Decide on the type of luncheon you wish to prepare (formal or informal), on the number of people to be served, and on the amount you wish to spend. How will the season of the year and the time you can spend in preparation affect your choice ? Plan a menu accordingly. Prepare and serve.
Most of the principles of menu-making have already been stated, but it will be useful to bring them together, and sum up at this point. A great deal is said at the present time about balanced meals, and many lists of these are published. At first glance the student who knows that a "balanced diet" furnishes a certain number of total calories, - with a certain percentage of these from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, - and a given amount of mineral elements, is puzzled, because these lists say nothing at all about amounts. It must be evident, then, that such meals are not accurately balanced in this sense. They are balanced in the sense that they furnish all the different elements required and in approximately the correct amounts. It is obvious that the housekeeper who tried to balance the diet for every member of the family would have an endless task and would seldom accomplish her end, because the various individuals would demand liberty to eat more or less of the foods provided and the accurate balance would be upset at once.
For the healthy individual no such accurate planning is necessary, but it is most important that meals be balanced in the other sense. First, meals should be considered not individually, but in groups, meals for the day, for the week. Decide, for example, how much meat you intend to include in the diet of the week, and distribute it accordingly. Some people find themselves best suited with meat only two or three times a week; others desire it at least once a day, while still others prefer it in smaller amounts even more frequently. But as meat is expensive and too much of it is probably not good for us, the skilled menu-maker will devise substitutes which will satisfy her family and gradually change their tastes. Remember that the food habits of children are much more easily changed than are those of adults.
Having selected the meat or meat substitute, begin filling out the meal. Remember that it is wise to distribute the fat so as not to have too much of it in any one meal as it is likely to cause digestive disturbances. In making combinations, do not include in the same meal dishes which furnish practically the same food principles. Rice should be substituted for potatoes and not served with them. Plan definitely to include vegetables and fruits for their mineral content. If meat and nutritive vegetables are to be served, fruits make a suitable dessert. If the dessert, on the other hand, is rich and high in food value, see that the vegetables are less starchy. If little meat is provided and the whole dinner seems too light, the meal might include a hearty soup or salad. Considering the larger grouping, we should see that the food for the day runs evenly. If a lunch or supper is hearty, the dinner should be lighter than usual, or vice-versa. Alternate days of feast and famine do not give satisfaction.
The suitability of the food must also be taken into account. People who work out of doors most of the time not only need more hearty food, but can digest it better than can those who are more closely confined and with more sedentary habits. For the latter, as for children, easily digested food must be provided.
Last but by no means least, remember to provide variety. First, variety within the meal itself. Not only should the same flavor not appear twice in a meal, as chicken broth followed by chicken, or tomato soup followed by tomato salad, but as much variety as possible in food combinations should be sought. It is evident that a meal must not be composed too largely of liquids, and the dryness or water character of the food should be considered. Boiled potatoes are more acceptable with a meat with gravy than, for example, with Hamburg steak. Peas and beans at the same time not only provide about the same food elements in the same proportions, but are too much alike. Two creamed vegetables at once are not so pleasing as if one were mashed or served in some other way. Variety in flavor is important. Two strong-flavored vegetables, as onions and turnips, are not acceptable at the same time; on the other hand, if only mild-flavored foods are chosen, the whole is insipid. In food combinations, color, too, should be taken into account. Carrots and cranberries do not make a pleasing color harmony.
Variety also demands that the same foods prepared in exactly the same way should not be served at successive meals. Moreover, the same food combinations should not be repeated too frequently. Do not always serve peas with lamb. Bread and butter are, of course, repeated, but there are innumerable ways of serving potatoes, although if you lived in some families you would think that there were but one or two at most. Left-overs may be made to appear like a new dish, or a meal may be skipped before serving the same article again. Some boarding-house keepers and some housewives, as well, make the mistake of running on a regular schedule so that it is possible to predict the meal beforehand. This is, of course, a grave error.
A warning should be given in regard to variety. The variety desirable is not the serving of too many kinds of food at one meal. Some people, and especially country hotel-keepers, serve at one meal all the vegetables that are to be had, and there is no variety possible for the next meal. Pickles of various sorts, different kinds of jam and preserves, appear all at once at each meal, and one grows as tired of them all as if one had really eaten all the kinds, whereas one served at a time at different meals would have meant a new attractiveness. For this reason it is easy to tire of cafeteria or hotel meals where the food has to be selected before eating.
U. S. Dept. of Agriculture. Office of Exp. Station. Circular 110. "Food Customs and Diet in American Homes."
1. Why are the following menus faulty? How would you improve them?
Bacon and eggs Buttered beets Squash
Lettuce salad, French dressing Baked apple and whipped cream
(c) Roast lamb Macaroni Creamed potatoes Boiled rice
2. Make out balanced menus for a week's meals, providing for the use of left-overs, and introducing variety. State whether you consider the meals are low, medium, or high in price.