The application of our present knowledge of nutrition rests largely with the one in the home who plans the three meals for the day. Yet how often this important duty is delegated to a servant or done in a very haphazard fashion. It is a dreaded duty or considered as an unimportant one that may be done at the last moment. Since the health and happiness of the family is so dependent upon the food which they eat, the planning of menus is an important responsibility and should be carried by the one in charge of the home. The bet-ter knowledge of nutrition available to everyone today, coupled with more systematic methods of work, will do much to over-come the bugbear of menu planning.
The fear of wrong combinations of food has been instilled into the minds of many by numerous food faddists. The menu planner is told not to use potatoes and meat in the same meal. An acid fruit with a starchy food is heralded as a disastrous combination. Fruit juice and milk, it is claimed, should never be used together. There are endless theories abroad about wrong combinations of food, none of which have real scientific basis. Rather than take the time to argue these points we would repeat the statement made by one of our leading scientists, that “no food that is good in itself is harmful in combination . . . a combination may be inadequate but never injurious.”
Sets of menus are not practical in our opinion, and should be used only to illustrate principles and to give suggestions. The present demand for menus demonstrates the lack of knowledge of the principles of menu planning, just as the demand for recipes makes clear the lack of knowledge of the principles of cookery.
It is impossible to compile menus that will meet the needs of any two families. The number and age of the members of families will vary. The occupations of the members of the family will decide the meal arrangement. It may be better to have dinner at night and a light luncheon at noon, or dinner at noon and a light supper at night. Some attention should be given to individual likes, but dislikes and whims of different members should not be encouraged. How easy it would be for the menu planner if there were no dislikes and no criticism of food allowed. Such co-operation on the part of the family is not too much to expect, and would do much to promote a happy meal hour and better digestion.
The locality in which the family lives commonly will influence the choice of food. Every American family uses certain traditional dishes of which they are very fond. Boston baked beans, the New England boiled dinner, Maryland fried chicken with beaten biscuits, and the Spanish dishes of California must be included in the menus of those localities occasionally.
In sections of the country where there are marked changes in seasons more attention must be given to menus. Foods rich in fats and proteins must be used more sparingly during the warm summer months because the need for heat and energy is less. Extreme care should be given to the handling of meat and milk which become infected with bacteria very easily. Large amounts of iced food and iced drinks should be avoided. Because of the greater loss of body heat in the winter, a diet of greater caloric value should be planned, which can be made to include more fats and proteins than the summer diet.
The amount of money available in the budget for food is an important factor. Even if it is small it does not prevent the planning of well balanced menus when there is an under-standing of the principles of menu planning. It is obvious that it is an individual family problem.
A knowledge of the scientific principles is of first importance, although the clever menu planner will keep this in-formation in the background. Her aim is to make her family eat what they should have by making the menus interesting and having the food well cooked and attractively served.
From the scientific as well as from the aesthetic point of view, the only satisfactory way to plan menus is to plan them for the day as a whole. Many people prefer to plan for two or three days. Menus for a longer period, however, are not practical because of marketing problems, utilization of leftovers, and many other variable factors in home life.
When the menu for the entire day has been planned as a whole it is a simple matter to meet food requirements and to see that the various food elements are well distributed in each meal. Eating between meals should be discouraged. If mid-meal feedings are to be included they should be considered as the meals are planned. Fruit, fruit juice or milk are the best foods for such feedings, both for children and adults. Candy, cookies, cake, ice cream, and other sweet foods should be used with meals.