Saturday, April 20, 2013

Meal Planning

Today I want to write about meal planning. The tradition in my country is to cook only one meal a day, as opposed to,  for instance, Frenchwomen who usually eat warm twice a day. It hasn't always been like this, though, and I sometimes serve warm lunches instead of sandwiches, and make cereal for breakfast, though my main consideration is always what to cook for dinner.

Whether you serve your meals hot or cold, there are still certain guidelines for what constitutes a real meal. Cheryl Mendelson writes at length on the topic in her book "Home Comforts", which I would recommend to everyone who wants to learn more about housekeeping. That's what she says, among other things: "Walk into almost any home or restaurant in this or any other Western country and you will observe that, with surprisingly few exceptions, what people consider a real meal is a triad comprising - at a minimum - one "meat" or other protein food, one starchy food, and one or more fruits or vegetables, depending on which meal it is." (Home Comforts, ed. of 2005, p. 49.)

She later gives examples of what is protein food (that would be various sorts of meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products); starchy foods (foods consisting of grains or potatoes); fruits and vegetables, and points out that some vegetables can be used as a meat substitute because they contain more protein, for instance beans.

A 1950s cookbook which I encountered somewhere on the net, gave the following suggestions for basic meals: a minimal breakfast would consist of fruit, cereal with milk and bread and butter, lunch would include the main dish, vegetables, bread and butter and some fruit, and for dinner one should serve meat and potatoes, green or yellow vegetables, raw vegetables in the form of salad, bread and butter, and fruit. For abundant meals you should add egg or meat for breakfast, some form of dessert for lunch, appetizer and/or soup + dessert for dinner.

I'm not sure if people really used to eat like this in the 1950s but it seems rather excessive to me. For breakfast, we always eat fruit, but it would be either cereal with milk; or bread with butter and jam and a glass of milk. Lunch usually consists of sandwiches with cheese, meat, or egg and some raw vegetables. For dinner I practically always omit soup or appetizer, though on weekends we have some sort of the cocktail hour, and though I nearly always try to serve some sort of dessert, we seldom eat bread and butter at dinner.

I'd like to point out that a healthy diet is one with much variation in it, and that even with an eye on economising one shouldn't try to substitute protein foods with starchy ones. We need proteins, especially of the animal variety as they contain more essential amino acids than plant variety proteins, except for soy beans, which may present health problems of their own . A well-balanced diet will contain both plant and animal protein.  (Please keep in mind that I'm not a nutritionist and am just trying to provide some basic information. If you'd like to know more about which foods are healthier for you, please conduct your own research.)

Cheryl Mendelson further suggests learning to cook without using cookbooks which means that one has to learn some basic cooking techniques, and I second that. It's surely fun to try some new and complicated recipes now and then, but there are few housewives who can afford to spend the whole day experimenting in the kitchen, as they will have other things to attend to during the day besides cooking.

Mrs Mendelson's other advice is to be prepared to cook meals "off the shelf" if necessary and she gives an approximate list of foods which can be stored at home. It's interesting that just yesterday a commenter posted the link to a blog by the lady who due to her husband's loss of income, had for several months to feed her family using her pantry supplies (she has also menu suggestions on her site).

I, too have some foods stored at home, though by no means so much as the lady mentioned above (but then we don't have a garage to keep our supplies in:)), and will use it when we run out of something and there is no time to go to the store. It's also convenient when the money on your food budget is low for this week, or when you fall sick. There were days when I was unable to do my daily shopping due to illness and we survived on eating our supplies for a couple of days:)

The last thing I'd like to mention is that if you want to save money it makes sense to build your menues around foods which come on sale. Every time I get flyers from the major supermarkets I look what's on sale this week and plan my menu for the week accordingly. Though I like experimenting in the kitchen, I usually leave exotic recipes with expensive ingredients for special occasions. Well, I hope the above was helpful. Have a nice Lord's Day!


  1. Thank you for the link to that other site, I will definitely be checking it out.

    I also agree with what you said about substituting starchy foods with proteins to save money.

    1. The problem with starchy foods is that if you eat too much of them, you'll start putting on weigh due to all the carbohydrates. We don't need that much meat, but I still think it's unwise to omit it totally. It's one thing if one chooses to become vegetarian due to his religious convictions, but I'm entirely not convinced of health benefits of substituting highly nutritious animal proteins with large amounts of potatoes and spaghetti.