Creating a Menu like a Chef

August 11, 2020

Whether you are single, living with others, married, or cooking for a whole family, menu planning is very important to make cooking more enjoyable and less stressful.

But how do you start creating a menu that works for you?

We researched how other chefs plan menus professionally, combining it with how we do it, and adding some practicality for home cooks to give you a couple of tips.

What do we look at? Here at Table Top Culinary, we do meal planning from a holistic perspective to ensure that our meals are not only delicious but beneficial for your body and mind too.

We hope these tips help you make your meal planning easier and more enjoyable.
We’ve formatted these tips into questions that you can ask yourself when planning your menus:

  • What dietary specifications are you catering for? (i.e. gluten-free, vegan, health goals, etc)

Sometimes meal planning is based around specific dietary requirements or health goals or preferences. Know what these specifications are before you start your planning.

  • What is your budget?

What budget do you have set aside to spend on groceries each week?
Do you have to adjust your budget to accommodate for the ingredients you need (e.g. organic foods are more expensive, at least short-term.) to be more in line with your values towards what you eat.

Think of smart solutions and do some research as to how you can get value for the food you buy. Making shopping lists helps you to save time and money.

  • What is seasonal?

Take advantage of what is seasonal. These foods are usually better priced, higher in nutrients and a lot more flavourful. The list below helps you get an idea of the variety you have for spring (in South Africa). While a lot of produce overlaps seasons, this list gives you a good idea of what to look out for.

Don’t be afraid of substituting one ingredient for another. A recipe is a guideline.

Understanding what is in season locally, might take a bit of practice and observation. Some farmers have just the right climate to grow veggies naturally for an extended period.

  • Seasonal from a TCM perspective

Let’s look at Spring for this menu.
The gall bladder and liver energy is the strongest at this time, so foods that support their function are important.
Foods good for the gall bladder include

  • Colours, textures and well-balanced variety

This might not seem super important, but it really is. To truly enjoy the food that you prepare, you need to get the balance right and make it fun (see how below). A vibrant, colourful plate with at least two different textures is important. Also, think of the ingredients that you are using and how you can prepare them to bring out the best in them.

  • What is practical for you?

Work out what is practical for you.
How much time do you have to cook each day?
Do have time to block out for meal prep and do you need to prep your meals in advance?
Do you need some stand-by freezer meals for nights that you have to work late, or run other errands?

  • Lastly, get excited about cooking (watch a cooking show, flip through a recipe book, read a food blog). This allows you to change things up without overwhelming yourself. Do you have memories of a dreaded weekly meal – maybe knew that on a certain night of the week you needed to make plans to avoid being home for a certain meal? Or maybe you have more positive memories of weekly meals that you looked forward to. Use these memories to your advantage. It helps to get practical feedback from the people that you are cooking for as well.

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