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!)




Clean Lunch menu for April Week #4

my girl at last fall's District Cross country race.

my girl at last fall’s District Cross country race.

A full school week ahead, and an even fuller week of activities!  The most exciting thing this week, the school track meet is this Friday.  While for most kids, it is just an adventure outside the classroom and for some, they would rather stay inside the classroom, for my daughter, this is a day that requires a plan.  She is keen to make it all the way to the District meet, which is three meets away, and requires qualifying not only out of the school meet, but then out of the Zone meet.  This week, she told me, “I really want to go to the District meet.”  So, I said, “Then you need to have a plan, and a vision.  You know you can run fast.  You know you are strong and you know your body can do what you need it to do.  So now you need to make sure your mind knows what to do.”  That has been her work this week.  Getting that picture in her head of crossing the finish line first, at the school meet, and then doing it again at the Zone meet, and finally, seeing her name on the list of athletes going to the District meet, and feeling herself running fast and strong and confident.

Having a goal and a vision, is what turns dreams into reality.  Those visions keep us focused on what is important to us and where we want to go.

And my contribution to the goal?  Putting good fuel into that little gas tank!  So I have planned a menu that should take all of my kiddos to the top of their game.  Lots of healthy lean protein, veggies and fruit, complex carbs for great energy.


Monday: Wild Rice Salmon chowder, raw broccoli and carrot sticks,  fruit salad and cottage cheese, oatmeal pecan cookie

Tuesday: White bean and Tuna with kale salad, raw veggies with yogurt dip, banana and granola bites

Wednesday: Chicken and spinach wraps, apple, avocado chocolate pudding, carrot and celery sticks, cheese cubes.

Thursday: Turkey Hamburger soup, pear and grapes, cottage cheese, oatmeal pecan cookie

Friday: Chicken and tomato and feta wraps with yogurt, apple, yogurt with berries, dark chocolate coconut protein bars

Daycare Lunches:

Monday: Turkey Hamburger soup

Tuesday: Tuna sandwich with cream cheese and raw veggies

Wednesday: Chicken and brown rice with spinach

Thursday: Clean peanut butter and “jam” sandwiches, and Quick tomato soup

Friday: Salmon and veggie pasta salad. (I use yogurt and a teaspoon of honey rather than light mayo)

Happy and Healthy packing!

Make a great week!

Weaning them off white pasta

My husband typically does our Costco shop once a month.  Although now that the kids are bigger, and our students eat at home much more (much healthier!), those Costco shops are up to twice a month, something that doesn’t bother him at all!

I make the list, and off he goes.  Typicaly, he gets what is on the list (I won’t go into the extras that sometimes come home as that is worthy of another post for another day!).  This time…

…He returns with the car loaded with items… He and my daughter bring them in, while my son and I put things away… 3 4L jugs of milk, feta cheese, fresh strawberries, frozen strawberries, low fat cheese, sprouted grain bread, laundry soap, toilet paper, white pasta, salsa, peppercorns…wait, white pasta??  I hold it up and give him a questioning  look over my glasses.  He huffs, “That was all they had, and the list just said “Pasta” ”

We have been together for almost 15 years.  We have been eating whole grain pasta for almost 15 years, not strictly, but mostly.  He loves tortellini and I have yet to find it made with whole grain flour, so it shows up on the table from time to time.  When we met, he virtually lived on pasta, jarred sauce and salad, oh and peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  At the time, I was fascinated by this man who ate salad every night, and only bought whole grain breads, and natural peanut butter, didn’t eat mayonnaise or margarine,  yet consumed such vast quantities of white pasta.  He was healthy and fit:  he walked or rode his bike to work everyday, swam at the YMCA pool twice a week, and at 5’10”, he weighed about 180lbs.

My mindset had always been if you could buy the whole grain version of something, why would you bother with the white?  I still often think, why even bother making the white version, if you can make a whole grain version?  Of course as an adult, I realise that for big companies, it isn’t about making what is best for people, it is about making what will make the most money.

I wasn’t raised eating whole grain pastas, or using whole grain flours.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, typically the pasta in our house was white.  Although my mother (who also preferred whole grain breads, and cereals, like oatmeal) always bought spinach noodles for her lasagne or for making pasta salads.  My stepmother always bought whole grain breads for herself and white bread for my father.  As children, the choice of bread was ours, so the option was always there.  I can tell you we never got to have Wonder Bread, even though we asked for it!  But the pasta was always white.  My Auntie, however, lived in Ottawa, and whenever we would go to visit her or stay with her, she would take us shopping at the Herb and Spice Grocery.  Shopping with her, always left me thinking, “I love this. When I am older and I do my own groceries, I am going to shop this way.”  As an older teenager, I learned that my uncle (brother of the Auntie in Ottawa) ground his own flour, and for the most part didn’t eat meat (except when he came to our house).  We ate well, home cooked meals, lots of vegetables and fruit, not a whole lot of processed stuff, but a long way from a whole grain diet.

When I moved out on my own, I lived in the city, and discovered that grocery shopping in the city gave way more options, than a suburban community.  I spent hours on Saturdays, poking around different neighbourhoods, finding all sorts of exciting ingredients.  I taught myself how to prepare dried beans, and learned that chili didn’t have to be ground beef and kidney beans.  I shopped in China town in Montreal, and tried different vegetables, and different types of noodles.  Soba noodles, rice noodles, Chinese egg noodles.  Every weekend was a different food adventure.  The girls I worked with were from different areas of the city, and different Nationalities.  On Friday nights on pay weeks, we would go out for supper together sometimes.  We went to a small Chinese restaurant where no one spoke English to us, but the food was incredible!  We ate Ethiopian food with our hands, sitting on cushions on the floor. We went to a Greek restaurant where one of the girls ordered everything for us and the evening (and the food) didn’t end until after midnight.  And this is how my love affair with food began.  It was also when eating whole grains truly became a way of life.

My husband has never balked at eating whole grains.  He has always eaten whatever I cook, with no complaints.  When our children came along, we fed them whole grains right from the start.  Brown and wild rices, whole grain pastas and breads, barley, spelt, and more recently quinoa.  I remember taking my (then) 10 month old daughter with me for a lunch date with a friend.  I had ordered Quesadillas, which came with a side order of rice.  I had brought vegetables for my daughter to eat, and thought I would give her some of the rice (she loved rice!).  It turned out she loved “brown rice”.  I laughed when she turned up her nose at the white rice, and spit it out.  And in reality, why would you eat plain white rice if you are used to the nutty taste of brown?

Check out some of these articles about whole grain pastas and making good choices for yourself and your family.

Why whole grain pasta is a better choice

Weaning off of white flour

Is Smart Pasta really “Smart” ?

However, if everyone in your house is used to white pasta and white rice, and white flour, it is hard to get them to switch! Why?  For the same reason my daughter wouldn’t eat white rice.  We “like” what our mouths and bodies are used to, we are creatures of habit.  So then, if you have made up your mind you want your family to eat a healthier diet, how do you get them to switch?  You are the one who make the meals, and does the grocery shopping, but if “They” won’t eat any of it, what do you do? It can get expensive to keep making healthy meals that no one wants to eat.  Ideally, the best thing to do, is have a family meeting, get everyone on board, clean out the pantry and start fresh.  Well, ideal maybe, but not always realistic!

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Go half and half for your pastas.  Mix up the rotini or the linguine.  Using a homemade sauce that everyone likes and is familiar with will take the pressure off the pasta.  Then over a couple of weeks, make it a greater amount whole grain to white, until your white pasta is depleted.  Then serve it up as just whole grain.  Try this easy kid friendly sauce with your next pasta meal.

2. Make it a side rather than the main meal.  Move away from making pasta the center of attention.  Make a pasta salad (toss leftover Greek salad with whole grain farfale) and serve it as a side dish.  Here is a great link for healthy pasta side dishes: Delish

3.Try something new together.  Find a new pasta recipe and try it together as a family.  This way everyone isn’t “expecting” the regular flavours of a known meal, but rather trying something new.  Here is a great idea for a new recipe: Stove Top Fideos.

4. Don’t give up.  Eventually they will be on board.  But don’t make a fuss about what is not eaten.  Just like when children were little, keep the rule of “this is what is for supper.  You don’t have to eat it, but the next meal is at breakfast time.”  Not as easy to do with teenagers, and adult males, as it is with little ones.  But for the most part, if you are making a strong effort to bring healthy whole grains into your kitchen, and you persevere, you will get there.  And they will eat the whole grain pastas (and flours and breads).  Remember how powerful your example is.  If your children see you eating healthy foods and making good choices, they will follow.  Here are some more great tips for helping your family to make healthy food choices.

And what to do with that package of white pasta?  My first instinct was to hand it to him and tell him to take it back.  However, instead I used the “half and half” guideline (although I think it was more of a 2/3:1/3 ratio) and I made sure to add lots of veggies to the sauce and salads!


Happy packing!