Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Cookbook Review: 7-Day Menu Planner for Dummies – Save Money, Save Time, Improve Health — and Laugh

February 25th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Food shortages and skyrocketing prices weren’t on the radar last year when Susan Nicholson, RD/LD, wrote her new book, 7-Day Menu Planner For Dummies (Wiley Publishing, $19.99). But here we are – in a recession that requires all of us to pare wherever possible. Since the food bill in most homes, especially those with kids, is the biggest budget Hoover, it’s only smart to look for ways to eat more thrifty with lots less waste.

Garbage is money — and food

It’s a horrible statistic. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture reports that Americans from the farmers to the consumers, throw away 11 billion pounds of edible fruits and vegetables every year. Another study focusing on consumers only, shows that 12 percent of everything we buy as food is thrown away. It’s incomprehensible and should give most of us with a brain just a little pause.

Almost all of us over-shop, especially when shopping for a specific recipe. But others of us over-shop when doing the normal grocery-buying. Why? Because we shop without a menu or a plan, whether we do it weekly or daily or somewhere in between.

Enter the 7-Day Meal Planner

Nicholson is a dietitian and a food writer from Atlanta and can knock out a gourmet dinner for 20. But her real strong suit is knowing intuitively how “real” people eat. They do buy fresh fruit and vegetables – more and more – but sometimes eat frozen and canned vegetables. They buy meats on sale and sometimes rely on the cheaper cuts. They use bottled pasta sauces, dried pastas and shredded cheese. They buy frozen stir-fry vegetables in combination packages.

Most cookbook authors are hopeful you’ll find one or two recipes in a book to justify its expense. Many have egos involved and don’t offer suggestions for substitutions, short cuts or budget-friendly foods. They write for a gourmet cook – in reality, a small percentage of the population. Many of those buy books to read – not to actually cook from.

But Nicholson writes for busy mothers juggling a family of four or six. She writes for the fixed-income retirees, looking to stretch their food dollars. She writes for the crazed professional who eats out of take-out cartons for three days and goes out the rest of the time, or the newlyweds who haven’t got a clue where to start planning and cooking every day.

In short: She writes for everybody who has a kitchen and wants to make it more efficient, more cost-effective and as a bonus, healthier.

How to plan meals


First, Nicholson walks the reader through meal planning and explain why it’s so beneficial. In her casual, witty style (she refers to her husband throughout as “the Virgo”) she explains her formats – most of her recipes go together in 30 minutes or less. She teaches the readers how to come up with their own menu plans that fit their households, food preferences and budgets.

The premise behind meal planning is to make a dinner become more than one meal, a few times a week, either by making two of something or using leftovers differently. She combines not just homemade foods, but those supplemented with store-bought things like desserts or salads.

In Part 2 of the book, she offers an entire year of weekly menu plans, with her tested recipes. She describes it as “365 days of no-stress menu planning.” The menus are arranged seasonally – making best use of what’s in the market and likely on sale. It’s smart and thrifty to pick the week that corresponds to the real calendar year, or one near it, to cook from.

Recipes are short, smart and have nutrition information for every one of them. There are plenty of meat-based recipes, but just as many vegetarian ones – and all can be converted either way with her suggestions.

Part 3 details all the tips – from cutting back portions, to substitutions for ingredients that make it all come together, shopping in bulk, during sales, buying generic, and buying the correct amounts. She then lists foods for better health. Also here are great last-minute recipes that she calls her 10 “emergency” recipes. Finally – for our cooks across the pond, she gives a metric conversion chart for measurements and cooking temperatures.

From a newspaper column

The book is based on Nicholson’s popular 7-Day Meal Planner newspaper column, sadly, circulated in fewer papers today because of the print media’s decline. It was one of the most popular food features that appeared in The Palm Beach Post. Readers continue to email me to find back recipes that appeared in that column.

The book pulls all 52 weeks of recipes in one place, and the reader can pick and choose and combine to their tastes, time and budgets. It’s almost a guarantee that cooks of all types can find recipes here, and if they follow her advice and plans, they’ll save enough from their food budget to make up the cost of the book and put money in the bank.

This is a two-thumbs up book.

Meatloaf for everyone

Nicholson includes this recipe as one of her emergency go-to ones – based on her own mother’s recipe. It freezes well – make two or more at a time!

Mom’s Meatloaf

  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey or vegetarian substitute – or a combination
  • 1 whole egg
  • 3 egg whites
  • 4 cups flake cereal (bran, cornflakes), crushed
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 8-ounce cans no-salt added tomato sauce

Microwave the bell pepper and onion in a small glass container on high 4 minutes. Drain; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the onion, pepper, ground meat, whole egg, egg whites, cereal, pepper and 1-1/2 cups of the tomato sauce. Mix thoroughly but lightly.

Divide the mixture into two round loaves with an indentation in the center (use a glass or your fist, pressing into loaf). Brush both tops with remaining tomato sauce.

Wrap one loaf in heavy duty foil; label and freeze for up to 3 months. (To defrost, remove from freezer and place in refrigerator the day before cooking.)

Place the second loaf in a shallow glass baking dish with a rim; cover with with waxed paper. Microwave on high 9 to 12 minutes or until internal temperature is 160 degrees. Let stand 5 minutes. (Alternately, bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done throughout.)

Makes 2 meatloaves; 4 servings each.

Per serving: 310 calories, 28g protein, 14g fat, 5g saturated fat, 16g carbs, 103mg cholesterol, 163mg sodium, 3g fiber.

Tags: Cookbooks new and old · Jan's Favorite Things

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Cal Sturdy // Oct 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I just purchased the 7 day menu planner book, was happy to find recipes for each day of the year, similar to her newspaper column . However was disappointed that many of my favorites from the articles were not there. Wish she would write an encyclopedia, covering every menu for the many years she wrote. I would be one of her first buyers.

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