Four Factors to Consider When Planning a Menu

By Donni Jones

The goal of caterers, chefs, personal chefs and the like is to provide enjoyable, delicious food. One tip for making this happen is careful menu planning. After all, a menu is not just an appetizing list of food; think of it as a grand plan for satisfying your diners. Consider all relevant factors when creating a memorable menu.

Chinese chef smiling, portrait
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Gourmet lamb shank meal
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Follow up the entrée, side and vegetable with dessert for a complete meal.

Striving to provide a well-rounded meal is always a good place to start. Usually, this consists of an entrée, side dish, vegetable and dessert. Plan your menus around this four-item standard. For example: pan-seared chicken breasts with mushroom sauce, buttered noodles, snow peas and black cherry sorbet. Or three-meat lasagna, garlic bread, garden salad and vanilla ambrosia. Both of these examples would make wonderful dinner menus.


Lamb dish with vegetables
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Create menus that combine color and texture.

Make sure your menus mix things up a bit. For example, baked fish, mashed potatoes, steamed cauliflower and rice pudding may sound like a good menu, but it would be a visually boring, all-white meal. Food should be appealing to the eyes, too. So add some color with a menu like baked fish, roasted red potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower and fig-raisin rice pudding. And consider texture as well. Turkey medallions, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and brownies is a good menu, but all the foods are soft and creamy. Add some crisp and crunch with pan-seared turkey medallions, oven-fried potato wedges, corn and tomato salad and walnut-fudge brownies.


Kobe beef, piquillo peppers and spinach over sauce
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For an elegant wedding, serve fancy food.

Consider the type of event you're cooking for. If it's a professional dinner party, a formal banquet or an elegant occasion such as a wedding, then upscale fare is a good idea: veal cordon bleu, steamed potato fingerlings, grilled ramps and black cherry frangipane tarts. On the other hand, for an informal book club meeting or backyard get-together, more casual repast would be apropos, such as chicken and veggie kabobs, southern potato salad and strawberry shortcake.


Marinated pasta salad
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If clients are watching their waistlines, prepare low-fat menus.

Perhaps your clients have a special diet that they follow, such as low fat, vegetarian or vegan, low carb or kosher. Perhaps they have medical conditions or allergies and cannot eat sugar, eggs, gluten, salt or dairy. If so, plan your menu accordingly. A sample menu for vegans is portabella mushroom steaks, wild rice, green beans, strawberry applesauce. A sample menu for low-carb dieters is bunless bacon cheeseburgers, sesame noodles, roasted turnips and lemon-lime gelato.