Nov 8, 2010

menu monday and thoughts on delicious yet healthful eating

When my husband and I first started dating (almost 10 years ago), I had been a vegetarian for about three years. While I was a sophomore in college, I read somewhere that all the grain we feed to beef cattle in the U. S. could, if fed to hungry people instead, practically eliminate hunger worldwide. So I stopped eating meat.

However, I was 22 years old, a novice cook, and not a very smart vegetarian. I ate a lot of cheese sandwiches. Maybe that's why I didn't object or decline to eat when my then-boyfriend began cooking me non-vegetarian dinners. He served up chicken alfredo, lasagna, beef chili, pork chops. In the kitchen with him, I began to love cooking.

Flash forward ten years.

Healthy eating is a hot topic in our household. We've been casting about for years looking for simple, healthful rules to guide our dietary choices. I've toyed with vegetarianism from time to time; the husband has  experimented with low carb eating. We've also joined a lot of other people in talking about organic produce, free range chicken, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, the local food movement, and so on. Our trips to the supermarket got a lot more confusing as  we began to think critically about all these labels.

We can no longer look inside an egg carton just to see if it has any cracked eggs. No, we look and see the crowded chicken house where the hen is likely kept, the antibiotics or hormones the hen might have been given, and the petroleum used to transport those eggs to our local supermarket.

Scene: Between the eggs and orange juice in our local supermarket.

Him:  Are those the eggs from Texas chickens?

Me: Um, no. Not these. Says here they're from somewhere in Oklahoma. How about those organic ones in the cardboard carton?

Him: Not local. Not cage free. It says, "from vegetarian, grain-fed chickens" though.

Me: Oh. Why are these eggs $6 a dozen?!

Him: I guess because they have omega-3 acids added?

Me: Well, we know we don't want eggs with anything added. Right?

{long pause}

Him: What does a chicken eat if it's not vegetarian and grain-fed?

{long pause}

Me: This is confusing. Let's just get those store-brand eggs that are on sale, and we'll think about this later.

We're getting past the utter confusion we felt at first, but we're still working to understand labels and make better choices. One of the ways we tackle the task of making better eating choices is to draw up a weekly menu and then follow it faithfully.

We're also working out specific goals. One of these is to eat less meat. Another is to make everything we possibly can from scratch in our own kitchen rather than buying processed foods.

Careful menu planning--and all the cooking practice that goes along with it--has produced the following benefits for us:
  • We throw away less food because we plan out how many servings we're making, when we're going to eat leftovers, and how to work extra ingredients into upcoming meals.
  • We never look at each other at the end of the day and wonder what's for dinner. This eliminates both stressful moments and impulsive eating choices.
  • We have plenty of home-cooked meals stashed in our freezer ready to be thawed out and eaten on those busy days when no one has time to cook dinner from scratch.
  • We eat out very rarely because we've learned to cook better (tastier) food than we can get at most restaurants.

Here's a look at what we're eating this week :

chipotle sweet potato corn chowder (recipe) and a slice of homemade French bread

Monday Dinner
pasta primavera

Tuesday Dinner
roasted pear and blue cheese salads (recipe)

Wednesday Dinner
leftover pasta primavera

Thursday Dinner
scrambled eggs, popovers

Friday (date night) 
steak, baked sweet potato, salad

Saturday Dinner
chicken paprika (recipe), green rice (recipe)

Sunday Dinner
baked potato soup

Note: I provided links to several recipes. We always end up tweaking and changing the source recipe, but these are some of our starting points.

We're doing pretty well with our goal to eat less meat.We're making some progress in our quest to avoid processed foods including making all of our own breads.


  1. If you want to pop over to my blog I have some recipes for different breads. I am sure you can tweak them to be more what you would like. :) Wilson and I started to do the same and it's been a HUGE help to know what you have ready and waiting to make for dinner. It's cut down our grocery bill too. Instead of "What do you want for dinner?" "I dunno, lets fix Italian Chicken" "Do we have the stuff to fix that?" which leads to running to the store, impulse buying, and the cycle continues! Also, you can google OMAC (Once A Month Cooking) websites, they usually have some tips and ideas for dinners you can cook and freeze for those busy nights when you don't want to cook! :)

  2. Once a Month Cooking! I haven't heard that term in such a long time, but I should look it into now that it fits so perfectly into our lifestyle and the way we try to plan our meals. Thanks for this tip!

    I'll also definitely be checking our your bread recipes.