Cooking something that everyone in the family will eat can be a struggle at the best of times. If you have children (or adults!) who are fussy eaters or have strong food preferences, you will know what I mean. And when you add multiple severe allergies or intolerances into the mix, it can get even more complicated to come up with allergy free meal ideas to keep everyone happy.
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Catering for everyone
We have one family member with multiple severe allergies: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts and sesame. No one else has food allergies. While we don’t cook with any nuts or sesame in our home, it doesn’t seem right that everyone else should miss out on the nutrition provided by dairy or eggs for example. Another is a pescatarian, and eats fish but no meat. And our youngest is just hard to please and only likes very basic food – including meat of course.
When we have extended family over, we add in another who doesn’t eat any seafood and one who needs a gluten free and low FODMAP diet.
Sometimes it just gets all too hard and I end up cooking 4 different meals. Life is too busy to have to do that all the time! So over the years I’ve come up with a few go-to allergy free meal ideas that are easy to adapt for everyone’s needs.
#1 – Roast dinner
A weekend roast is one of our family meals that it is on high rotation. Whether it’s a roast chicken, or beef, lamb or pork, the roast meat portion takes care of everyone in the family (except the pescatarian). To stay allergy friendly, it’s best to buy an unseasoned piece of meat and add your own seasoning and flavours. That might be a simple olive oil, rosemary, salt and garlic rub on the roast lamb (leaving out the garlic if our low FODMAP family member is joining us). Or some fresh orange juice and zest, thyme, olive oil and pepper on the chicken.
We are lucky that the non-meat eater in the family will happily eat a host of different roast vegetables for dinner.
If there is one thing that everyone in our family will eat, it’s roast potatoes. I precook the potatoes in the microwave and then toss with some olive oil, sea salt and fresh rosemary and pop in the oven to roast until they are crunchy and brown. For something a little fancier but just as quick and easy, I’ll cook roast potatoes with olives and tomatoes.
We usually also roast carrots (with a bit of honey), pumpkin (with nutmeg) and some onions. Roast vegetable options are only limited by your imagination. Add in some colourful beetroot, parsnips, yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, bell pepper, mushroom or whatever else takes your fancy. (Or whatever you happen to have left in the fridge!)
A traditional roast is a great allergy free meal option that extends to special occasions like Christmas too.
#2 – Taco Tuesday
Tacos are another favourite, and not just on Tuesdays. Another shared way to eat where people can assemble their own tacos with ingredients to suit their allergies or tastes.
Our family like both soft shell and hard tacos, so we do mix it up sometimes. We mainly use Old El Paso brand taco kits, but sometimes end up buying the shells and seasoning and salsa toppings separately because there is never enough taco sauce for my hungry crew. I also like to make my own allergy friendly fresh tomato salsa – so much tastier than the store bought variety.
Again, I do have to do a small adjustment or two with tacos. The fussy one doesn’t like spiced meat, so I cook him a little plain meat or chicken separately. And if our pescatarian is joining us, then we might need extra toppings like beans to “beef” things up (see what I did there). I recently discovered that Australian brand Deliciou makes a veggie taco mince, so that’s definitely on the list to try next.
Apart from the meat (and non-meat) filling, we have bowls with diced cucumber, red capsicum, tomato, lettuce and cheese (diary and non-dairy). And of course the spicy taco sauce to top it off. We usually use a different coloured bowl and spoon for serving the dairy free cheese to avoid any confusion or cross contact. Our favourite shredded vegan cheese for tacos is BioCheese cheddar shred or Sheese.
Another great way to avoid any mix ups between everyone’s tacos are to use coloured taco stands – they also keep the tacos standing up neatly. Try these colourful taco holder stands which come in rainbow colours (one for everyone) and are dishwasher and microwave safe.
#3 – BBQ
This is what we did last night. Easy barbecue dinner. I love a BBQ because it is so quick and easy. Just cook the meat/fish/vegetables on the BBQ grill (which caters to everyone including the pescatarian) and serve with a simple salad and some crunchy bread. (Or if you are doing the traditional Australian thing, it should be plain white bread ready for the sausages and sauce!)
Last night’s dinner was sausages, steak, a vegan burger for one and corn on the cob done over the grill, with a simple green salad. Something for everyone without going to too much trouble.
Most sausages we buy are gluten and dairy free, but always read the ingredients carefully or ask your butcher. With more and more gourmet varieties available, some sausages do contain cheese or nuts.
Don’t forget to use a a BBQ grill mat if you are cooking your barbecue away from home or if you use your home barbecue to cook foods that contain allergens as well. Food allergy cross contact is something to bear in mind whenever you are cooking and especially where different foods are cooked in close proximity.
#4 – Curry night
Curry probably isn’t the first option that springs to mind if you are trying to avoid top 10 allergens. Many Indian curries contain nuts like cashews or almonds and ghee (clarified butter). But a homemade curry night is actually quite a different story. Making good use of herbs and spices and coconut milk can produce lovely creamy curry sauces without the allergens.
I do have to tweak curry night a little, as the fussy one doesn’t like curry – only the rice and the pappadams! So I just pan fry a little of the chicken or meat separately. But a chicken or meat curry and a vegetarian curry (or a fish or prawn curry if you don’t have seafood allergies) can otherwise easily fit the bill. Serve the curries with loads of plain steamed rice, pappadams and some mango chutney or homemade raita. (Raita is a cooling yoghurt based side dish, but can easily be made with a dairy free soy or coconut yoghurt instead).
If you are in the mood to cook from scratch you can have complete control over all the ingredients and keep your meal allergy-free. For a lazy weeknight dinner, I often will cheat and make a “butter chicken” using a store bought dairy free simmer sauce. Two brands we can buy locally in Australia are Ozganics butter chicken sauce and Chef’s Garden, but check your local supermarket health food aisle for allergy friendly options. Another option is Simply Organics madras simmer sauce.
Curry night can also be dressed up for entertaining a bigger crowd. Just make extra curries and side dishes and go to some extra effort with the presentation to wow your guests.
#5 – Home made pizza
We eat a lot of home made pizza. It’s probably our most frequently made allergy free meal idea. Popular with everyone and so easy to make an individual pizza for each family member that completely caters to their allergies or preferences. Ham and pineapple for the fussy one, meat lovers with olives and mushrooms for another, and seafood or vegetarian pizza for the meat free people. Dairy free cheese for the milk allergy (like Sheese, Bio Cheese or Wise Bunny, who all make great shredded pizza cheese). Gluten free pizza base for the low FODMAP eater.
We make our pizza dough from scratch with type 00 flour, yeast, sugar, salt and oil. It’s really very easy. There are gluten free pizza flours available too (try Australian brand Yes You Can pizza dough or Bob’s Red Mill gluten free pizza crust mix). Given it’s only occasionally that we need to make a gluten free pizza, we often just buy a premade gluten free base.
The most important thing is to invest in some decent pizza trays for home-made pizza. We like the non-stick steel pizza pans with holes in them, which make a lovely crispy crust.
You can get the family involved in making their own pizza by doing their own toppings. We always let our multiple allergy family member go first though, so there is no cross-contact between the dairy free cheese and the normal mozzarella. And we cook his pizza on the top shelf in the oven for the same reason. It goes without saying to use a separate chopping board and pizza cutter too when serving up.
The other good thing about pizza of course is left-overs.
Other allergy free meal ideas
These are 5 of our family’s favourite allergy free meal ideas that we can tweak to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs. They are also good for having friends and family over to eat and you don’t want to cook an entire allergy-friendly meal. Our preferred way to feed a crowd is the shared plates type of meal, provided of course that everyone is aware of cross contact. You can read more about food allergy cross contact in our post about avoiding cross contact in the kitchen.
We’d love to hear some of your favourite “adaptable” meal ideas in the comments.