As a child, my family ate a small variety of meals. (I am not faulting my mother, here – she does not enjoy cooking and did not have much free time to invest in it, either.) My husband, on the other hand, grew up with a rich variety of tastes and textures. Guess which of us is the pickier eater, now? (I am learning, though!)
I could easily eat a ground beef based Tex-Mex meal every night of the week. Tacos, then burritos, then nachos, then maybe taco soup, then enchiladas… same flavor profile, same colors, same, same, same! While tasty (to me), this diet is not very nourishing or exciting.
The homemaker should strive to provide a healthful, varied diet to her family. I have discovered two ways to combat my natural tendency for sameness: vary the protein and vary the cuisine.
Each of these can serve as the basis for the family menu.
Cuisine as a Menu Base
There are a host of cuisines and food categories to choose from. Pick five the family enjoys, and plan to have a meal in each style through the week. When just beginning to make a menu plan, it helps to relegate a style to a particular day of the week.
Here is a menu base I have used in the past, with some example meals below each:
- Monday – meatless/vegetarian
- broccoli cheese soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches
- Tuesday – Italian
- spaghetti, lasagna, spicy chicken pasta, eggplant Parmesan
- Wednesday – Tex-Mex
- tacos, burritos, Mexican lasagna, enchiladas
- Thursday – American/southern
- chicken-fried steak, pork chops, red beans and rice, steak, pot roast
- Friday – Fun
- nachos, “movie” foods (sausage, cheese, popcorn), hearty dips and chips
- Weekend – leftovers and pantry meals
There is thought and rhyme to this menu. I usually do my grocery shopping on Mondays, and most meatless meals I make are quick. We usually have salad with Italian dishes; the salad ingredients are freshest early in the week. We are most likely to watch a movie on Fridays and have supper on the couch. By the weekend, we usually have enough leftovers to carry us to Monday, but if not, we can make use of the pantry for a meal or two.
When starting with categories as a menu base, vary the protein within each cuisine.
For example, if I plan spaghetti for Tuesday, then I would avoid using ground beef on Wednesday or Thursday. I might choose chicken enchiladas for Wednesday, then pulled pork sandwiches on Thursday.
Protein as a Menu Base
Alternatively, the protein can be decided for each day of the week as a starting point. Here is an example:
- Monday – meatless/vegetarian
- Tuesday – chicken
- chicken enchiladas, chicken and rice, grilled chicken and pasta
- Wednesday – pork
- pulled pork sandwiches, pork chops, pork roast
- Thursday – beef
- beef stew, tacos/burritos, grilled steak, beef ribs
- Friday – cold/canned meats
- turkey sandwiches, summer sausage and cheese on crackers, chicken or tuna salad sandwiches
When starting with proteins as a menu base, vary the cuisine/flavor profile throughout the week. If I plan chicken enchiladas for Tuesday, I would avoid choosing tacos for Thursday.
I am not a nutritionist, and neither is the average homemaker. Colors are an easy way to assess the variety of nutrition in a meal. Aim for four colors on the plate.
Good: steak (brown), potatoes au gratin (white/yellow), peas (green)
Not so good: spaghetti (white/red), corn (yellow), garlic bread (white)
When planning the menu, the homemaker should also consider other activities scheduled for the week. If the family goes to church on Wednesday evenings, maybe Wednesday should be slow-cooker day. Or if Tuesday is library day, then perhaps Tuesday should be cold/canned meats day.
Don’t plan homemade chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, and long-simmered green beans for the day all the family is seeing the dentist! It would set the stage for a last-minute pizza order.
A fun way to introduce the family to new foods is to plan (this is really the key word, in all of this!) to try a new recipe once or twice a month. Pinterest is my favorite new recipe resource — just search something like “chicken pasta” and scroll, scroll, scroll to find some great new preparation to try! Or make a point to drag out those forgotten cookbooks once a month and pick something appetizing.
If the family loves it, add it to the family meal list and copy the recipe into the family recipe box/book/binder.
Ease meal-time preparation by planning ahead.
- Cook 2-3 times as much meat as needed for that meal. Cool leftovers completely, then bag, label, and stash in the freezer (a 1/2-quart portion is about the yield of 1 pound of ground meat). Taco meat is an excellent candidate, here. Place the frozen meat in a pot, add 1/4 cup water, cover, and heat on medium-low heat until completely defrosted. Then uncover and heat on medium to cook off some of the excess liquid.
- Shredded chicken is used in a variety of ways. Cook a whole bird or pot-full of parts in the slow cooker the day before it is needed for a recipe. Once cooked through and tender, pull the meat off the bones and refrigerate. (Cold meat will shred more easily and with less mess.) Use the portion needed in the recipe; bag, label, and freeze the extra in 1/2-quart portions.
- When firing up the grill, throw an extra steak or some chicken breasts alongside the family’s meal. Thinly slice cold steak or chicken for a lunch quesadilla or hearty salad.
- Use leftover mashed potatoes for fried potato patties.
- Chop enough of a given vegetable to use throughout the week (do not do this with potatoes, as they will brown while stored). This can even be done the same day as grocery shopping.