Planning, preparing, and serving meals is an art which develops through inspiration and thought. And meal-planning is really fun! It may look difficult to the beginner, but like driving a car, swimming, or anything we learn to do without thought or conscious effort, it is a skill which grows easier with doing.
It’s important to plan a variety of foods for well balanced balanced meals to keep your family well nourished. But above all, be sure those meals are appetizing, attractive, and delicious to eat. For mealtime should help build happy home life. ~Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, 1950
Over the years, many women have confessed to me that they really don’t know how to go about planning meals for their family and so they end up either hopping into the car or stopping on the way home from work to buy fast food. In talking to them, I discover that they make it out to be much harder than it needs to be. Yes, at first, it may take some focus and a bit of time, but, as “Betty” tells us above, pretty soon you will be an old hand at it.
Here is what I do:
- Use a Basic Seven “plug the food in” menu planner. I print out my menu planner and then simply fill in the blanks. I created one adapted from Betty Crocker’s meal planning suggestions and another one based on having the Basic Seven categories listed along one side.
- Cross out any days you won’t be eating at home and/or jot down any reminders about who will be eating at home or will be late.
- Start with the main course and then add the vegetables.
- Incorporate “planned overs” into the meal planning for the week. For example, If you have a roast on Sunday, shred the leftover roast to use in tacos or burritos on another night.
- Plan on using the meal plan for Weeks 1 & 2 over again for Weeks 3 & 4 in a month. In other words, only plan two week’s worth of meals for the month and simply repeat it. People forget that we tend to eat the same things over and over again anyway, so use it to your advantage!
- The next month, plug in one or two new meals in Week 1 and one or two new meals in Week 2 and then keep everything else the same. You don’t have to start from the beginning every week.
- Buy the loss leaders from the meat department and toss them in your freezer. When you’re planning your meals, you already know what meat you have on hand and won’t be disappointed when you get to the grocery store.
- Store freezer-friendly leftovers in the freezer right after the meal (clearly label the container!). Either reheat them for Weeks 3 & 4 or when there is a 5th week in a month, pull the leftovers from the freezer. You’ll be surprised by how quickly your freezer will fill up with already prepared meals/main dishes that just need to be thawed and reheated to enjoy!
- Keep old menu plans on hand to use as inspiration. You don’t have to start from scratch every time.
Here is a sample of a Betty Crocker Basic Seven based dinner menu in action:
Appetizer or Soup: Skipped
Meat and Potatoes: Braised chicken breasts and mashed potatoes with gravy (Groups 3 and 5)
Green or Yellow Vegetables: Green beans with butter (Groups 1 and 7)
Salad (Raw Vegetable): Cabbage and Carrots lightly mixed with mayo and sour cream (this satisfied Group 2 because we are out of citrus)
Fruit: Tropical blend, thawed (designed for smoothies), mixed with cottage cheese (Groups 3 and 4)
Bread and Butter: Skipped bread (Group 6) but had the butter on the beans.
Dessert: The fruit and cottage cheese provided enough sweetness that dessert wasn’t needed.
So, we had six out of the seven groups with dinner. Because of the variety, dinner felt special even though it was very easy to prepare and we noticed that we could cut down on the serving sizes (I had only given us about 2 oz. each of the chicken).
As you can see, the Basic Seven menu ensures that you will be eating a lot from your real or imaginary “Victory Garden.” And don’t forget, research shows that children who grow a garden (even if it is a bunch of flower pots on a window sill) or routinely visit farms and farmer’s markets will be much more willing to try a variety of vegetables and enjoy eating them.
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