Off and on I’ve used menus for our daily meals. This was more frequent before we became empty nesters because time was critical. However, as we’ve slipped back into eating what we like over what we should, the scales have been going in the wrong direction. It’s time to get back on the healthier dinner route and menus are an important part.
Why? The components of a meal should contain protein, fruits/vegetables and whole grains. The temptation of not having a menu can wreck the balance. It’s easy to throw a frozen pizza in the microwave and call it dinner. It’s better to move away from the pizza and towards freshly prepared foods.
Nutrition: Nutrition advice has changed drastically over the years. Several factors are involved. One is a growing knowledge about what makes our bodies work properly. The other is a nearly complete change in activity levels. The calorie count needed by a field hand is much higher than someone sitting at a computer all day.
Websites like nutritiondata.com can help you figure out which foods you need. Activity/calorie calculators such as that on caloriesperhour.com can help you keep what you eat and what you burn at the appropriate levels. Both are very helpful in making menus.
Variety: The biggest problem I’ve found with making menus is repetition. I like to tweak recipes this way and that or come up with something spur of the moment, never written down and probably never served that way again. This is nearly impossible with some menus. One way to get around that is to use websites that have a wide variety of recipes. While allrecipes.com is very useful, my favorite is epicurious.com. That meets my need for creativity without breaking away from planning.
Eating Schedule: When making menus, especially if you work at home, remember that your menus aren’t just for dinner anymore. We now have three meals and two snacks. Breakfast at our house is easy; no one wants me cooking until I am certified as awake. Cereal or protein bars are the most frequent menu item.
If, like in our household, the idea behind the menus is to get our weight back into the healthy category, care has to be taken with the snacks. Cookies don’t count (though they are often preferred). We use fruits, vegetables and nuts most of the time. Sometimes we have cheese and crackers. For us, the biggest difficulty is in the snack food department.
Making a List: As you write down the items in your menu, make a grocery list. You may want to do this in the kitchen so you can check the pantry for needed items. If you make it by the recipe instead of off the top of your head you’re likely to find that all the ingredients are in the house at the time of the meal. Believe me…I’ve done it both ways.
Read! This is something important. As we both work from home, many of our meals need to be prepared fairly quickly, and sometimes not by me. Like the frozen pizza, it’s easy to look at all the meal-in-a-box, just add meat items. In less than half an hour dinner can be on the table…but what about the calories, fat, sodium and other problems? If it can’t fit your needs, don’t buy it.
Menus aren’t the only answer in our quest to lose weight. However, they are bound to be useful. The calorie calculators mentioned above can help us make sure that what we have for dinner doesn’t overdo the calorie deficit as well as ensure we actually have one.