Photo courtesy of Kami Stafford

Menu Planning - Top to Bottom

In this page, I will show how to go about planning a menu - ANY menu - with the goals of minimizing costs, trips to the store, time spent, and waste. Most of the suggestions on this page are valid whether or not you are choosing to use the suggestions I've made elsewhere on this site for energies, gunas, and their balance or use.

What are your goals and needs?

Quite simply, what are your goals and needs when it comes to your menu? What are the realities of your life? Do you have any special dietary needs? What are your preferences? What is your family situation? Do you live alone, with a partner, with children, with roommates, or with extended family members? Who does most of the cooking, or is it shared? How many do you need to plan for? What are your budget constraints? What is available in your community? All of these questions come into play when considering the planning of meals.

All of this assumes that you are able to make the choices concerning what you eat. If that is not the case, it is important that whoever does understand these guidelines, and respects if not adopts the same basic goals in menu planning. If not, you may need to be a "picky eater" and not engage in consuming things that do not meet your goals, or, perhaps, modifying the amount of what dishes you consume.


What Do You Want and What Do You Have?

This is a seemingly simple question, but it has a number of parts. The basic question is what do you WANT to eat? What foods and recipes are you familiar with?

The first step is to look at the general things you want or need. How much of what things from each food group? How do those food groups go with the guna balancing I speak of in the Energies and Gunas and Gunas in food pages? What sorts of things can you think of that you would like to have?

Next is look around your home to see what is already there. It is not a good idea from an ecological or financial viewpoint to waste food. What sorts of things could you make from those ingredients. Use your imagination! What have you ever had that you like that was made with some of these items, and what would be required to make them. If you need to know the recipe for some of them, you may be able to find them in a cookbook or on the web. The Book List and Web Links pages on this site give ideas on how to go about finding out what might go with ingredients you already have. However,if you've got food items which you've had for an extended period and have not had the desire to use, or it no longer fits into your dietary preferences or needs, consider giving it to a local food pantry, or alternately feeding it to an animal, if appropriate. Wasting is just not a good idea from numerous standpoints.

Another item of consideration is what foods are in season in your local area? Food is tastier and more nutritious if it is fresh, and has not been transported long distances. Indeed, transporting food adds greatly to its cost while adding no value to you in terms of nutrition or taste.

When you have gone through things, and through your own mind and heart, consider what sorts of meals you would like to have over the coming few days or week.


Resources in Your Local Area

Next is to consider what sorts of stores, markets, produce stands, or gardens are available in your local area. Also, consider looking at sale flyers and coupons for various products. Consider, of course, how you would use said item. It is not a good buy if you buy it and never have a use for it, and it goes to waste, or even if it's given to a food pantry in a year. Consider the ease, cost, and convenience of these outlets. It does you no good even to get a bargain if it takes a lot of expense and time to get there. It may be available only at certain times or perhaps certain days. If there is a farmer's market in your area, no doubt you will get better prices on fresher goods than you will at the 24 hour supermarket, but it is only available certain days and times. If you want to make use of the farmer's market, you will need to plan your time around getting there when it is open.

Consider also whether to obtain the bulk of your food items from local businesses or individuals as opposed to a national or multinational corporation. Doing business with those in your community keeps the money in your community, and helps to improve the community by providing jobs and income to many people providing such items and services. However, they do not have the resources, in many cases, to provide all of the conveniences and services of a multinational corporation, in terms of how many items they have available, or their hours of operation. Indeed, the large corporate outlet may offer lower prices in total, but a given item may be of lower cost to get it in your local community, where it has been produced, because of less transportaion and less economic transactions - or, put another way, less "middlemen".

Whichever way you decide, you are not tied in to ONLY doing business that way. From time to time or special need to special need, you may decide to do business the other way.

If you are using sale flyers or local availability, consider how these will work with what you have and what you want to allow you to make whatever it is that you desire. Again, consider using available recipes which will tell you how to make something that you can think of to make using these things. Add to your list of things to buy, even if they are not on sale, things required to make the item of your choice.


The Menu

For detailed considerations on what items you may wish to put on your menu, please read the Guidelines page and figure out your menu, in consideration of everything I have said above on this page, and any other considerations you may have.

Now that we have figured out what we want, where to buy it, have bought it, and have it appropriately put away, we need to figure out which things are eaten on what subsequent days. Even if ALL of your menus have a predominance of whatever guna or energy type you wish to add to yourself, consideration needs to be made not to have items which are similar on subsequent meals or days. You will quickly tire of it if you do. A major consideration though is how perishible the items you have bought are? For instance, live seafood must be prepared immediately, and fresh seafood should be prepared as soon as possible. Fresh vegetables must be prepared soon to retain the taste, texture, and nutritional value. Frozen, canned, or dried foods have a long shelf-life, and can be prepared ater in the week with no ill effects. What can be prepared with the leftovers from the previous day's meal? In fact, if you expect leftovers, you can often freeze them, to either have the same meal again with little effort when you are not tired of that meal, or you may be able to use the leftovers from one meal to prepare an entirely different meal in the future, at low cost minimizing waste.

As an example of this, when turkeys are on sale at a low cost near US Thanksgiving, I will often prepare one or often more of these, for myself, or for myself and another person. I cut the turkey up, packaging it into light meat, dark meat, and sliced breast meat. Later, I will take one of these packages out of the freezer, combine it with other food items, and have an entirely different meal at a low cost per pound.


Sample Menu Plan

In this section, I will plan a week's menu for two people. I will assume they are both adults, with no particular food restrictions or dietary requirements. I will further assume they both lead fairly sedentary lives, with jobs involving spending their days behind a desk. She is a little on the plump side, and he is heavy but strong. They both like to go to movies, plays, and concerts for entertainment. In short, both are mainly in the tamasic guna. I will assume moderate income and simple to moderate tastes.

My assumptions have them as a typical American working couple with no children. On weekdays, they eat a quick breakfast at home, lunch in a fast food restaurant, and supper at home. Supper is their main meal of the day on weekdays. Weekends may include any number of activities, which vary from week to week, or sometimes they spend it enjoying their home. They always shop after breakfast Saturday morning, although may, from time to time, stop on the way home for a small amount of fresh items during the week.

Photos courtesy of Kami Stafford

Breakfast Lunch Supper
Monday Yogurt and berries, with tea and apple juice Hamburger, fries, cola Eggplant Parmesana with Strawberry Shortcake
Tuesday Bacon amd eggs Lunch salad, milk shake Fried chicken, fried potatoes, spinach, carrots, and chocolate ice cream
Wednesday Bagel and cream cheese (brown bag)Leftover chicken and vegetables, candy bar Chicken and rice, with cheese, tomatoes, and Italian spices.
Thursday Pancakes, with syrup Hamburger, fries, cola Steamed vegetables over rice
Friday Frozen Blintzes with blueberry preserves Fried fish sandwich, fries, chocolate cake Seafood Squash soup, with fresh bread picked up from bakery on the way home.
Saturday Oatmeal with cinnamon and raisons Fried catfish, fried okra, fresh spinach, fried potatoes, with fresh tomato salad Curried Vegetable stew with rice
Sunday Omlettes, with fresh vegetables and cheese Leftover curried stew, with leftover catfish added Latkes, with sausage and sour cream. Salad on side, fresh green beans from garden

As you can see, there are a wide variety of foods here, and all of them are NOT foods which you normally think of as "health food" or as "things which are good for you".


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