I’ve been researching healthy menu planning and this post (and printable) are of my findings when doing this research. This printable is on the first page of my recipe file. Feel free to share it with whomever you wish, but please will you always reference the source (www.AuthenticallyAsh.com).
The .PDF can found here: Menu planning checklist and 13 Tips of when Menu Planning (printable)
During my research, I have realized that the most important aspect of planning a menu is to always keep in mind the nutritional value of the meal. You can read my blog post about the basics of good nutrition if you haven’t done so already.
If you haven’t considered the health benefits of the food you are serving your family then what is the point of menu planning? You might as well go and eat at your favorite fast food restaurant every day of the week. Why do we eat at home? I know that I do because it is better for my health.
So, keeping in mind the health benefits of the meal, what are the basics that we need every day? I also mentioned this in my Good Nutrition Basics post, but I’m going to mention it again because it is so important.
- Cereals: I’m not talking about the sugar coated breakfast cereals that you get in the shops. Those are useless because there is way too much sugar in them. Instead you must make sure you have one serving of Oats, Mealiemeal, Sorghum, Wheat or any unrefined cereal each day (preferably organic). Also make sure you have one serving of wholewheat bread (that is 1 slice). Cereals not only contain carbohydrates and fats, but also Vitamins, Minerals and Roughage. Carbohydrates provide heat and energy and Vitamins, Minerals and Roughage keep the body healthy.
- Protein: These include Meat, Fish, Poultry, Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Cheese and Eggs. Proteins are the body builders in the food groups. They help your body repair itself. You should get 1 serving of Meat, Fish or Poultry and 1-2 servings of Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Cheese and Eggs.
- Vegetables: Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes give you Carbohydrates, which provide your body with heat and energy. Try to get 1 serving of potatoes or sweet potatoes per day. Also try to get 2 servings of cooked vegetables and 1 serving of raw vegetables.
- Fruits: Oranges, Guavas and Tomatoes give you Vitamin C. Try to eat one of these fruits each day. Also try to eat one serving of any other type of fruit. Fruits provide your body with vitamins, minerals and roughage.
- Sugar: Try to cut out as much refined sugar as possible, substitute honey whenever possible. I have been reading a lot of articles lately on how dangerous sugar really is for us. It is being linked with Cancer and numerous other diseases. I’m down to half a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee and tea now.
Here is an image from the .PDF I mentioned at the top of this post summarizing the above points:
The second thing I discovered is that menu planning is all about variety. Try to give the person eating your food as much variety as possible by:
- Plan a variety of different types of vegetables: This means that you shouldn’t stick to all root vegetables, or all leafy vegetables, but rather pick 1 root vegetable, 1 leaf vegetable, 1 flowery vegetable and/or 1 squash type of vegetable.
- Variety of colour: So in other words, don’t present the person eating your food with a plate filled with greens only (e.g. Marrow, Spinach and Broccoli). Add in some orange, red or white vegetables. The more appealing it is on the eyes the more appealing it is to the stomach.
- Variety of textures and shapes: This is also to make it appealing to the eyes. Don’t boil all the food into a mush, try to serve some raw (grated carrot), some whole (baked potatoes), some chopped (green beans) and some mashed (pumpkin).
- Variety of ingredients: Try not to use the same main ingredient in two recipes. For example, don’t make pumpkin pie for dessert and mashed pumpkin in the meal.
Third, it is all about making the different foods compliment each other. This can easily be achieved by picking one main recipe and then keeping all the other foods on the plate as natural and neutral as possible. You wouldn’t have a spicy bean curry dish with a rump steak, would you? The two tastes would overpower each other. Rather keep the rump steak as a delicious rump and add boiled spinach, chopped pumpkin and carrot salad to the plate.
And while I’m talking about picking recipe’s, it is a good idea to learn which fruits and vegetables are in season and grown locally. Knowing this can greatly aid you in lowering your food expenses each month. If you live in Alaska you would pay a small fortune for Kiwi fruit (which grows best in a tropical climate). And strawberries (which are a Springtime berry) cost a lot more in winter and autumn, don’t they? So by learning which fruits and vegetables are in season in which months, and knowing which fruits and vegetables are easily grown in your climate, you can dramatically cut down your grocery bill. This information is essential to effective menu planning.
On the topic of saving money, I also discovered a hint towards saving money on your electricity/gas bill when you are cooking. Cook together as much as possible. This means that if you are roasting a chicken, then consider also doing baked potatoes at the same time, or find a dessert recipe that needs a similar oven temperature, and cook the two together. You can also consider boiling eggs at the same time that you boil potatoes (in the same pot!).
Keep the left-overs in mind. If you plan to cook a recipe that serves 6 and there are only 2 in your household, that means that the meal should be able to feed the two of you for 3 meals. This saves you electricity/gas again because you cook once for 2-3 days. But make sure that you can keep the food that you have made for 3 days. Fish doesn’t quite taste the same the next day, so you won’t be able to make a “serves 8” fish dish for 2 people.
If you have left overs in your refrigerator, then you should also find a way to incorporate them into your next meal. Use up leftovers as quickly as possible.
Serve 1 hot dish a day. I’m not talking about a spicy dish, I’m talking about a fully cooked dish. Even in summer, try to at least have 1 hot dish a day. You can grill meat outdoors if you can’t handle the oven heat in your kitchen.
Serve a dessert after the main meal. You don’t have to make a full baked pudding, but a sliced banana served with custard is just as nice. Fruit makes a wonderful dessert, and what better way to make fruit appealing? Just remember that with dessert it is best to keep the portion sizes small, it makes it more of a treat that way.
Eat at a table. This isn’t really a menu planning tip, but rather something to think about while we are talking about menu planning. By sitting at the table, and serving the food in the good dishes, you are encouraging family togetherness. Meals should be about building your family togetherness. Try to see each meal as a feast used to build relationships. So if possible, try to eat at a table for every meal (breakfast, lunch and supper). When you plan the menu, think how you are going to present each meal on the table.
Finally, you should plan your menu as long in advance as you can stick to. It saves time and money to do once a week or once a month shopping, and it is beneficial to know in the morning what you should be defrosting for the nights meal.
This is what I have discovered while learning to do proper menu planning. I hope that my notes have been a help to you. I’m not pretending to be an expert on this topic, I’m just sharing what I have learned. If you have any extra things to consider when menu planning, please drop a comment below, I’d love to hear your views.