Saturday, August 02, 2008

Menu Planning for Non-Meat Eaters

I was looking around at menu planning sites today, searching for recipes to feed next week's house guests.

Houseguests make for difficult meal planning in the Sagemommy household. On one hand, I want to knock their socks off with my gourmet skills; on the other hand, I would like to spend some time with my family outside the kitchen. Then there's the ingredient issue; we are mainly meatless around here, but most Americans are conditioned to think it's not dinner without a slab of flesh taking up half their plate. I want to introduce people to the delicious fresh tastes of a Yakima summer, but I don't want them to go home grumbling. Also, my houseguests are highly allergic to, among other things, milk and milk products.

I've discovered that most meal planning sites either recommend rotating the most boring traditional American meals--as in Monday is spaghetti night, Tuesday is taco night, etc.--or they plan meals around meat, as in Monday we'll make something with chicken breast, Tuesday something with pork chops, and so on. All of these work wonderfully if you really, really enjoy traditional American foods. If. My houseguests happen to be my parents--a European/Jewish heritage stepfather, and a Middle Eastern/Central Asian/Eastern European/non-practicing Jewish mother who grew up in China. Did I mention they're Buddhist? Only in California...

Then I had an epiphany: why not plan meals according to cuisine type? As in Monday--Mexican, Tuesday--Thai, Wednesday--Italian, and so on. I started searching, and I found low-meat, dairy-free, budget-friendly meals from every nation I could think of on the web. I think this is going to become my new strategy. As a bonus, this plan made it easy to plan side dishes, as Thai food just begs for sauteed noodles and it isn't Mexican night without Spanish rice. As I am fond of pointing out, third world cuisine is generally cheap and easy to prepare, because they are even more strapped for time and cash then we are.

I plan to incorporate more adventurous cuisines into my family's diet this summer. It will keep us out of the sandwich/salad/fruit rut we seem to creep into when it gets too warm to properly cook. Don't worry; I'll share recipes as I find good ones.


Kitchen Mama said...

This is a recipe I found just as I had non-wheat/non-meat eating guests last week. I've made it twice now and it's really terrific, especially baked in the oven in a 9 x 13 pan at 375 for 35-40 minutes. Since living in China last year, we eat very little meat, too, so eggs have become a great staple. I look forward to hearing what you make!