing through your recipe archives!
My boyfriend is very supportive of my journey and the expectation of my cooking is not high pressure. His primary fitness goals are to build muscle mass rather than weight loss since he’s a pretty lean guy. Do you have any tips about healthy cooking when you live with other people or have a family to take care of? It is just the two of us, so I imagine that this is very doable, but I want to be sure that I still make meals that are satisfying and healthy for both of us.
Thanks for considering this topic!
For starters, yay on the boyfriend being supportive and encouraging! Let’s see if we can make this work for both of you.
So, I think this might be one of the topics on which I hold a differing opinion from most of my peers: I am morally opposed to making multiple dinners for different people in the house.
I have some peers who make one dinner for the kids, one dinner for their partners, and a third dinner for themselves. Oh, and don’t let the kids have split opinions on side dishes, because then they’re making multiple side dishes for just the kids. Yes. Every day. I admire them.
On that, I live and die by “the wish.” As in, “I wish you would ask me to pull some nonsense like that.” All I can think of is the dishes….and, with that, I shudder. Ugh.
Though I know you didn’t mention any kids in your question, I’m going to add them into the topic mainly because, though you are lucky in having a partner who’s eager to work through this with you and try new things, many folks have reluctant family members. I think I can aid all of you in one fell swoop.
When it comes to introducing healthy eating into the household, we’re not talking about chicken breast, kale, and brown rice. Though delicious when done well, that’s a recipe for boredom and, ultimately, resentment.
Whatever people in the household enjoy, it should all be done with food as minimally processed as possible. That’s not to say everyone should be eating raw celery sticks and fish straight out of your own personal ocean (yes, your own personal ocean. baller status.), but that is to say that you should be working very hard to phase processed foods out of the family feeding routine.
Many people fear “healthy” food because it usually tastes like cardboard. And, for the most part, they’re right. My approach to “healthy” food is different: fresh produce because it’s the most filling and nutritious; quality sources of protein because protein is filling and necessary for training; healthy sources of fats because you need them for proper absorption of your nutrients and, also, because it’s incredibly filling. When you make even your most decadent dishes from scratch – whether it takes 20 minutes or 24 hours total – there’s still an incredibly healthy component to them. Yes, even the Southern ones.
When you look at healthy eating from that standpoint, you then have to look at the individual needs of each family member. Kids are just going to eat all the food there ever was, often because they’re growing and their nutritional needs are astronomical. Your boyfriend, however, with his focus on bulking, is going to simply have portions that are divvied up differently from yours.
He’s going to have more food on his plate than you, and rightly so – remember, he’s seeking to gain. Your servings of carbs won’t be similar, either; he’s going to need his, whereas you’ll most likely want to scale back on yours. He’s likely going to need a bit more protein than you. He’s not The Hulk – he doesn’t need a 22oz porterhouse. But he’s going to want to slowly start to increase his portions, while you’ll want to slowly start to decrease yours as you train, while still making sure you have adequate protein in your diet. Quite honestly, the two of you may very well have macronutrient ratios (a macronutrient ratio is basically a percentage breakdown of what macronutrients your calories come from; 35% from carbs, 35% from protein, 30% from fats, perhaps?) that look very similar, but the breakdown when it comes to calories will differ wildly. And that’s okay.
Even though he’s seeking to gain, doesn’t mean he can – or should – go HAM eating whatever he wants just because he could. Not being careful with a bulk can lead to fat gain which isn’t bad, but it isn’t the goal in a bulk. It’s also worth mentioning that people who are advocates of “IIFYM” – “if it fits your macros,” something I do advocate for within reason – often ignore nutritional needs, so even if you are losing on a cheeseburger diet, it doesn’t change the fact that you very well may start to look – and feel – like crap. Not just on the outside, but the inside, as well.
You, however, just need to be mindful of your portions as you eat your healthy dishes, and – instead of doing a massive 1,000 calorie cut from your daily intake like most people do, just slowly cut small portions from your plate as you go along. Take your time eating, enjoy your partner’s company, talk over dinner, have a glass of – ahem – water, and you’ll find that you don’t miss those missing calories at all… but you will notice something else: those health concerns of yours will likely start to fade away.
Everyone should be eating the same delicious, healthy, nutritious meals. Everyone’s respective plates should simply look different. The more people there are in the family and the more of a strain that healthy eating might be putting on your budget, the harder it is to reach that goal, but that’s okay – the closer you can get to this, the better off everyone will be. And the sooner you and boyfriend can get back to achieving those goals together!
What has been your experiences with cooking for the entire family?