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Feeding your family a meal everyone enjoys can be like negotiating a United Nations peace treaty at the best of times, let alone when only one or two members is following a low FODMAP diet. So, what’s the best approach? Prepare a low FODMAP meal for everyone? Make a separate low FODMAP meal for the person who requires it and a ‘normal’ meal for the remaining family members? Do you encourage the person who needs a low FODMAP meal to challenge themselves with what everyone else is eating so remaining family members don’t feel unnecessarily restricted?

The advantages of everyone in the household consuming a low FODMAP meal are that there won’t be any “accidental” high FODMAP ingredients transferred from one meal to another, food preparation is made easier, and (perhaps the most important), the strong family display of unconditional support for the person who is suffering. Social support has been found to be one of the strongest predictors of sustained dietary change. Despite these benefits, the potential downside of this approach is that non-IBS sufferers may feel unnecessarily restricted, and possibly end up resenting the family member who is causing the entire family’s dietary changes to occur. Pooft! There goes your social support.

There are also potential health implications of unnecessarily following a low FODMAP diet in the long-term, as the reduced prebiotic load changes gut bacteria, although the jury is still out on just how harmful to health (if at all) this is. We do know that restricting fibre intake (a cornerstone of the low FODMAP diet) can have detrimental effects of health in the long-term in both IBS and non-IBS sufferers.

On the other end of the spectrum, the poor household meal preparer (usually the mum) could create completely separate meals … but as if this poor person isn’t already busy as it is! This would involve extra prep time, cost, and more dishes. Not to mention the fact the IBS sufferer is likely to feel excluded and ‘different’ or a ‘burden’ on the family.

So then, what’s the best approach? We recommend a compromise between the two options – i.e., between full inclusion and full exclusion. What does this look like? Occasionally the whole family may eat low FODMAP meals, and at other times the IBS sufferer may have to enjoy meals different to everyone else (e.g., during special occasions like Christmas). The meals that most families tend to sit down to together are lunch (on the weekends) and dinner (weeknights and weekends). This means breakfast is usually not an issue, nor are snacks.

A good idea is to make these two meals – lunch and dinner – as FODMAP-friendly (yet still nutritionally complete and tasty) as possible. There may still be an allowance for non-IBS family members to add high FODMAP ingredients to their meal after it has been prepared. Let’s use the example of a family favourite - spaghetti bolognaise. A FODMAP-friendly wheat free pasta can be made for everyone, then two large pasta sauce bowls place in the centre of the table, one sauce containing the traditional high-FODMAP onion and garlic base, while the other sauce using FODMAP-friendly spices or sauces from the Casa de Sante range. Another example would be preparing FODMAP-friendly barbequed chicken, but serving it alongside two separate side salads, one containing high FODMAP vegetables and condiments, and the other containing only low FODMAP vegetables and salad dressings.

This strategy of cooking only one low FODMAP main meal for the entire family, then allowing for different add-ons once the meal is served, tends to be the most practical, inclusive and is readily accepted by most family members. Snacks and meals that are eaten separately aren’t an issue as everyone can eat according to their own needs and food preferences.

As with any diet plan, meal preparation is key, so it’s a good idea for the home cook to have a series of ‘go-to’ low FODMAP recipes and meal plans. There are several handy smartphone apps available that make this process much easier. Experiment every now and then with new FODMAP-friendly recipes until you find the ones that become instant family favourites. Before you know it you’ll be hosting a summer BBQ using low FODMAP foods!

So, there you have it, family (albeit perhaps not world) peace!

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