Turn a Menu from Blah to Ahh!

My buddy, Brandy Jones gave me the idea for this post. Menus are personal. No two people will want the same thing all the time. It's all too easy to get caught in a blah dinner plan that no one wants to eat. What's the secret to whipping up an easy menu even picky eaters will like?

In my house, I have to guard against leftovers. I use them--and I like them, but it's a hard sell for Greg. If you see me list something in a leftover, rest assured, it will not be presented in the same form as it was the first time.

For example if I make roast chicken one night, when it reappears it could be in the form of a chicken sandwich, atop a salad, or inside a casserole. Greg will eat what I put in front of him, but he'll complain less if it's not a repeat of a previous dinner.

I consider a lot of variables when I make up a menu. It's not just what's on sale, but what we haven't had in a while too. The weather plays a big role too. I'm not going to serve spring rolls when it's 40 degrees, no more than I'd server chili when it's in the 90s.

Believe it or not, even health is a key to what I put on the menu. If Greg is under the weather, I make more soups and comfort foods. If I'm sick, it's every man for himself. 😮

I have go-to meals that take under 30 minutes to prepare should I be caught unprepared. I also have go-to meals that I know Greg would never refuse if for some reason he balks at what I have planned. In this house, if I switch out a menu item for steak and potatoes, he'll think I've gone senile and had forgotten about the vegetable stir fry. I won't hear one word of complaint that I didn't follow the menu.

I try very hard not to include the same protein more than twice in one week. Steak might appear once for dinner, but leftovers are saved for breakfast the next day.

If I have too many leftovers from a chicken or roast, which happens often with just the two of us, I often freeze the leftovers and use them again in some future disguise.

I guess the trick is to keep 'em guessing.

Here are my tips for creative menus:

• Check the outside temperature.
• Check to see if anyone is sick...or about to get sick.
• Mix up your proteins. Never serve a meat, chicken, or fish 3 or more times in a row--unless you're like me and don't care if you eat the same thing.
• Do themes. Do Mexican, Chinese, casserole, soup, or sandwich day.
• Have a backup plan. Life happens. If you can't make what you had planned, make what's easy and fast.
• Make the freezer your friend. Every so often Greg and I do a weekend of make-ahead freezer meals. I make meat loaves, casseroles, enchiladas, and soups in batches and freeze them. If I know I'm going to be busy that week, I am pulling out the freezer meals.

Menus can get tedious. Even I get in a rut. If I start to notice I'm making the same thing too often, I pull out my recipe folder and see what I hadn't made in a while.

Don't begrudge favorites though. Garlic-buttered pasta with shrimp is one of my favorites. If you see it on my menu, know that I'm making it especially for myself. If it's steak, that's Greg's favorite.

Do you have a favorite meal that's fast and popular at your house?


jacabur1 said…
Maria what heresy is this not to make Chili when it is 90 outside? LOL Remember you live in Texas and we eat Chili in all it's form year round, at least in our house we do as it is my husbands favorite dish right after fried chicken.

For me it is chicken and rice in various guises. From Baked Chicken, Rice, Broccoli and Cheese Casserole to Grilled Chicken with Rice and a vegetable all the way to chicken and rice soup those meals would be something I could munch down on over and over. However I live in a house with a man like yours who loves his beef-as-king meals.
B.E. Sanderson said…
Grilled sandwiches. I can never go wrong if I slap some meat and cheese on buttered bread and throw them in the Foreman. Prep time is a few minutes, cook time is 2-3 minutes. Easy peasy.

And I also make chili in the summer on occasion. Because sometimes a gal just needs chili. Throw it in the crock pot and forget about it. I thank AC for that. ;o)
I'm limited because Bob doesn't like chicken (or much poultry) (I know, heresy, right?) I have found most of my favorite chicken recipes (or if I find a new one I want to try) do okay with pork.

Also, I've discovered that gluten is not my friend, so I have to be careful about what I eat for myself so I don't take up too much time... ahem... elsewhere in the house the next day or two.

I do a lot of freezer meals because I just stay too busy. It's easy to have something ready to go. And, I use my instant pot a LOT! What a time saver that's turned out to be.

re: leftovers. I'm with you. I rarely just make the same plate of something I've done the day before (excerpt Thanksgiving... we do enjoy our Thanksgiving plates for a day or two.

Go to's at our house? chili in the winter, spaghetti (the gluten free noodles aren't bad or I serve it with zuchinni or spaghetti squash), grilled sandwiches (for Bob)...and he really enjoys a tuna casserole! lol
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: ROTFL! Okay, it's true. A real Texan will eat chili anytime. When it's hot though, I prefer cool meals. i guess I better turn in my Texan card. :Hangs head: :D
Maria Zannini said…
BE: Ever since we got that pannini maker we make grilled cheese all the time. It's perfect. Quick and easy.

re: chili
Man, if Greg reads your responses, he's going to start asking for chili in the summer. LOL!
Maria Zannini said…
Judy: You know, I've never known anyone who didn't like chicken. Where did you find Bob. :D I do have a nephew in law that doesn't like seafood though.

re: gluten
I read an interesting article about gluten intolerance. It said it wasn't so much the gluten as it was the grains we use now. People who eat "ancient" grains (like quinoa) don't seem to have trouble digesting them. We've mucked up the genetics of our food so much that it barely qualifies as food anymore.

Grilled sandwiches are a favorite here too.
Michael Keyton said…
Maria, I'm too lazy, slapdash and sloppy for all this. Organisation on this scale puts me in a cold sweat :)
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: It was very foreign to me at first. It probably took me about 3 months to submit to the plan, but in the end I was glad. We used to "negotiate" all the time about what to make for dinner. Now I decide and he eats it. :)
Angela Brown said…
Because it is just me and my daughter, we stretch meals. However, I have noticed that I can get one good leftover night, maybe two in a week. Otherwise, as you mentioned, have to change things up so food doesn't get wasted because the appetite can wane from over using leftovers.