By Cheshire Que, RND, RN, RD
I have talked to several people who are in charge of preparing meals in households as well as industrial kitchens. They may have various culinary skills and specialties but I found one thing in common among them. They all agree that menu planning can be a bit of a challenge more than the actual cooking itself!
Menu planning involves many factors which include budget, food preference, food restrictions, time, culinary skills, equipment, and availability of ingredients. When preparing for a party or entertaining guests, more considerations are made as to the type of occasion, cultural and religious affiliations of guests, and if the menu is appropriate for the chosen type of service. Is it a formal sit-down? How many courses are to be served? Is the food going to be served blue plate? Should a kid’s menu be provided? Are there any vegetarians in the house? The list just goes on and on. It could get overwhelming.
Menu planning becomes even more challenging to some as health conditions are made a priority. Does a healthy menu mean having to purchase expensive ingredients? Do you need special skills to create a menu that is nutrient rich? What does it take to efficiently plan for healthy menus?
Keep it simple
Know the art of planning healthy menus and start practicing in your kitchen. First of all, keep everything simple. Do not complicate things by writing down a menu that has extensive recipes in every meal every single day. You will find yourself under pressure, spending more, and exhausted from preparing complicated recipes the whole time. Be realistic. There will be days when you have more time. Only then can you experiment on more complex recipes. On other days, balance workload, time, and budget with simple recipes.
Balance is key to Proper Nutrition
To ensure good nutrition from the meals, remember to have all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) present in your menu. Complex carbohydrate sources come from fiber rich vegetables and whole grains. Protein sources from meat, fish, and chicken must be lean cuts. Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and oils must be included too. An example of a balanced menu for one meal would look like this: grilled chicken breast, sautéed mixed vegetables, and brown rice.
Variety is a must
The purpose of having a week-long or month-long menu is to prevent people from losing interest in the meals that you prepare. How would you feel if you had to eat the same boring steamed fish fillet with steamed cauliflower and rice every day? There has to be variety. Use a mélange of ingredients without wasting any ingredients or at least try to minimize waste. To make menus more appealing, alternate main ingredients. For instance, If day one has an egg dish for breakfast, fish entree for lunch, and chicken dish for dinner, day two must use other main ingredients such as meat in sandwich in the morning, chicken with vegetables (think stir fry) for lunch and perhaps another type of fish for dinner. If yesterday was tuna, today can be salmon, or even our local galunggong.
Let your creative juices flow as you come up with your menu plans. But always remember to keep it simple, practice balance in everything and have variety.
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