When only one person in a family needs a low FODMAP diet, meal planning can be tough. Do you make it so the whole family follows a low FODMAP diet and there’s no high FODMAP options available? Do you prepare two sets of meals, with one for the person on the low FODMAP diet and something different for everyone else? Or is there is a way to compromise so it’s easy for the person who needs a low FODMAP diet but that other family members aren’t unnecessarily restricted?
Let’s consider the pros and cons of each option…
Option 1: Everyone in the house eats the same low FODMAP diet regardless of need.
From the perspective of the person who needs a low FODMAP diet, this probably seems like the best option because it makes their life as easy as possible. If all high FODMAP foods are removed from the house and only low FODMAP meals are prepared, then there won’t be any mistakes. Also, if everyone eats the same meals, extra food preparation isn’t necessary for different needs.
The best part of this strategy, apart from the decreased likelihood of mistakes, is the united front that it creates. Never underestimate the value of unconditional support for the person who’s suffering.
The downside is that anyone who won’t benefit from following a low FODMAP diet (i.e. no IBS symptoms to relieve) is likely to get frustrated by the restrictions. At that point, not only will the unconditional support disappear very fast, all support may waver.
Aside from support issues, there are potential health issues to consider…
Research has shown that when people follow a low FODMAP diet, whether they have IBS or not, their gut bacteria changes – some types of bacteria increase in number while others decrease. But while we know these changes occur, we don’t yet understand the long-term impact of them. Essentially, we don’t know if this change in gut bacteria is beneficial (or harmful) for people who have IBS and benefit from a low FODMAP diet, let alone the consequences to someone who has no problems with FODMAPs.
What we do know is that our gut bacteria help us to stay healthy when they digest prebiotic fibres that we can’t digest ourselves. While this process is essential for the bacteria to survive, it also aids our digestion, lets us absorb more nutrients from food, generates short-chain fatty acids that keep the colon healthy, and makes our immune systems stronger.
But on a low FODMAP diet, prebiotic fibre intake is severely restricted. That’s why following the diet can lead to changes in gut bacteria. It’s also one of the reasons why we try to get people to reintroduce high FODMAP foods back into their diet as quickly as possible.
And it’s the main reason why we don’t recommend following a low FODMAP diet unless absolutely necessary.
For this reason, the strategy of restricting everyone’s diet regardless of need is not recommended. Aside from the fact that sooner or later the rest of the family will get annoyed, we can’t in good conscience recommend a strategy that may be harmful when there’s no other benefits.
Option 2: Two sets of meals are prepared so that only the person who needs the low FODMAP diet eats a restricted diet.
Since Option 1 isn’t advisable, would it be better to create separate meals? Can you imagine that?!? Cooking two lots of dinner every single night, plus two lots of any other meal that’s being shared with other people. If you had to do this for one week, you’d manage, but doing it for months would drive you crazy and leave you exhausted. And the stress won’t help your IBS either.
This strategy is also a problem because the person following the low FODMAP diet will always feel left out since they’ll never be eating what everyone else is eating. Admittedly, anyone following a low FODMAP diet needs to come to terms with the idea of eating different foods, but constantly feeling different, especially in the safe place of your own home, is not a good thing. Feeling out of place and unaccepted among the people you love the most is something that no one should experience.
And if the person needing the low FODMAP diet is a child, this approach would be even more harmful than for adults. They’ll feel the exclusion even more acutely. In fact, when dealing with children, it’s generally advised to avoid the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods so that they don’t become afraid of food, especially during the reintroduction period. That’s because most children won’t have developed the mental and social capacity to understand what’s going on.
So this is not a good long-term solution either. Not for physical health reasons this time, but for mental health reasons and family stability.
Option 3: A compromise, where it’s easier for the person who needs a low FODMAP diet, but everyone else still eats some high FODMAP foods.
When full inclusion (option 1) and full exclusion (option 2) are ruled out, the only remaining option is to compromise between the two. Essentially this means that sometimes the whole family will eat low FODMAP meals, but at other times the person who needs a low FODMAP diet will have a different meal to everyone else.
With this approach, there’s no outright exclusion occurring, but there’s also an understanding and respect for the other family members who don’t need such a restricted diet.
But which meals should be made low FODMAP for everyone and which should only be made low FODMAP for the person who requires it? Let’s work that out…
My professional recommendation that works for most families or couples… and how to put it into practice:
If you’ve skipped to the bottom of the article to read my recommendations without reading everything else, my professional opinion is that Option 3 is the best strategy – a compromise. In that case, go back and read Option 3 so you understand what this compromise means.
To put the compromise into practice, you first need to answer the following questions:
- Which meals do you sit down to eat as a family unit that are designed to bring the family closer together?
- Which meals do the family normally eat apart from each other?
- Which meals often involve the family sitting down together, but in a more random way, or that are eaten quite quickly so they don’t involve much in the way of family bonding?
Every family (or couple) are different and have different schedules, but for most people the answers are likely to be:
- Dinner on most nights and occasionally lunch or brunch on a weekend.
- Lunch during the week (since the family will be in different places, i.e. at work or school) and any weekday morning snacks.
- Breakfast on weekdays (and sometimes on the weekend) and the remaining snacks.
Assuming this is your situation, this is how you’d put it into practice:
- The meals that involve family bonding – dinner on most nights and possibly lunch or brunch on the weekend – should be made low FODMAP so that everyone can safely eat them. However, most of the time there should also be an allowance so that other family members can add high FODMAP ingredients to their plate after the meal has been cooked. For instance, they might like to add:
- high FODMAP sauces,
- lactose-containing dairy,
- high FODMAP breads, grains or pasta, or
- high FODMAP fruits or vegetables.
- The meals that are eaten separately – most lunches and some snacks – should be prepared to suit individual needs so that only the person who needs a low FODMAP diet is restricted.
- The meals that don’t involve much family bonding but might be eaten in proximity to other family members – breakfast and some snacks – could be made separately or as a single option, depending on what suits you best. For instance, everyone eating different breakfast cereals isn’t a big deal, but if you’ve baked some snacks then it might be easier for there to be only one choice.
And if your situation is different, you can rearrange the order of these tips to suit your own schedule.
To sum it up, I recommend…
Cook only one main meal for the entire family that’s low FODMAP, allowing for possible add-ons after the meal is served; for other meals that you don’t need to share, let everyone else eat according to their own needs.