Plan Your Family’s Menu Like a Restaurant

After more than 10 years in the food service industry, my sister and I have decided to open our own restaurant together. Since then, I’ve been involved in every level of bringing it to life – from fundraising to marketing to recipe-testing – and that’s all on top of my everyday mom mode. Now that I am officially a “restauranteur,” I realize that my decade of motherhood and has actually prepared me quite uniquely for menu-planning. Like a restauranteur, I have been mapping out, tweaking, and serving menus all along (for hangry children, mind you) but many of the concepts are still the same. I’ve taken a lot of cues from parenting as I meal plan for my restaurant. And now, I take a lot of tips from restaurant meal planning and apply it in my home kitchen with my kids. Here are my favorite ways to use smart restaurant meal planning at home.

Begin with Some Bites

When kids (of any age, really) are at the table, it’s always great when restaurants open with complimentary starters, right? A bowl of peanuts, a basket of bread, a bucket of popcorn make all the difference in calming the whole crew. Use this same logic for meals at home. When I was a kid, my dad always offerd a small plate of cheese and bagel chips for noshing while he and Mom put the finishing touches on dinner. Now, I offer a small bowl of popcorn for my own kids. When it’s gone it’s gone, but the snack brings everyone together and cuts down on all the “when is dinner going to be ready, mom!?” while I finish food prep.

Plan Ahead to Control Costs

Like an executive chef, consider value, budget, and waste in planning family meals. Always seek out seasonal produce that is easily accessible where you live. Keep dishes simple and centered around those super fresh ingredients. Make as much homemade as you can, and make extras to stretch into lunches and additional dinners later in the week. Always plan to use every “scrap” too; minimize waste by crafting stocks (it’s way easier than you might think!) and soups and salsas and salads with the leftover bits and pieces. All of the above absolutely will keep costs reasonable, and they’ll help cut how much time you spend in the kitchen too. For example, if you roast a couple chickens together with vegetables, you can get a dinner or two out of the breasts and white meat. The first night can be chicken breasts and veggies. Make broth from the whole chicken leftovers. The next night, you can stretch the rest of the white meat in a gravy for chicken and biscuits, pot pie or chicken noodle soup. The leftover dark meat can go into chicken salad, a wrap or on top of a fresh garden salad for lunches that week. With a little bit of pre-planning, it’s amazing how many meals you can get from one protein!

Give Everybody a Job

Once a menu is in place, divvy up the responsibilities it takes to get it to the table. Every night I assign a different job to each member of my family. One child sets the table, another kid pours drinks, and we take turns on the roles of music selection, plating, and serving. Depending on the recipes on the menu, we even take turns playing chef from time to time. Sharing the work eases the load of suppertime prep, teaches my kids respect for the folks who work in restaurants, and, most importantly, it instills in my family the important concept that we are a team.

Offer Sweet Incentives

You know, dessert! When my kids know that the possibility of dessert is on the table, I can leverage it for proper manners and get them to eat a full plate of green vegetables. So, I tap into this thought process at home too! On Sundays, I bake a batch of cookies or a sheet of brownies to last the week of suppers ahead. For extra special nights – or particularly stellar manners – I offer to make the goodies à la mode (and if they’re really awesome, I deliver dessert with a flair-infused song to boot).

Cleanliness Is Key

Regardless of any menu anywhere, cleanliness is imperative. You would never eat at a restaurant with questionable standards, right? So you shouldn’t run your home kitchen with questionable standards either. Tidy up after each meal, and don’t even attempt the next one until the kitchen has been cleaned. Teach your crew to do dishes, sweep floors, and wipe down surfaces. Set a high standard from the start, work together to make it so, and after a while, it will simply become second nature.


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