Some of our eating habits are worth preserving and cultivating. Fresh fruit for breakfast stimulates the appetite and helps to prevent or overcome constipation. A mild-flavored food like cereal is better relished before we have had meats or other highly flavored food. Soup at the beginning of a meal puts the stomach in better condition to digest the food that follows. Ice cream at the end of a meal is less likely to chill the stomach than at the be-ginning. Bread and butter afford a good combination of fat and carbohydrate. Crackers help in the breaking up of cheese into particles easy to digest.
Not all of our eating habits are good, however. Griddle-cakes, melted butter, and maple sirup taste good, but the cakes make a pasty mass difficult for digestive juices to penetrate. The sirup is likely to ferment, and the butter coating the whole delays digestion greatly. Chicken salad is popular, but combinations of protein with much fat (as in the mayonnaise dressing) always digest very slowly. Simple dishes, without rich sauces or gravies, and not excessively high in fat, are easiest of digestion. Pastries, fried foods, meats with much fat, like pork and sausage, are always more or less difficult and should be attempted only by the strong, or when the body is free from physical or nervous weariness, and not about to undertake mental work.
Attention to the art of menu making not only helps to make the diet easier to digest, but also better balanced. Foods which are similar in color, flavor, and texture, like potatoes and rice, are not artistic in combination, and it is better to substitute for one of them a green vegetable, or meat or butter, in which case we get a better balance, as more ash, protein, or fat would then be included with the starch of the rice or potato.
In making the bill of fare it is a great mistake to consider each meal by itself alone. If we do so, some days are likely to be very high in fuel, while others may be very low. Then, too, the impression left from one meal carries over to the next. We do not care to see on the dinner table the same foods that we saw at luncheon. Our love of variety is one of nature's ways of seeing to it that we get different kinds of foodstuffs in our diet. Variety stimulates appetite, but this does not mean a great variety at one meal. The truest variety is obtained by a few well-selected dishes at each meal. If we do not exhaust our resources on one meal, we shall be able to have a greater range of foods in the course of a week. A hotel may have fifty or sixty items on its bill of fare, but after a few days one feels as if there were a great sameness, because all of them are impressed on the mind at each meal and every day.
A dietary, as we shall use the term here,1 is a statement of the food requirements of a person or group of persons for a day or some other definite length of time, with a selection of foods to satisfy this requirement.
The first part of a family dietary will have to be calculated according to the age, weight, and occupation, as stated on pages 299-303. When complete, it will stand somewhat like this: