Q. I feel like I’m stuck in a rut when it comes to planning dinner for my family. Can you help?
A. Let’s start with some basic meal planning tips so we make sure we remember three basic principles: variety, balance and proportion.
• Variety: Plan several days or a week of meals at a time. This will help you avoid repeating foods too often.
• Color: Think about all the different colors of foods. Colorful meals are more appealing, plus they provide an array of nutrients.
• Texture: Include foods that are crunchy, chewy and smooth. This will add interest to the meal.
• Aroma: Prepare foods that smell good. Baking bread, cooking with spices such as cinnamon and sautéing onions are examples of aromas that will stimulate appetites.
• Portions: Serve portions that are in line with MyPyramid recommendations (www.mypyramid.gov).
• Arrangement: Pay attention to how food looks on the plate. It should look good, delicious and appealing.
• Choice: Select foods you know your family will eat and are within your budget. Don't be afraid to try new things.
A popular trend in menu-planning these days is to choose themes for a week so we’re not beating our heads against the wall trying to come up with the next meal. Here’s seven different healthful meal themes to pick for each day of the week:
• Bean dish: Lentil soup, beans and rice, minestrone soup, chili, burritos or tacos are just a few bean-based dishes that are easy to make and high in fiber. If you are planning and experimenting with bean recipes each week, you will develop a nice repertoire of meals based on them.
• Fish: Keep it low in fat and sodium by baking or grilling fresh fish instead of using breaded or fried.
• Brown rice: Rice is one of the lowest calorie-dense grain dishes, and it makes a base for many different meals, including stir-fry dishes. Risotto or paella are also two choices using rice.
• Pasta or potatoes: Baked potatoes, spaghetti or baked sweet potatoes make excellent entrees for low-fat, plant-based meals.
• Lean poultry or meat: There is always room for a favorite meal of poultry or meat during the week. The good news is that you can roast once and serve more than once — use leftovers in soups, stir-fry dishes, salads or chili for one of the other meals.
• Salad: Make a large entree salad with grilled fish, tuna or leftover chicken.
• Low-fat soup: Homemade soups that are low in fat and sodium make a hearty meal that is high in fiber and low in calories.
See how this works. Also, visit www.foodandhealth.com for recipe ideas.
Weekly menu No. 1
• Make your own bean taco
• Baked salmon, potatoes, steamed veggies
• Brown rice stir fry
• Pasta with tomato sauce, salad
• Baked chicken breast, zucchini
• Chef salad with roasted chicken
• Roasted tomato soup, rolls, salad
Weekly menu No. 2
• Lentils with browned onions
• Baked tilapia, cornbread, broccoli
• Mushroom risotto, salad
• Lowfat lasagna, spinach
• Turkey cutlets, winter squash, green beans
• Salad with tuna, potatoes
• Minestrone soup, salad
Weekly menu No. 3
• Vegetarian chili, baked chips
• Fish tacos, slaw
• Paella (rice with chicken and vegetables)
• Baked potato stuffed with broccoli
• Chicken stew
• Spinach salad with toasted nuts
• Barley soup with lean beef and veggies
Zonya Foco shares this same theme idea in taking the strain out of planning meals in her book “Lickety-Split Meals.” Her “themes” include slow-cooking night, 15-minute meal night, pasta night, oven exercise eat night, pizza night, stir-fry night and 30-minute meal night. Go to www.zonya.com to sample recipes.
It’s also fun to get the family together to plan “themes” that fit into our own interests and lifestyles.
Just to get in the swing of things, if we’re interested in having someone else plan the meals for a couple of weeks, we can even go to www.fns.usda.gov/eatsmartplayhardhealthylifestyle for 14 Eat Smart menus.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.