The quick answer: A weekly menu will save money, reduce waste, improve your diet, and protect your family’s health. Failing to plan (by writing a menu), is planning to fail.
Order and Chaos
Savvy housewives and busy executives know what to do when the chaos of life threatens to overwhelm: Make a “to do” list. There’s something comforting about just writing it all down. If the written list is impossibly long, take the next step: Prioritize. Lists—whether written on a Big Five pad with a #2 wooden pencil, or spoken into the latest smart phone—protect us from the chaos of life.
In our home the essential lists are the daily “to do” note and the weekly menu. We’re not perfect, but when we slip we suffer the consequences. Everyone knows what happens when there’s no menu—you fall back on fast food or factory foods. One reader revealed the family fare if there wasn’t a menu: take-out pizza, Mac ‘n Cheese, or Top Ramen.
If you want to eat healthy—it’s essential to write a weekly menu. That’s sufficient reason to make writing a weekly menu our #3 Healthy Change.
Five Menu Steps
- Invite requests. To convert the family to healthy eating, get them involved. There’s power in participation. If they don’t give input, they can’t complain about the outcome.
- Make menu writing a ritual. Set a time, like Saturday morning. Use routine to simplify, like a theme for each day of the week. (Examples: Mexican on Monday, pasta on Tuesday, soup on Wednesday, fish on Thursday, or a roast on Sunday.) Having a baking day each week is another helpful ritual.
- Check your inventory. The two most wasted foods are fresh meat and produce. So note what’s about to go bad in the refrigerator. Then check the freezer—the biggest problem with frozen food is maintaining turnover. Finally, check the pantry. Last time we cleaned the pantry we were amazed at how much food was past the “use by” date.
- Compose the menu. Check past menus for ideas. Newspapers or food blogs feature seasonal foods (the time when they’re cheapest). Some cooks have one day to try new recipes. Post the menu for all to see.
- Make a shopping list. We’ll talk more about shopping lists next quarter, but a menu-based shopping list saves money and trips to the store.
The classic cookbook of the late 19th century was the Fanny Farmer 1896 Cook Book. The book, still in print, is a snapshot of food tradition in the late 1800s. Menus are based on whole foods—there was little processed food available (refined flour was a recent innovation).
What did a typical dinner look like in 1896? It was a substantial meal: soup, a meat dish, some form of potato, two vegetables, finished with a cooked dessert. Cooking was a big job in those days. The book includes instructions on how to build a fire and bring your stove to cooking temperature—no easy task.
There’s an important point here: Cooking is a lot easier now—but we shouldn’t make it too easy. The big mistake of the 20th century was too much convenience in the form of easy-to-serve factory and fast foods. You must remember this: If you want to be healthy you have to cook, or be on good terms with a cook.
Per W of W Living, what might the 21st century diet look like? First of all, there’s a lot less of meat and potatoes. There would still be 2-3 servings of vegetables, but in a variety of colors reflecting our longer seasons, with just an occasional potato. There would be more seafood, often served with salad, plus meat and cheese would be used more to garnish vegetables. Any bread or pasta would be whole grain, and fruit would be the most common dessert.
That’s the 21st century W of W menu: A variety of vegetables with a little meat or cheese to add flavor, whole grain pasta or bread, and mostly fruit for dessert. It’s a fraction of the work that Fanny Farmer (or their maids) had to do, but it’s definitely healthier.
Please comment: Sometimes we get busy and fail to write a menu, but then we realize life is less hectic when we do the planning step of weekly menu preparation. Got a favorite way to write menus? Tell us about it, or share one of your favorite meals. In the next post we’ll share our menu for this week.