You may be thinking that was a typo. But no, I meant, “protein cooking,” not, “Low-protein cooking.” Because, for many of us, we are not living our PKU life in isolation, we are a part of a family! We often end up cooking protein and low-protein food side by side.
Growing up I am sure I took it for granted that my mom cooked two meals pretty much every night for dinner. There was the normal or protein dish, and then there was my dish. Then she was always good at serving a fruit and vegetable that we would all eat. Bless her for doing that for me and our family!
Now I have my own family and I have the challenge of cooking two meals a night. Because I am used to my diet, it’s not that resisting the protein foods is hard. It is actually that motivating myself to cook something I can’t eat is difficult at times. But I do my best. Also, I’m not that good at cooking meat! And I don’t have as big of a food repertoire, so I have to really try to get out of the box.
I should add, my husband is very understanding, never complains, and almost always likes what I cook! So I am lucky. :)
Since protein-cooking has been a struggle for me I imagine it has been hard for others as well. So I would like to share some things that help me.
5 Ways to Navigate Protein-Cooking as a PKUer:
1. Find a recipe you are excited about
Sometimes you may have to make a sacrifice and just cook your family’s favorite meal, even if you can’t eat it. But most of the time I think it is a good idea to think of something that sounds good to you. For me, cooking takes a lot of mental energy. I have a handful of recipes that I’m really comfortable with. But when I go online and try to look for new ones, in order to motivate myself to plan, shop for and cook a new recipe, I have to be excited to eat it myself.
An example of this would be my recent discovery of Southwest Salad. My husband liked it in a restaurant so I thought I’d try to make it for him, but it sounded really good to me too.
2. Aim for health, but take it easy some days
I know using as much whole food as possible is ideal. But I need to be realistic for my circumstances and phase of life (a young family trying to get through grad-school with a 1 year old and a budget). Sometimes I have to use canned soups, and even the occasional freezer meal. I have found that most of the time it is pretty doable to plan for about three meals a week that are more fresh or harder to prepare, and the rest of the time I go for more convenience.
Examples: Grilled cheese and tomato soup; fish, tater tots and green beans
3. When it comes to meat, the Crock Pot is your friend
I hope to improve my meat-cooking skills, but in the mean time, the crock pot is a great way to almost guarantee it will turn out well. Casseroles are simple as well. Also, making use of prepared meats like meatballs and sausages is easier than trying to make the perfect fried chicken or grilled steak (…actually I’ve never even tried to make steak). As far as chicken goes, mine often turns our dry. But recently we discovered that chicken with the skin on stays more moist and my husband really likes it.
Examples: Crock pot chili (ground beef, beans, onions, tomatoes, spices),Casserole (pre-cooked ham or sausage, rice , cream of mushroom soup, onions, cheese), Crock pot sweet and sour meatballs (store-bought sauce, meatballs, green peppers, pineapple)
4. Branch Out with Protein Sources
Meat isn’t the only way to get protein (as we all well know!) Try using legumes, chick peas, quinoa, nuts, peanut butter, tofu? (haven’t done that myself) to mix things up. Add on cheese (to almost anything if you’re my husband); add bacon bits to soups and salads. Canned meats such as tuna, salmon and even chicken can be really helpful.
Also, sometimes instead of doing two main dishes, my husband and I share a main dish but I throw in a protein side for him such as edamame if we are having Asian food like this oriental salad or chow-mein dish.
5. Master the art of the low-protein version
My mom was good at this. I have shared a few examples of this on my blog. When the family had casserole she would make “goop” for me. When they had burritos I got low-protein mexi-rice with all the veggies. The idea is to take the flavor of whatever you are making for the family, and apply it to a food that is lower in protein such as low-protein pasta.
Beef stroganoff | lo-pro stroganoff
Taco Salad with black beans and cheese | lo-pro taco salad
Southwest salad with black beans and cheese | lo-pro southwest salad
Stuffed peppers with beef | stuffed peppers with rice or low-pro rice
So if you are a PKUer cooking for a family of protein-eaters, I hope this has inspired you or given you some good ideas.
What do you like to cook for your family?