Recently a young mother asked me how she could make her weekly menus more interesting and varied. Vegan for the past few years, she was stuck in the weekly menu rut and needed some fresh new ideas. Food researchers have discovered that most people rotate the same ten recipes throughout a given week. Without varying your meal planning, recipes you once loved can become routine and boring. This can lead to eating out more often rather than cooking for yourself and family. Also, if those ten meals repeat the same ingredients you may not be getting the full spectrum of nutrients you need to stay healthy.
I have compiled a list of meal strategies that provide you with a variety of ideas to jazz up your weekly menu’s. Take a moment to notice which ones on the list appeal to you and which ones send out a resounding no in your mind. The attractive ideas you can put into practice immediately, but do not reject the others at first sight, instead take some time to try them out and let them win you over slowly.
1. Attend Cooking Classes: whether you are a seasoned chef or a neophyte cook, taking lessons is not just about learning how to wield a knife. You will find classes at your local adult education programs, cooking schools or cooking teachers in your area. What they bring to your kitchen table is inspiration, new ideas, and quick, easy cooking tips. Even television and Youtube are now awash with people demonstrating how to prepare whole foods from the farmers market.
2. Ethnic Cuisine: begin to explore the wide world of ethnic cuisine available in your community. In many towns and cities you can find Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, and Mexican restaurants. Take some time to explore the dishes they offer, be bold and order something you might not usually order. When you find something you like, ask the waiter about the ingredients, spices and herbs used in its preparation so you can duplicate the recipe at home. Make healthier substitutions by using organic ingredients and rotate the recipe into your weekly menu plan.
3. Consult Cook Books: visit your local library and check out a few cookbooks and try the recipes that interest you. In my own library there are a few books that I consistently refer to in times of needed inspiration. They include:
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
Sweet and Natural Desserts, from the editors of East West Journal
Recipes for Change, by Lissa DeAngelis and Molly Siple
World Food Cafe, by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott
4. Weekly Cooking Day: schedule an evening or afternoon each week to be in the kitchen trying new recipes and testing them out on your family. Invite your spouse, children, or friends into the kitchen to help with preparation. Together you can come up with some new meals to incorporate into the weekly menus. This is a wonderful way to explore using herbs and spices you may not have tried before and to hear what the other members of the family might enjoy.
5. Monthly Pot Luck: gather with friends each month to exchange new recipes and try them out together. It requires a minimum of planning to ensure that each person contributes something to the meal. Categories can include: soup, salad, entree, vegetable, dessert, drinks. Rotate who will host the dinner each month, and keep in contact with the group. Everyone prepares a dish and brings enough for everyone to try. Keep it interesting by choosing recipes that no one has ever tried before, and have each person e-mail their recipes out to the group. If you like what you tried then rotate it into your growing list of meals.
6. New Shopping Venues: time does not always allow for a leisurely stroll through the supermarket, but when you can, try exploring other markets in your area. Farmers markets, whole foods markets, farm stands, or even on-line food venders may reveal some pretty wholesome and delicious items. These can include: quality oils, tasty herbal vinegars, hand crafted cheese, artisan breads, heirloom vegetables, exotic fruits, and organically raised, free range animal protein.
7. Update Your Weekly Ten: it may not be easy to change your weekly meal routine, but consider updating your family favorites. Suggestions include increasing organic ingredients; changing the wheat pizza crust for one made with spelt flour; trade processed cheese for a raw sheep or goat’s cheese; switch refined sugar with agave or maple syrup; add a few untried vegetables and reduce meat consumption. If you have digestive issues the rumblings down below may ease up a bit. As you see positive results in your health take another step and another towards creating more variety in your meals.
Delia Quigley is the Director of StillPoint Schoolhouse, where she teaches a holistic lifestyle designed to achieve optimal health and well being, based on her 28 years of study, experience and practice. She is the creator of the Body Rejuvenation Cleanse, Cooking the Basics videos and classes, and Broken Bodies Yoga. Delia’s credentials include holistic nutritional counselor, natural foods chef, yoga instructor, energy therapist and public speaker.
Quigley is the author of seven books on health and nutrition, including:The Body Rejuvenation Cleanse, The Complete Idiots Guide to Detoxing Your Body, The Everything SuperFoods Book, and Empowering Your Life With Meditation, available on Amazon.com. To view her website go to: www.deliaquigley.com