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A table with healthy food on it with a child and adult both putting their arms around their plates.
by Jenna Cox 21 February 2024

Making the Overcoming MS diet family friendly

The Overcoming MS Program serves as a beacon of hope, providing evidence-backed strategies to make impactful changes to our diet and lifestyle for better health outcomes. However, transforming our dietary habits can be challenging, especially when catering for a family. Nutritional therapist and community member, Jenna Cox, shares her tips on how to make the Overcoming MS diet family-friendly.

Food is deeply ingrained in every culture and embracing dietary shifts, such as giving up dairy, limiting saturated fats, and increasing omega-3 intake, may not resonate with everyone in our households, particularly children or picky eaters. The challenge of accommodating varied preferences can add stress, counteracting some of the very goals we are striving to achieve.

Here are some practical tips on making the Overcoming MS diet family-friendly, ensuring a harmonious approach without the need for preparing multiple meals at dinner time.

Easily adaptable meals during the transition

  • Stir-fries –  prepare a universal base with your favourite vegetables and go-to sauce, for example, a mix of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, a dash of maple syrup, and a squeeze of lime juice. While stir-frying your vegetables, cook cubes of firm tofu (marinated in soy sauce, garlic granules, and nutritional yeast) and chicken separately in the oven or air fryer. Mix and match to cater to both plant-based and meat-eaters. In time, you may be able to transition to just including the tofu. 
  • Pasta – make a batch of your favourite tomato-based sauce with all of your fail-safe family-friendly vegetables. This can be blended to disguise the vegetables to cater for any picky eaters. You can make a minced meat version of a Bolognese in one pan, and in the other, you can add a tin of lentils to make a plant-based version in line with the Overcoming MS diet. To gradually introduce the idea of a lentil Bolognese, try mixing the two for your meat-eaters to ease with the transition. 
  • Tacos – set up a taco bar with seasoned black beans, shredded Mexican chicken, lettuce, guacamole, and plain soy yoghurt. Allow family members to mix and match according to their dietary preferences.

Delicious replacements for the whole family

  • A creamy curry – make a plant-based vegetable curry, with ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika and garam masala. Enhance the creaminess without dairy by blending silken tofu with lemon juice, miso, nutritional yeast, garlic, and half a roasted butternut squash. Silken tofu is a great source of protein, and when it’s ‘dressed up’ with a few more ingredients, it can be a satisfying cream replacement. Mix the sauce with your spiced vegetables for a hearty, creamy curry. 
  • A ‘cheesy’ pasta – instead of a dairy-based cheese sauce, if you have a good blender, try a cashew-based sauce. Blend ½ cup cashew nuts with a cup of nut or soy milk, four tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a teaspoon of miso, a handful of chopped chives, half a teaspoon of garlic granules, salt and pepper. Et voilà! 
  • Tofu, walnut and mushroom Bolognese – sometimes it’s good to have a replacement for a family classic up your sleeve, especially if you’re a fan of batch cooking. Revamp the family classic by replacing minced beef with tofu crumbles. Crumble a block of pressed tofu with your fingers into a bowl and season with soy sauce, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, and a dash of olive oil. Spread the crumbles over a pan and bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned and a bit crispy. Adding the crumbles to your dish when you are about to serve can help to preserve the crumbly texture.

Involve the family

  • Encourage family members to participate in meal planning and preparation. This involvement can increase their interest in trying new plant-based or fish recipes. 
  • Organise your own at-home cooking classes aimed at preparing plant-based or fish meals together. This interactive approach can foster a shared commitment to healthier eating. 
  • Dedicate specific nights to themed meals, such as “Meatless Mondays” or “Plant-Based Pizza Fridays.” This adds an element of fun and anticipation to the transition. This collaborative effort can instil a sense of shared responsibility and unity. 
  • Set up a weekly smoothie or juice bar where family members can experiment with various fruits, vegetables, and plant-based protein sources. This encourages creativity and adds a nutritional boost to the diet. 
  • Start a small kitchen garden with herbs and vegetables that the family can grow together. Involving children in growing their food often increases their interest in consuming plant-based meals. 
  • Go global and choose a different country or region each week and explore Overcoming MS recipes from that area. This not only introduces variety but also educates the family about diverse plant-based and fish dishes.

Slowly, slowly wins the race

The Overcoming MS diet can benefit the health of the whole family. It is low in saturated fat, ultra-processed foods and refined sugar. It’s high in fibre, plant diversity and omega 3. Adjusting to this lifestyle, both for individuals and families, takes time. Be flexible and open to modifying recipes based on feedback from family members, and adjust spices, textures, or ingredients to better suit everyone’s taste preferences.

Gradually introducing changes and easily adaptable meals will help you and your family transition together to making Overcoming MS an integral part of each family meal.

Jenna Cox is a registered nutritional therapist based in Bristol, UK. She has been following the Overcoming MS Program since 2016. As a nutritional therapist, she is passionate about helping individuals, especially those with autoimmune diseases like MS, navigate their journey to optimal health through diet and lifestyle changes.