Tonight I would like to welcome Teresa author of the blog A Game of Balance.
Teresa is a single mom of a toddler, a high school teacher, a foodie vegetarian, and a blogger. You can follow her adventures in balancing work and family life at A Game of Balance.
How to Get Started Menu Planning with Dietary Restrictions: Variation on a Theme Method
Variation on a Theme is a musical concept where a composer starts with a strong melody, and then changes and adapts this melody throughout the piece into something new that still resembles the original melody. This is similar to how in literature an author will use a motif to support the theme in different ways through the story.
This method can also be applied to menu planning, and it was honestly a life saver when I decided I wanted to become a strict vegetarian. How it works is that I would choose one new food that fits into my diet, like lentils or kale, and find ways to build on that for a week. At the end of the week I would have several new items I knew fit into my diet and some back stock in my freezer when I got exhausted from having to find new things.
Now, instead of making an entire menu, I make a list of things I want to cook throughout the week, plan my shopping accordingly, and then choose from my list each day what I want to (or have time to) make. With my crazy schedule, this works better for me than trying to predict my energy level days in advance.
The way I apply the variation on a theme method is this:
1) Choose an item to focus on and then look for my pantry to see what I have on hand.
2) Make a list of other recipies I already know for this item or recipes I have collected that I want to try.
3) Plan my grocery list and shop.
4) Cook and enjoy.
Here is how that all works:
I choose one (or a few) items I want to focus on for a week. Sometimes this is just something I am in the mood for and sometimes it is a new item I want to try. A few weeks ago, I was on a lentil kick and made lentil taco meat (I made it with vegetable broth, not chicken broth) and vegetarian spaghetti bolognese. I used these two items for taco salads and taco chip dip and to top cheese ravioli and, honestly, I just ate the bolognese by itself with a little parmesan one day. This week it is Kale, with two batches kale chips, a kale slaw with toasted walnuts, and then kale, red onion and pistachio pizza. And who knows what I will be in the mood for next week.
Sometimes the list is almost all new things, sometimes it’s all old favorites, usually it is a mix of both. I try and combine the focus item with things that I already have so I’m not overstocking my pantry before I use it all. For example, I would have not chosen the kale pizza if i didn’t already have the pistachios because it makes me crazy how expensive they are. But a while ago I bought several small bags when I found them on sale so I knew this wasn’t going to be a $20 recipe.
When I cook I always try and make at least enough for two meals, sometimes three, so that I always have a stock of freezer foods. I only cook for myself and my toddler son so most recipes make several meals. I also include leftover days in my list so that I can finish up the things that don’t freeze (that kale pizza) and so I can actually use the things I am putting in the freezer.
This plan works with any type of diet. The key to this approach is to make small steps forward and to vary your uses of your theme item for each week. When a new dietary restriction is imposed immediately it can be daunting, but if you use this incremental strategy and stay positive about the new possibilities you can face changes with excitement rather than frustration.