On the Table

Customize meals for family

CORRESPONDENTSeptember 14, 2011 

There's an old saying in food service: Aim to please the majority of the people the majority of the time.

But what about when the people you're serving are family members? How can you consistently please your toughest customers?

One approach: Customizable meals.

Even within the same family, people have different food preferences that can make it a challenge to plan a meal everyone will eat. Trying to make meals that are appealing and healthful is a bigger hurdle.

Meals that can be customized have the added benefit that they tend to be quick and easy to prepare.

Start with a base - something plain that most people like - and let everyone add additional ingredients. Here are some examples:

Build your own burrito or taco. Begin with whole-wheat flour tortillas or taco shells and black beans or refried pinto beans.

Set out an assortment of separate toppings such as chopped onions, lettuce, tomato, mashed avocado, mashed sweet potatoes, salsa, plain yogurt or reduced-fat sour cream, grated, low-fat cheese, and soy-based ground meat substitute.

Pasta. My favorites are bow tie or rotini pasta.

They're easier than long noodles to eat, and it's also easier to mix in and evenly distribute added ingredients such as steamed broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, onions, black olives and mushrooms.

It's not difficult to serve two pasta sauces. Basil pesto and marinara sauce, for example, can be served separately or combined.

Serve pasta plain and let everyone take it from there.

Sandwich wraps. Start with whole-wheat flatbread and let everyone add his or her fillings of choice.

Spreads such as hummus or black bean dip go well with Greek "tzatziki" yogurt sauce, minced cucumbers, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, parsley and black olives.

Baked potato bar. Serve optional toppings such as chili, thick lentil soup, chopped broccoli, salsa, chives, reduced fat sour cream or cottage cheese, and ground black pepper.

For a change of pace, start with a baked sweet potato and set out cottage cheese, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, raisins, and cinnamon for toppings.

Entree salads. Hand out dinner plates piled with mixed greens. Serve the greens with optional add-ons such as dried cherries, chopped walnuts or slivered almonds, chopped fresh vegetables, three-bean salad, pickled beets, croutons, garbanzo beans, black olives - whatever you have.

Leftovers from any of these meals can be easily stored and used again later.

Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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