The art of planning and combining is one of no small importance to the housewife or cook. The very best foods may be combined or served in such combinations as to bring distress to the digestive organs, and produce weakness instead of strength.
Because human beings differ so much and their needs are so varied, it is impossible to lay down any set of rules on diet for all alike. But there are general principles by which everyone may be guided in matters of diet, and which, if heeded, can accomplish more for the individual or family, in maintaining a healthy condition of the body, than all the doctor's prescriptions.
It is therefore important for those who have to plan for the family to have a working knowledge of the principles which guide and direct in making out a balanced menu. In the first place there should not be a great variety at any one meal. Several articles of food at the same meal work up fermentation, and the food does not nourish the system.
While perhaps all can not eat the same foods (and it might be well always to plan so there can be some individual choice in the matter of foods to be eaten), yet a very common error, and one that is so often committed with none but the best intentions, is that of loading the table down with every possible variety of food. True, the same dishes prepared in the same way should not appear on the table meal after meal, and day after day. The food should be varied, and the cook should plan to have different foods served in different ways so as to have the table always looking fresh and inviting.
A great variety at one meal encourages overeating, bringing distress and feebleness in its train. Overtaxation of the digestive organs is a bad form of dissipation, and is said to be the cause of more disease, whether directly or indirectly, than is caused by all alcoholic dissipation combined, the latter very often being due to the former.
There is no little truth in the statement made by an English surgeon, Dr. Abernethy, that, "One-fourth of what we eat keeps us; the other three-fourths we keep at the peril of our lives." While this statement may seem to some to be somewhat exaggerated, yet it is a well known fact that most of us eat more than we really need for the proper sustenance of the body; and when carried to the extreme, the energies of the body are dissipated in ridding the system of a dead weight of surplus material. While the cook can not be held responsible for the course of individuals in these matters, yet it is within his power not only to plan the meal in such a manner as to encourage right habits and thus alleviate suffering, but, being guided by sound principles, can make the work educational in character. Soft foods, several articles of food at the same meal, and hasty eating or bolting of food, all lead to overeating.
Then again it is not well to eat fruit and vegetables at the same meal. Fresh fruits are very easily digested in the stomach, a sweet apple being digested in the stomach in from one hour to one hour and a half, while many of the coarser foods require from three to four hours or more for their digestion in the stomach. When these are taken together, the fruits, mixed with other foods, are kept in the stomach for such a long period of time that they ferment, and the formation of vinegar or alcohol is the result. Acid fruits and coarse vegetables, as roots and tubers, are an especially bad combination. Many people, who think a certain food does not agree with them, often learn that the trouble is not with the food, but with the combination in which they have been taken. Tne finer vegetables, known as the fruity vegetables, as squash, tomatoes, peas, corn, etc., can be used by most people where a fruit dessert or fresh fruit is served, and these principles should be taken into consideration in all our planning.
Grains, fruits, and nuts are a good combination; also grains, or cereals, vegetables, and nuts. It might be well to say that while grains and fruits are a good combination, it should be remembered that to pour acid fruits over rice, bread, or any starchy food to soften it, not only hinders the flow of saliva, but the acid of the fruit so neutralizes the saliva as to hinder the digestion of the food in the stomach. If starchy foods be thoroughly masticated first, and the fruit eaten afterwards, then the food will be in a condition to be easily acted upon by the digestive juices. The free use of milk and sugar taken together works untold harm and should be avoided. Milk and acid fruits are a bad combination, and should not be taken together.
Then there should be a simplicity about the preparation of food; a nicety that should appeal to the finer instincts of people. Complex mixtures and highly seasoned foods ought to be an insult to a healthy, normal stomach.
Nature has provided an abundance of natural flavors in the different foods which do not irritate the delicate organs of digestion, but which have a pleasing effect. Food should be prepared and served in an appetizing manner, and should appeal to the sense of sight as well as to that of taste. The sight and smell of pleasing food starts the flow of the digestive fluids, while disagreeable odors and sights hinder it.
Many people make themselves sick by thinking continuously about what they eat, and fearing lest it may not agree with them. The secret of good digestion is thorough mastication; this is the part over which we have control. This settled, together with the proper combination and preparation of food, we are to choose those things that experience and sound judgment tell us are the best suited to our individual cases, and eat them with joy and a thankful heart, and then forget all about the rest. Nature will do her part faithfully if left unencumbered.
In making out a well balanced menu, there is need to consider not only the properties of the food but its adaption to the eater. rood can be eaten freely by persons engaged in physical labor which must be avoided by those whose worn, is chiefly mental. then again, we should always plan so that, as far as combination is concerned, we shall set before people foods that combine well together. Suppose, for instance, we should have vegetable soup first; most people will no doubt partake of it when it is set before them. Then we have already started them on a vegetable dinner; now, should we have a fruit salad or fruit dessert, with perhaps other coarse vegetables, it is very apparent there is a lack of judgment on the part of the one responsible. Such mistakes can be avoided without inconven ence when making out the plans, by putting a c earn of peas, or tomato, or other liAe soup, instead of the vegetable, whenever fiuit is taken into the combination. While it is true that people need not partake of everything before them, yet there are some things most people will use, and these things should always betaken into consideration while making out the plans. We should always plan so that the soup, the relishes, and the dessert, if any, shall harmonize as far as combination is concerned; and if fruit, as fruit salad or fruit dessert, is used, there should be at least one of the finer vegetables, as tomatoes, squash, corn, etc., to choose from; and at another time, when fruit is omitted from the menu, we may plan a good vegetable dinner, in which any of the coarser vegetables may be combined with some dish in the form of grains, legumes, or nut food.
In seeking to supply foods that will give proper nourishment to the body, we should avoid the extremes in both directions; on the one hand that which tends toward an impoverished diet, and on the other hand that which brings into one meal too many heavy, highly concentrated foods. Fresh vegetables, especially the coarse vegetables, contain a large proportion of water in their composition. These vegetables of themselves would fail of supplying proper nutrition to the body. But when served with the more solid foods, as grains, legumes, nuts, or nut foods, they furnish bulk to the food, anH are rich in mineral matter. Perhaps one of the more solid foods, rich in nutritive value, together with other vegetables prepared in a simple manner, would give variety and amnle choice for most people.
The following suggestive menus will help to illustrate the working out of some of these principles.