Planning a dinner menu can feel like a daunting task. Some days I can’t even think of anything new or creative, and we resort to the arsenal of recipes I’ve made before (which is safe but boring). My advice? Don’t waste time searching for new recipe ideas without first having a clear vision of what you want. The neat thing is you don’t have to create fancy, complicated, or time-consuming menus to achieve unforgettable meals. You just need to prepare smart ones. Here’s how:
Think About How You Want Your Guests To Feel
I never, ever want to walk away from a meal stuffed. Even stuffed with great food is a bad feeling and results in a restless night’s sleep. Don’t overwhelm your guests with too many choices, but offer enough options so they feel spoiled. My default for a family-style meal is a light appetizer served on a small plate, leaving guests hungry for the main dish. Then I serve a substantial protein with a vegetable or two, a salad or two, and possibly one starch (if I’m serving bread I omit the starch, too heavy), followed by dessert. If the main was light, dessert can be more decadent.
A Good Dinner Menu Is a Work of Art
The food on a plate should work together harmoniously. So, think about the color, texture, and richness of each item. Maybe something green is a necessary addition for color and crunch. And always choose the right starch — for example, rice may be better than potatoes if you’re serving a main dish that’s drenched in luscious sauce. Also, make dessert complement your main meal — like a light Lemon Mousse after a filling chicken dish or a substantial cake or pie after lighter fare.
Consider Flexible Adaptations of Recipes You Already Know
I’ve stopped chasing complicated new ideas and techniques that require me to purchase new equipment, search for convoluted ingredients, or think too hard about how to prepare a dish. Dig into what you’ve already mastered already and make it pop by changing up seasonings, ingredients or styles of presentation. Learning to flip your yummiest recipes is the key to food freedom.