Guidelines On Choosing A Dinner Menu
- Make sure that appetizers are light and small. If weight control is an issue, choose those that include plenty of fiber and water: soups, especially clear soups, vegetables, fruits, stuffed celery, and cut vegetables with low-fat dips.
- If you are having guests, an appetizer that repeats the basic triad with miniature portions is a good way to keep the balance of the meal—for example, one or two meat or cheese-filled ravioli with a slice of grilled tomato or other vegetables.
- Consider the additive effect of all the courses when deciding whether the meal is too heavy or too light for the people, the weather, or the season. If you are beginning with pasta, for example, do not serve polenta with the fish course. The two grain/starch dishes would be experienced as too heavy.
- Do not serve in the same course two substantial starchy foods, such as rice and pasta, or potatoes and couscous or kasha. You may have two in one meal, if one is small enough to be merely a grace note. For example, if rice makes a modest appearance in your soup, that needn't stop you from serving a grain or potato in another course.
- Consider the ingredients of each course in deciding whether the meal has a good nutritional (and aesthetic) balance. If you are beginning with a hearty vegetable soup, go light on vegetables with the main course. If you are beginning with a clear soup with a little parsley floating in it, you need to reinforce the vegetables by means of the salad or whatever you serve with the protein.
- Cold or room temperature pasta dishes are generally more appropriate for lunch than for dinner, but they may be used as appetizers at dinner.
- You can treat beans as either a vegetable or a protein, but if you are using them as a vegetable try not to make them too prominent in quantity or spiciness.
- If you are going to serve two proteins, one should have a minor presence and the other a major presence. Thus, if you are going to serve both fish and meat, serve them in different courses; you might begin with a fish appetizer or a fish soup, and follow with meat in the main course. Truly formal dinners have separate substantial fish courses, but for the modern stomach this constitutes a mighty feast indeed. The most common exceptions to the rule against two proteins for ordinary family dinners are the hunter's dishes that combine meat and poultry and fish soups or stews that contain two or more types of fish or shellfish-mussels, shrimp, lobster. Such dishes are considered hearty by most people nowadays, so if you serve one, choose lighter components for your other courses.
- Do not serve the same ingredient in more than one course; avoid, for example, a soup with green beans and green beans again as a side dish.
- Do not serve too many foods of the same taste character together. If you have a tomato-based soup in a first course, do not follow with a marinara sauce.
- Opposites often go nicely together: acid/sweet, spicy/bland, hot/cold, crunchy/soft. If you are serving one spicy dish, say a curry, balance it with a cool and mild one such as yogurt.
- Avoid serving two very strong-tasting dishes at the same meal.
- Do not serve more than one highly salted food per meal.
- Do not serve different foods of the same color together; for example, don't serve green vegetables with green noodles and pesto sauce.
- In hot weather, lighter fare is more appetizing: more fruits and vegetables, fewer roasts, hearty soups, and meat stews. In cool weather, the reverse is true.
The Art and Science of Keeping House
By Cheryl Mendelson
Scribner, November 1999
896 pages, 225 black and white line drawings
Reprinted by permission.
This page created March 2001