In the early 1960’s my mother sat in a home economics classroom thumbing through her “Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook” like so many young women her age. It was the colorful 3rd edition, the reprint of the trusty classic. She kept that old book, in fact she still owns it. When I was a girl I used it to learn to make bread and cookies and read through it. For years I had wondered why housekeeping was so difficult for me and then it dawned on my sometimes thick skull, I had no idea what I was doing. As I mentioned in my last menu planning article I didn’t learn the skills I needed to have to run a home a my mother’s knee. I actually had to learn many of the most important things later and on my own which has been rather daunting and something I am still working on. One thing I did that helped me was to purchase my own “Betty” from e-bay. I had love my mother’s old edition. When I left home my mother bought me the 6th edition, which had been sadly gutted to fit the “modern woman’s” needs. So I eventually bought the older edition for myself.
It was then that I started to see how much I was really creating extra work for myself simply by running my household so inefficiently. Menu planning was one of the first things that I set my mind to fixing. I started by just listing the meals my family likes and randomly fitting them into meals over the course of a few weeks. This was far better than nothing, but still had a ways to go. Kyle and I used the South Beach Diet. Its menu plan covers everything from breakfast to desert and I found this to be even more helpful. So I carried it farther. I have used my Betty Crocker cookbook and two nutritional sites to help me develop my new menu plan templates you can read about the process behind that here.
For my family and our nutritional needs this is the basic outline I use:
· Vegetables: at least 5 servings per day
· Fruit: 2-4 servings per day
· Whole grains: 4-11 servings per day
· Legumes: 1-3 servings per day
· Soy: 2-4 servings per week
· Oils, nuts, seeds, olives: 3-9 servings a day
· Dairy: 1-3 servings a day
· Eggs: 1 per day
· Fish 2-4 servings per week, with at least 2 being omega-3 rich or having omega-3 in something else
· meat 1-3 servings per week
That is the goal. Each day we have three meals and two snacks to fill.
· morning snack
So over a week it looks like this :
|Morning Snack||Morning Snack||Morning Snack||Morning Snack||Morning Snack||Morning Snack||Morning Snack|
|Fish||Chicken or Fish|
Whole grain at every meal, work soy into the menu at least two or three times.
This menu template covers the basics of good nutrition as I see it. You might disagree or have some other important idea to work in. But this more about practice than theory. No matter what theory drives your menu plan at some point the theory has to work in practice. Pretty much how I got the template was to list out what needed to be served, how many times per day or week then distributed the amounts over the day and week. Any nutritional plan will lend itself to this method, though some will require more work than others.
I list out my families favorite dishes and then place them into the menu. Note that for vegetables the amount is unlimited the daily minimum is 5 serving. A bean and vegetable soup for lunch with a whole grain roll with olive oil to dip and a piece of fruit will cover a legume, vegetable, whole grain, oil and fruit slot. With that in mind it is easier to get all those servings in than it might at first seem. Two vegetable servings can be covered as easily as having salad and steamed broccoli at the meal. Peanut butter and celery or cauliflower bits with hummus for a snack fill both the slots for the tea-time snack. I also don’t get overly stressed out about breaking the menu a little bit. A slice of Canadian bacon at breakfast a couple times a week, a slice of lunch meat to make a veggie-turkey roll-up or even hot-dogs on a Saturday night is not something I worry about. The menu plan is to serve me and my family with nutrition in mind, not become something rigid and painful.
All that said there is more to eating than vitamins and calories. The Smart Homemaker of my Betty Crocker cookbook, of course she realizes that good nutrition is the cornerstone happy family meals, but she also knows that it takes more than just the “right” foods. She stressed that our menus should be Appropriate to our situation, Be appetizing in appearance, be satisfying and that we should be mindful of cost. To this list I personally add seasonal, local and as sustainable as possible.
Appropriate: Each family is different. I am home during the day and this allows me to devote more time to meal preparation than some families. We have a larger family, small children, we homeschool and we live in the city and we don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities. If any of these things changed our meals might look different.
Menu planning has to also be appropriate to my brain. For me it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel each week. I am a thinking junkie, in fact I can over think just about anything as all my friends and anyone who has read this blog can attest to. I like to weigh every possibility and find out all the facts and making a commitment to a decision gets me a little nervous. Consequently I can burn a lot of time making choices. Knowing this about myself I realize that every time I can remove deliberation out of the process I am saving myself a lot of time. Set menu plans are a good thing for me, going through a stack of cookbooks and searching online for new recipes each week is going to take me too much time. It is much better for me to use set menus.
Satisfaction: This section could have been called “prepare with care” and it is closely related to the suggestions of appearance. Well seasoned, carefully prepared food in variety is more satisfying. I remember having read the little poem as a girl:
Something soft and something crisp
Should always go together,
And something hot with something cold
No matter what the weather;
Something bland needs the complement
Of something with tang and nip.
Follow these rules and all your meals
Will have taste appeal and zip.
It really does make sense and isn’t as complicated as it seems, warm bread, a crispy salad and a well seasoned soup makes a perfect meal that follows the above suggestions to the letter. Macaroni and cheese with peach slices and cooked carrots lacks variety in color and texture. I served this once and my children, who usually are not the type to protest about any of those menu choices all looked at me sort of funny and complained: “Everything is orange, mom” caught off guard I had to come up with a quick reply, “ummm, yes, it is ‘Orange lunch’ today”. They thought that was cool and happily ate it, but it does illustrate the point: Even my little ones prefer a little variety of color and texture on the plate.
Wine: I know some people dislike wine or have some sort of objection to it. We have wine, usually red, several times a week with dinner. It is inline with most of the healthy eating plans I have seen and both my husband and I enjoy a glass with our evening meal. It is a highly satisfying touch to the table for us. As the children reach their teen years they are allowed a bit of their own on occasion and we are comfortable with this. I have one acquaintance who drinks a small amount of red wine, for health reasons, but only when her children can’t see. I suspect this sort of secretive behavior sets a worse example than pouring a glass at dinner would, but to each their own.
Technique: Cooking well make preparing your family meal more fun for you and more satisfying for everyone. If you are new to cooking or haven’t had much success in the kitchen I highly recommend taking the time to learn basic kitchen techniques. Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for the Food” is one of my favorites; there are websites that illustrate basic techniques and possibly even classes through your local college or home extension office. Don’t be afraid to try something new from time to time. I try to work one new recipe every two weeks or so. Food in addition to being prepared to be satisfying can be very satisfying to prepare.
Cost: Food costs have gone up rather sharply lately and there are many places where you can cut family food budget. Menu planning just by itself will help you save money. You can plan ahead what to eat, you can stock your pantry when things are on-sale, take advantage of seasonal food, coupons and “loss leader sales”, you can shop at bulk and discount stores and you can basically eat better for less. You might want to try cooking ahead or freezer cooking in order to save even more. But the biggest differences for us are cutting out what I call “Oh, crap, dinners” — those times when it is 5pm and I have no idea what to cook and nothing quick in the house to prepare which results in a last minute trip to the store or drive through. When I am on top of my menu planning we aren’t making last minute trips to the store (saving time, gas and not purchasing impulse items) and we aren’t resorting to fast food and eating out which are both budget and diet busters.
Appropriateness, appearance, satisfaction, nutrition and cost are Betty Crocker’s list of important menu planning considerations. But a lot has changed since the 1950s. We are more aware of the impact our actions as a society have on our health and the environment in which we live. The University of Michigan Integrative Medicine’s Healing Foods Pyramid states that it emphasizes (among other things) “Support of a healthful environment” the way in which our food is grown, the amount of pesticides, hormones and fertilizers all affect the health-value of our food and health of the land it is grown on. Supporting local farm families in turn supports our communities economically. All these things matter when put together. While I am certainly not militant about being organic or “green” I view these ideas as personal lifestyle choices and I offer them up for consideration.
Seasonal, local and sustainable: Eating food that is in season locally allows you to take advantage of what is available in your farmer’s market and in local u-pick and small farms near you. You might even be able to grow some of your own vegetables and seasoning. Herbs are especially easy to go and require no more space then a window box or small platter; salad greens, radishes, green onions require very little more and tomatoes will happily grow in a large patio pot. Learning to freeze, can, dry and/or pickle is a great way to save money, support local your local economy and avoid pesticides and other unwanted chemicals. You might even be lucky enough to be able to purchase eggs, meat and dairy from small operations. A side of beef in the freezer can provide meat for a year. For items beyond your local market keep an eye open for fair-trade options to help ensure that more of the profit goes to those who actually produce the product. Consider researching the possibilities available to you, you might find yourself happily surprised at the variety and quality.
On a seriously Catholic note, you might also, when possible try top purchase from religious orders. The Anchoress has been raving about her sponsor “Mystic Monk Coffee“. Many orders have some sort of food items they sell. Hopefully I will be able to work up a list soon. If you know of one please send me a link.
I will be continuing this series. Next in the works is an article on Pantry and Shopping Lists and I will start posting completed menus later next week.