Thursday, February 4, 2010

Plan your menu

How do you create your menus? You do have menus, yes?

You might ask why do I need a menu, I mean, you make a meat, add a vegetable, maybe a salad and a bread, done, right?!? Well, yes and no. That method will get you fed and who knows it might even be ok BUT do you want to serve your family a well balanced, beautiful and, oh yeah, good tasting meal? Yep, me too!!

And another reason to have menus - Do you ever find yourself wondering what to fix for dinner (or supper depending on where you’re from) when you get home at night and everyone is hungry NOW?
I used to make chicken and rice all the time but then I guess we had it too often and now I haven’t made it in months. Do you have any dishes like that? Been a long time since you’ve made it/them? If you make some menus and start rotating them you aren’t as likely to get bored by any one meal either making it or eating it.

Categories: To get my menu list going I first made a preliminary list of all the main dish meals I could think of that I normally make in the following categories.
Chicken        Ground beef            Fish
Beef              Soups                     One dish meals
Pork              Pasta meals             Kid foods
Breads           Veggies                   Salads

For example some of the chicken dishes I normally make are: fried chicken, chicken fingers, baked chicken, chicken & rice, homemade chicken noodle soup (ah ha – you just realized that this item could be under the soups category, too, but that’s ok either list in both or just one but at least list it somewhere), chicken spinach lasagna, chicken asparagus, and on and on with each category.

When I had all the dishes I could think of just off the top of my head I went through my cookbooks looking for dishes I make and just forgot.  We're not looking here for new things this is things your normally make and have just misfiled in your memory.  That's not to say you won't find something new but that's not really the purpose here.

Now my list was fairly complete for main dishes. Be sure you also list all the veggies you normally eat. For example I make potatoes in a dozen ways (list all of them), broccoli, corn, carrots, squash casserole, etc. Also flush out your list of salads like tossed salads, carrot & raisin salad, layered salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, marinated veggie salad, tomato cucumber salad, Cole slaw, Jell-O salad, strawberry blue cheese salad, etc. Then finally list all the breads you make like cornbread, biscuits, cheese biscuits, yeast rolls, loaf bread, lemon poppy seed bread, etc.

Now we're ready to put together well-rounded menus: Now you have the basics. You’re ready to start putting together menus. When creating a menu there are a few basic things to keep in mind. You want a variety of colors, textures and tastes or at least complementary. For example if you had a meal of chicken (white), mashed potatoes (white), white gravy, cauliflower (white) and biscuits (mostly white) it could be a very boring meal. It might taste good but truthfully it’s not all the appealing visually. If you changed the cauliflower for broccoli and added corn you would have white, yellow and green. And if you don’t overcook the broccoli so it’s nice and vibrantly green it pretty awesome. Add a tossed salad with nice red tomatoes and you have a perfect meal.

5x7 index cards: Once you have some menus started write each menu on a 5x7 index card and store them in a file card box just like conventional recipe cards you have a whole bunch of menus on hand and you can add to them as you find other menus that work for you. Ideas can come from restaurant meals, from photos in magazines or on-line, from when you’re a guest at other’s homes, and on and on. You could even take a photo of each meal as you make it and paste on the backside of the written menu.

Grocery List: With all these menus created you can select five or so each week and buy groceries accordingly. Remember to account for leftovers and eating out. I find it helpful to select a couple of meals each week that are super easy so that when I don’t really feel like cooking a full meal I have an easy one on hand.

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