Updated: Jul 9, 2022
Pulling together the household menu can be challenging especially if the household includes helicopter parents, boomerang kids, doting grandparents and other folks on occasion. Everyone wants their fav foods, seasoned to their liking and cooked a certain way.
One of the first things is to try to make sure everyone has a seat at the table. Gather the group together giving them the opportunity to voice their likes and dislikes, encouraging each of them to respect the preferences and dietary needs of others. Important factors in filling the shopping cart for a diverse group are age, activity level, nutrition and personal favorites.
Age plays a big part in filling the grocery cart and devising a family menu. For family members who are under the age of ten, their food choices later in life are shaped by the foods they are exposed to as their palates develop.
Teens are generally growing and more active which adds up to their need for more calories. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, teens eating 2,000 calories a day need about 5.5 ounces of protein foods daily, while teenagers consuming 2,600 calories daily require about 6.5 ounces from the protein foods group each day.
For adult men and women, their activity levels also impact the number of recommended calories they should consume. If they’re less active, the calorie intake needs to be trimmed. Typically, the healthy range for men is 2,000 to 3,000 calories. A woman’s caloric intake is less, usually 1,600 to 2,400 calories.
After about age 50, calorie needs generally decrease as a result of a lower metabolic rate. As you age, your taste sensation diminishes which most often shakes out with the loss of the ability to discern salty and sweet, followed by bitter and sour notes. This often leaves the 60+ family members adding extra salt, spices or hot peppers to boost food flavors.
Calories do count and are closely linked to activity.
However, in addition to calories, at each age level, you want to make sure people are making wise choices. Nutrient-rich, lower fat foods are best overall. In cases where family members have special needs such as allergies, diabetes, hypertension or others, you’ll want to make sure the pantry includes options that will allow them to eat foods that meet those dietary needs.
If there are allergy issues, make sure everyone knows about the allergy, the foods are clearly labeled and separate, if necessary, from other groceries. In the case of diabetes and other special diets, include whole-grain breads and cereals, assorted fruits and vegetables and low-fat snacks. Avoid high sugar and high fat foods. Check with a Registered Dietitian for advice and counsel on other health concerns that require special diets.
Acknowledge personal preferences when possible—I’m not advocating the “short order cook solution,” but by recognizing these, you’re reinforcing the fact that you respect what is important to each individual. If possible, cook some foods that can be personalized once they spoon up their portion. For example, if you make chili, consider using ground poultry in place of beef, serve it with plenty of toppings i.e., cheese, jalapeno chilies, black beans, kidney beans, or hot sauce. Toppings will allow everyone to add what they like to the tomato-based meat mixture. Put the basic spices on the table too— and they can more spice, chilés or whatever they like to their serving.
Solving the dinner dilemma is not always easy, but with input from the entire family, and good communication, it is not as daunting as it seems to plan menus that will meet the needs of the multi-generational family.
Take Away: Meals should not be stressful situations. Making sure each member of the family is able to share food likes, dislikes or special needs will set the table for enjoyable meals creating a lifetime of good memories.
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