One of my old stand-bys is my 1950, Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1st edition. (Now, I know that Betty Crocker wasn’t a real person.. but I still find a bit of humor in thinking of the cookbook as “Betty” — my grandmother is another Betty so maybe this adds to the charm, but either way I hope you can bare my bit of madness here as I refer to her as a real person.) My tattered red friend is not the reprint, but the original with all its sexist little comments and admonitions on being an active and productive homemaker. It is filled with good advice about work habits, entertaining, recipe short-cuts, meal planning and nutrition.
One thing I find most useful is this book assumes nothing. It starts from the idea that the reader is a complete homemaking ingenue and goes from there. So it actually covers things that one would have assumed that a young woman growing up in the 30s and 40s would probably know. Betty Crocker advises that the homemaker plan menus at least one week at a time and better to do two weeks or even a month at once, to shop only once or twice a week. The second shopping trip should be for perishables. She suggests keeping a “well stocked emergency shelf” to deal with those unexpected guests or inordinately hectic days where the lady of the house is too busy for shopping and cooking. All sensible and good advice and I think that the starting point is spot on, nutrition.
Now, Betty Crocker, 1950, is a little behind on the scientific discoveries of today. But, Betty and her counterparts knew full well that little Judy and Johny needed nutritionally balanced meals so they could grow up and become useful and happy adults. In the 1950’s cookbook there is no fudging on who is responsible for seeing that happens. Mom is the “go-to” person for healthy meals, clean and tastefully decorated homes and family entertainment. The world has changed a great deal. The young homemaker of 1950 was held to a somewhat different set of standards but, she also wasn’t facing some of the same temptations and bad habits that we face. In the chapter on short-cuts she mentions that in larger cities there are places where you can pick up whole meals and take them home as a modern marvel, almost experimental in their novelty. It was 5 years before Ray Kroc would open his first McDonald’s, packaged food was almost non-existent, the first Swanson TV dinner wouldn’t hit the store shelf for four more years. So, while the details of what was then considered a healthy meal are dated, the principles and the application of planning and preparing are, if anything, even more relevant to today than when they were written.
Betty Crocker quotes the “Smart Homemaker” saying, “My meals are more nutritious since I’ve been planning them ahead. I check in advance the basic foods and the daily needs of my family.” To get a good idea of what those basic needs are I use the Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid. It took more tweaking than I would have liked to figure out how to translate the pyramid into meals. For some reason the geniuses at Harvard figured that spelling things out in “servings” wasn’t how people really eat. To help out on this and to get a bit of a different angle I also looked at The UMIM Healing Foods Pyramid which actually turned out to be more practical. I finally got it worked out and could create a template for menus. The raw template has “slots” for menu items that I can drop items from the different categories into to create meals.
I know there are many different food plans out there, with different claims to what is the most healthy way to eat. And really, I am not going to sort that out or make any judgement for anyone else on that. Find what works for you according to your family’s tastes, your beliefs and culture and what makes sense to you. What makes sense to me the two pyramids married with the idea of local and seasonal food and sustainable agricultural practices. In practice we use too much red meat, I am not giving up my coffee and there are those Goldfish crackers.
One thing that has surprised me is how much effort it really took to get to this point. My grandmother learned menu planning in her home and while working as a cook for a ranch. My mother has often told me how little she learned at home, her mother apparently shewed her out of the kitchen more often than not but mom did have a home economics class in high school. My mother did the homemaker thing when I was very young then entered the work-force, never to look back and swore she wouldn’t be some 1950s housewife who’s greatest achievement was having the cleanest toilet on the block and by the time I made it to high school home economics was optional and sort of looked down on. I came to adulthood ill-equipped to manage a family menu, much less a household and I have had to basically teach myself.
My next menu planning article will break down into a little more detail about how you get from theory to shopping list.