One of the stupidest things in an earnest but stupid school of culinary thought is that each of the three daily meals should be “balanced.”
In the first place, not all people need or want three meals each day. Many of them feel better with two, or one and one-half, or five.
Next, and most important perhaps, “balance” is something that depends entirely on the individual. One man, because of his chemical setup, may need many proteins. Another, more nervous perhaps, may find meats and eggs and cheeses an active poison, and have to live with what grace he can on salads and cooked squash.
One of the saving graces of the less-monied people of the world has always been, theoretically, that they were forced to eat more unadulterated, less dishonest food than the rich. It begins to look as if that were a lie. In our furious efforts to prove that all men are created equal we encourage our radios, our movies, above all our weekly and monthly magazines, to set up a fantastic ideal in the minds of family cooks, so that everywhere earnest eager women are whipping themselves and their budgets to the bone to provide three “balanced” meals a day for their men and children.
This bugbear of meal-balancing is hard not only on the wills and wishes of the great American family, but is pure hell on the pocketbook. There are countless efficient-looking pages in “home magazines” each month, marked into twenty-eight or so squares with a suggested menu for each meal of the week, and then one supposedly tempting dish to prepare every day. The lead usually cries, “Let’s economize, Mothers! Here is how you can do it for only [\$4.00] per person! Try it, and help Uncle Sam!”
And then you start reading the familiar old routine: BREAKFAST, fruit juice, hot or cold cereal, scrambled eggs with bacon, buttered toast, coffee or tea or milk; NOONDAY MEAL, tomato soup, beef patties, mashed potatoes, lima beans, Waldorf sal… but why go on? It is familiar enough.
It is disheartening, too. Now, of all times in our history, we should be using our minds as well as our hearts in order to survive … to live gracefully if we live at all. And people who fought to know better keep telling us to go on as our mothers did, when it should be obvious to the zaniest of us that something was wrong with that plan, gastronomically if not otherwise.
No. We must change. If the people set aside to instruct us cannot help, we must do it ourselves. We must do our own balancing, according to what we have learned and also, for a change, according to what we have thought.
[I]nstead of combining a lot of dull and sometimes actively hostile foods into one routine meal after another, three times a day and every day, year after year, in the earnest hope that you are being a good provider, try this simple plan: Balance the day, not each meal in the day.
Try it. It is easy, and simple, and fun, and—perhaps most important—people like it.
At first older ones who have been conditioned through many unthinking years will wonder where the four or five dull sections of each dinner have gone to, and will raise their heads like well-trained monkeys after the meat course, asking automatically but without much real enthusiasm what kind of pudding there will be tonight.
The best answer to that is to have such good food, and such generous casseroles and bowls and platters of it, that there cannot be even a conditioned appetite for more, after the real sensuous human one is satisfied.
Breakfast, then, can be toast. It can be piles of toast, generously buttered, and a bowl of honey or jam, and milk for Mortimer and coffee for you. You can be lavish because the meal is so inexpensive. You can have fun, because there is no trotting around with fried eggs and mussy dishes and grease in the pan and a lingeringly unpleasant smell in the air.
Or, on cold mornings you can have all you want of hot cereal … not a pale pabulum made of emasculated wheat, but some brown nutty savorous porridge. Try it with maple syrup and melted butter instead of milk and sugar, once in a while. Or put some raisins or chopped dates in it. It is a sturdy dish, and better than any conventional melange of tomato juice and toast and this and that and the other, both outside and within you.
For lunch, make an enormous salad, in the summer, or a casserole of vegetables, or a heartening and ample soup. That is all you need, if there is enough of it.
And for dinner if you want to stick solemnly to your “balanced day,” have a cheese souffle and a light salad, or, if you are in funds, a broiled steak and a beautiful platter of sliced herb-besprinkled ripe tomatoes.
That, with some red wine or ale if you like it and good coffee afterwards, is a meal that may startle your company at first with its simplicity but will satisfy their hunger and their sense of fitness and of balance, all at once.
And later, when they begin to think of the automatic extravagance of most of our menus, and above all of the ghastly stupid monotony of them, they too will cast off many of their habits, and begin like you to eat the way they*want* to, instead of the way their parents and grandparents taught them. They will be richer, and healthier, and perhaps, best of all, their palates will awaken to new pleasures, or remember old ones. All those things are devoutly to be wished for, now especially.