Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Making a Dinner Menu

By Brandi M. Seals

It may seem unnecessary to plan your meals in advance, but I have found it to be incredibly helpful. If I do not plan ahead, I either forget what I wanted to make, realize at the last minute that not all of the ingredients are not available, or simply do not feel like coming up with a meal.

That is why a menu is helpful. Sit down with your family the day before you go grocery shopping. Find out what everyone would like to eat for the coming week and narrow it down into specific meals. Make sure you have all the ingredients you will need. If you do not have something, add it to a grocery list.

Sometimes I find that I will be in the mood for food that is not good for me. I might indulge in that desire and make a pot of chili for one night. Then I will use the leftovers to make the world's best chili cheese fries or a chili dog. That settles my junk food craving and keeps me from stopping at a fast food restaurant to fill up on junk. Plus, it helps me use up my leftovers before they go bad.

Sometimes all I want is a salad (trust me it does happen from time to time). But if I do not have the necessary toppings, I do not want to be chewing down on just lettuce and dressing. That is why making the menu before you shop is a necessity. If I know I'm going to be having salad one night, I know to grab some button mushrooms, cucumber, kidney beans or chickpeas and some sunflower seeds. I also know I will need to plan my salad night for an evening when my husband will be away or I will have to find an alternate meal for him. I do not think he was ever exposed to lettuce as a child and now he thinks it is disgusting.

If you have small children, you know how hectic things can be sometimes. It can be hard to plan the night's dinner when one kid is singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star non-stop while the other has the T.V. up too loud. Any thought in that situation is hard, let alone coming up with a nutritious dinner for everyone.

If you have never done a menu before, you could not possibly realize all the benefits of using one. First of all, there is no longer a daily pressure to come up with a meal. Second of all, it is easier to plan the use of your leftovers. Third of all, you may begin to notice a pattern. If you rely too heavily on a handful of menus, you will notice it much more when you make the menus and you may wish to add new dishes. Growing up my mom made three meals every week. Chili, Goulash, and Spaghetti were her three. Every week we ate them. Four nights a week we must have had something different, but all I remember are her three standby dishes. Finally, if you have made a meal that your son, daughter, or husband hates on night one, you can make it up to him or her with a planned meal you know everyone loves for the next night.

You may find it helpful to make a list of all of the meals you commonly make. The list will be helpful when you get stuck and are having trouble coming up with a complete menu. But, do not be afraid to get creative. Try recipes you have never made before. Who knows, it just might become your new standby meal.

You may also wish to start a new tradition in your family. Maybe you could pick one night a week and do a much more in depth meal. Maybe you could make dessert that night or use it to try out new recipes or something. By making one night special you may get the kids more interested in dinner.

Whether or not you decide to take up making menu full time, try it at least once. You may find you enjoy the experience and wish to repeat it.

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