The Power of the Menu

The Power of the Menu

Creating a weekly menu for 6 people that everyone is going to eat (happily) can seem overwhelming.  Especially if there are picky eaters or special diets to contend with.

For picky eaters, and children in general, it is helpful to create a menu that can be posted.  This sends a different message to the household, and it also gives away some power, meaning that rather than think, “Why isn’t Mum home yet? I wonder what’s for supper?”, they can simply check out the menu and say, “Oh, I guess this is what we are having” and the argument just doesn’t happen.  It also  removes the “We never have anything good” from the equation, because everyone can see that we are having spaghetti on Wednesday and pizza on Friday (yes, there will be spinach salad with the spaghetti and Greek salad with the pizza).  

When deciding what we are going to eat, I often start with “Meatless” Monday, Turkey on Tuesdays and then Fish on Fridays.  I also make Saturday or Sunday a bigger meal, with a roast that will be used for another meal, or for lunches.  Other ideas are to offer one day a week to the kids to plan.  When it is my husband’s turn to cook, I usually plan for chicken breast or boneless pork chops on the BBQ with salad and potatoes (he decides how to cook them).  The person assigned to making the salad, gets to decide what goes into the salad, as well as what dressing they are going to make.  Unless it says Greek salad, of course, which is a favourite in our house, so there are never any arguments about what to put into it.

Yes, there is repetition, but that is okay.  Everyone likes predictability, especially kids.  If you have a few healthy meals that everyone likes, include most of them in your weekly menu.  Maybe agree to try one new meal a week.  Recently, we added No Weigh Jose Mexican Lasagne to our rotation and it is a huge hit.  We also enjoy a baked veggie casserole (no pasta) and roasted vegetable pasta, that includes eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms, and I catch the kids stealing mushrooms off of each others plates.

I also include who is making salad for each day, who is setting the table and who is clearing and cleaning up.  Yes, it takes some planning, but if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

One last thing, I always include dessert options on the menu.  Typically it is fruit and yogurt, but I like to make sure there is something there.  It is another way to make sure everyone is getting their 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables in the day.  One of the faves in our house is a leftover protein pancake with warmed berries and Greek yogurt, or a Flax seed Energy bar, made with peanut butter and dates.  When the weather is warm, I use leftover fruit and yogurt and make frozen yogurt popsicles, with chunks of fruit in them. Just a little something sweet to end the meal. 

This week’s Supper Menu:

Sunday: Roast Chicken (2, one for supper and one for lunches); spinach salad with Balsamic Dijon dressing, baked Yam slices and raw veggies (sliced cukes and tomato; carrot and celery sticks – make enough for lunches and snacks during the week).  For dessert: Strawberry-Rhubarb crumble with lemon yogurt drizzle

Monday: Vegetable soup and Cheesy Quinoa Bites.  For dessert: warmed berries with leftover protein pancake and yogurt

Tuesday: Turkey Hamburger soup with leftover salad (by the way, any leftover yams from Sunday supper went into the soup).  For dessert: fresh berries

Wednesday: Spaghetti and Green Salad.  For dessert: Flaxseed energy bars.

Thursday: BBQ chicken pieces, green salad and Simple Quinoa.  For dessert: fruit salad (made by the kids, with whatever fruit is left)

Friday: Pizza and Greek salad.  For dessert: Dessert pizza with fruit and yogurt. (Make chicken for wraps for Saturday)

Saturday: My son’s class campout!  So I guess it is Hot dogs and Hamburgers for supper (Any Moms attending this weekend, if you want Greek chicken wraps, email me, that is what I am bringing for me!)




7 days of 400-600 calorie suppers, when it’s not your turn to cook

If you are the primary person in charge of meal planning and preparation in your house, then you have control over what gets made, and what goes into it, and how it gets made.  But what happens when it isn’t your turn to cook?  Does it turn into take out pizza, or pasta with a jar of sauce? Do the salad ingredients get left in the fridge?  That happens at our house, although it can be perogies and chicken legs with frozen peas.

The first part is, what comes into the house.  If your pantry, fridge and freezer are stocked with healthy options (brown rice, barley, whole wheat pastas, canned beans, and cans of tuna or salmon packed in water, fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit, chicken breast, low fat pork chops, homemade stocks and vegetable based sauces), then you are well on your way.  But you still might be faced with those who are left in charge not knowing what to do with all of it, or any of it!

Step one: Teach your children (or your partner!).  Even your 5 year old can help get things going in a positive direction.  They can wash and tear lettuce or spinach for a salad.  They can set the table, to help ensure the family sits down together.  They can drain and break up canned fish for either pasta or salad.  The biggest plus here is that they are also more likely to eat the food that is being prepared if they are part of the process.  Older children can prepare salad or raw veggies, or steamed vegetables like broccoli or bok choy.  In our house, regardless of whether it is Dad or Mum preparing supper, it is the kids who are responsible for preparing the salad and the vegetables.

Step two: Make preparations easy.  I buy chicken breast and pork chops at the butcher, where they can be had individually wrapped.  This means that they are easy to get at, and you only use what you need (helps avoid over eating).  Sometimes, I also season meat ahead of time and store it in it’s own container in the freezer or fridge.  This means that a container of chicken breast or pork chops once thawed, can be ready to go on the BBQ immediately, without having to worry about what to season them with so everyone will eat them.  Keeping a couple of jars of homemade vinaigrette in the fridge helps too.

Step three: Make a plan.  Create a menu and then post it where everyone can see it.  Label it with names to that everyone knows ahead of time who is doing what, to participate in the creation of the healthy meal.  I even go to the extent of posting what might be for dessert.  (Fruit, yogurt, granola is typically what is available).  We keep everything balanced around the weekly schedule, so you know who is home and how many are eating, and when everyone else will be home.

Yes, all of this means some planning and preparation, but doesn’t everything?  A friend shared a quote this morning: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”  and we all know how hard those days are when we have failed to plan!

And if you are always the one to prepare the meals in your house, then you can also use these tips to create healthy, inexpensive meals even when you are pressed for time, or for planning for the days when you know you will be too tired to cook.  Knowing that your meals are easy, makes clean healthy eating even easier!

7 days of Healthy Meals when it’s not your turn to cook

Day 1: Baked Yam rounds with grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli  (season your chicken breast ahead of time so they are ready to go out of the freezer, use leftover broccoli for Day 5)

Day 2: BBQ Pork loin chops with spinach salad and brown rice (brown rice can be cooked in the morning while you are getting ready, then it just requires a microwave to heat it up in the evening, make double batch of rice and cook 2 extra pork chops for Day 5))

Day 3: Baked Salmon fillets (seasoned with salt and pepper and a tsp of dried oregano, baked in a 375F oven for 15 minutes, make 2 extra salmon fillets for tomorrow supper) with mashed potatoes and green salad

Day 4: Salmon wraps (leftover salmon with left over green salad in whole wheat tortillas), raw veggies and fruit salad for dessert

Day 5: “Fried” rice with pork and veggies (using leftover brown rice, pork chops and broccoli, add frozen mixed veggies and two green onion, cook rice in skillet with a TSP of grape seed oil and a 1/4 cup of chicken broth, add 1-2 tsp soya sauce to taste.  Add one-two scrambled eggs or egg whites if you want)

Day 6: Mini homemade pizzas with raw veggies (whole wheat pitas, homemade marinara sauce or low sodium tomato sauce, grated mozza and parm cheeses with left over chicken, or some chopped ham, sprinkle of dried oregano if using plain tomato sauce and chopped green onion)

Day 7: Greek salad, grilled chicken breast and baby potatoes.  (I think this is my favourite meal of all time, and since once upon a time, my hubby was shy to cook baby potatoes, I used to make them in the morning or the night before, and then he would just have to saute them for a minute or two in a couple of tsp of olive oil and sprinkle them with oregano).


Turkey tortellini soup with Baby bok choy

Looking through my freezer to decide what goes on the menu this week, and I realised that there was one container of turkey broth left from the Christmas turkey.  There was also one package of chicken tortellini left.  Moving on to the fridge, there is the bok choy that was destined for stir fry last friday night, but we had pancakes instead, when my 11 year old offered to make supper when Mum said something about feeling tired.

So, Turkey-tortellini soup it is for lunch tomorrow!

Turkey tortellini soup with veggies

one medium onion, diced

3 stalks celery diced

4 carrots, peeled and diced

1tsp each, dried thyme and dried sage

3 tsp olive oil

6 ounces turkey breast, cooked and diced (you can use chicken or lean pork in its place)

8-10 cups Turkey stock (or chicken or vegetable stock)

1 package of frozen chicken (or cheese) tortellini, or 1 lb homemade tortellini

2 full heads of baby bok choy (or two large hand fulls of fresh spinach), rinsed and coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Using a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, celery and carrot, and cook until soft 7-9, minutes.  Add thyme and sage, continue cooking until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add stock, continue cooking on medium until boiling.  Add tortellini, return to a low boil and cook for 7-8 minutes.  Add turkey and bok choy, cook until warm through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately or store in fridge up to three days, or freeze for up to 6 months.


Roasted veggies with pasta

My kids, just like yours, I am sure, love pasta.  However, white pasta is not the healthiest of choices for active growing bodies, even with all of the enriching that goes into making it (read the label, enriched with this, enriched with that).  Choose whole grain pastas, whenever possible for making the meal the healthiest.  We use whole wheat pasta along with Kamut pasta, and occasionally brown rice pasta.

Something we started doing a number of years ago, was topping whole wheat pasta with roasted veggies as a great side dish.  Roasting the vegetables gives them a sweetness children (and adults) enjoy, without losing the nutrition in them.

If you have all the ingredients in your fridge, this a quick healthy meal.  Add baked chicken to round out the meal.

A quick tip: make double the recipe, add two cups of marinara sauce, and use with cooked short pasta for “Baked Pasta with Roasted veggies”.  Cover and bake for 25 minutes at 400F, sprinkle with low fat mozzarella, and broil for 5 minutes (watched).  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Roasted Veggies with Pasta

Preheat oven to 425F.  In a large bowl, combine:

1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced

1 medium Japanese eggplant, halved and sliced

3 medium bell peppers, seeded, and cut into 1-2 inch chunks

1 large red onion, sliced thickly

6-8 large button mushrooms, quartered

8-12 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn or shredded.

Add 2 TBSP Olive oil,

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 salt

chili flakes to taste.

Toss the veggies with the olive oil and seasoning.  Spread out on two rimmed baking sheets.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Stirring veggies halfway through baking.

Meanwhile, heat a pot of water to boiling on the stove.  After the veggies are halfway through baking, cook pasta following directions on package.

Return baked veggies to your large bowl, add 2 TBSP of Balsamic vinegar and 1 TBSP of Olive oil and half a cup of fresh basil leaves, shredded.  Toss to ensure the flavours are spread evenly.

Toss veggies with finished pasta and serve with grated parmesan.


Asian “Salisbury” Steak with Wilted Spinach and Brown Rice

Hello!  Are you hungry?  Just reading that title makes my mouth water.  The original recipe comes from an old Eating Well magazine, from February 2006, but I have made a few changes given what we have in the cupboard and the number of people we are eating it in our house!  It also got the stamp of approval from our resident picky eater (who rarely turns his nose up at beef!).  I made this recipe for 8 rather than 6 because my hope is that there will be enough left so that my dear hubby can take it for lunch.

Asian “salisbury” steak  with wilted spinach – serves 8 – approx 303 calories per serving plus rice.

2lbs lean ground beef or bison

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup diced orange pepper

1 cup chopped green onion

1/3 cup plain dried bread crumbs

4 TBSP Hoisin sauce, separated.

2 1/2 TBSP minced fresh ginger

3 tsp Canola oil or grape seed oil

2 6oz bags of baby spinach

1/2 cup rice wine or sherry (I used rice wine)

Place the oven rack in the top third of the oven.  Preheat the broiler to high.  Coat broiler pan using an oil spray pump (I used canola oil as it has a higher smoke temp than olive oil or grape seed oil, in my experience).  Mix ground beef with red pepper, onion, bread crumbs, garlic, ginger and 3 tbsp of Hoisin.  Shape into 8 oblong patties. Brush patties using 1 tsp of oil.  Place on broiler pan.  Broil, flipping once, for approximately 4-5 minutes a side.  Note you can also do these on the BBQ.

Heat  remaining 2 tsp oil in skillet on medium high.  Add Spinach and cook just until wilted (1-3 minutes).  Divide wilted spinach among plates.  Return the skillet to the heat and add remaining 1 tbsp Hoisin sauce, add rice wine and stir until slightly reduced (one minute).  Place cooked steaks on spinach and drizzle with sauce.   Serve with side of brown rice.