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Mary's Modern Homemaking
Menu Planning Made Easy
Centuries ago women not only stayed home, raised families, and supported their husbands, they also had helpers. Some women had a staff to organize their households, while others had one or two people.
Today we live very different lives compared to the "women of old." We go it aloneor do we? We have something just as good if not better to help us organize our daily lives: the computer. I often refer to my computer as "my e-gal Friday." Many websites are available to help us keep track of schedules, addresses, financial matters, and even plan our meals.
Websites like Yummy Northwest do more than let us know about local farmers and food festivals. They help us track what is in season. Because I work every weekend and some weeknights, it is hard for me to visit markets and festivals. However, following them on the Internet keeps me up on what is in season and what items are going out of season. This can net some good deals for canning or preserving later. Some individual markets have their own website where you can sign up to receive weekly or monthly information as well as recipes.
By now you are asking, "OK this is nice, but what has it got to do with meal planning?" Everything! And I really mean everything. Eating what is in season ensures fresher, more nutritious food. It gives us variety in our life.
Basic food groups
Learn the basic food groups. What was formerly known as the food pyramid, which is how I learned about the basic food groups, is now called MyPlate. Knowing all about the food groups will help you plan balanced meals: choose something from each group, but in moderation or portion size.
Over the years we have subtly been encouraged to eat more. Take that small bag of chips. It used to be a single-serving bag, but now it often contains two servings. Do we share, or eat the whole thing? Most of us will eat it all. So how do we measure size? Actually, that is easy: 10 chips is one serving. Likewise, one serving is a slice of bread, a carrot, a small apple, a very thin slice of butter, or 23 ounces of meat, a piece the size of your palm. Two slices of bacon or one egg equals a meat serving. See, it's not hard at all.
Serving up food or drink in the appropriate sizes helps as well. Use a salad plate instead of a bowl. For meals, a smaller plate will do and will look fuller with fewer calories. Serve dips and dressings on the side. For beverages, I use canning jars. The right size for the right drink. The 6-ounce jelly jars are perfect for milk or juices. The 8- to 16-ounce sizes are wonderful for ice tea, water, or lemonade. There is a size for everything; check them out. They are also portable. Hot or cold, just screw on the lid and go.
Don't overlook fats in your meal planning. For example, olive oil, canola oil, and even nuts and avocados provide essential nutrients. In small amounts they keep our plumbing running smoothly. Just like the pistons in our car need oil, so do our bodies!
Plan your menu
By now you get the idea, so let the fun begin! First, you will need a menu format. You could design your own or, like me, choose a pre-made one on the Internet. I found mine on 5dollardinners.com. Next, decide on a casual plan such as dinner only, or get more intricate by planning all the meals, including snacks. Keeping your cupboards and fridge loaded with foods from the basic groups will eliminate the need to plan out breakfast, lunch, and snacks, leaving only dinners to plan ahead for.
Your menu can be done by the week, month, or even season. I love the seasonal style simply because we eat differently in the fall, winter, spring, and summer. I tie mine together, creating fall/winter and spring/summer menus. Colder months mean more hot foods such as soups, casseroles, and fried foods. Warmer months mean more salads (fruit or veggie), barbequed or broiled meat, even simply a sandwich with fruit.
Don't forget dessert! After all, we are only human, and most of us dearly love something sweet after a meal. But be sensible. Save the chocolate for Sundays. During the week, serve fruit either plain or baked, such as in pie, crisps, or Bettys. Even Jell-O and simple puddings are good. After all, if we are deprived, we give up and dive into high-calorie, fatty foods!
Remember to make holidays special. No matter what the occasion, if you want to celebrate, by all means go all out. Ever since I was very young, Sundays have always been special at our house, including church, family, and food. So I always try to make Sunday dinner special. This, by the way, includes a fattening sweet dessert. After all, eating this once a week won't kill you. Just remember not to overdo it.
Included on my menu sheets is where to find the recipes, such as my recipe box or the name and page number of a cookbook.
Menu planning is a great way to get the kids involved. Sit down and allow them to help plan what the whole family will eat. Even ask them to plan and prepare a whole mealwith your help, of course! The sooner kids get involved with preparing the food they eat, the sooner they gain a healthier outlook on food and nutrition.
My recipe for good health
And remember: an apple a day keeps the doctor away!
Mary Frances lives in Ravensdale, Washington, and loves finding healthy ways to keep her castle clean. She believes that what we clean with can be just as important to our health as what we eat. When she's not cleaning, Mary Frances battles the blackberry vines in her yard. Also enjoy Mary Frances's blog, All American Gal.
Mary's Modern Homemaking copyright 2013.