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How to Avoid Menu Fatigue

Parul Solanki Mar 9, 2020
Menu fatigue is a common problem that assails people who have a restricted diet or have to sustain on limited rations. It leads to a loss of interest in food, and can be quite problematic in the long run. Here are some ways in which menu fatigue can be tackled.
Researchers from Cornell University and University of Hawaii-Manoa are trying to find "the lowest-cost and easiest way to give astronauts well-rounded meals without inducing menu fatigue." This will help NASA in planning a menu for astronauts in their next Mars mission.
Imagine eating at the same restaurant with the same old food choices day in and day out. Frightening, isn't it? Even the most delicious meals in the world when served everyday can lead to menu fatigue. Menu fatigue is a term used to describe a loss of interest in eating when there are limited food choices, or people are on a restricted diet.
Not many people can relate to this because most of the time we get a number of food choices at home or in restaurants which serve a range of cuisines. Menu fatigue however, can be problematic for soldiers in armies and astronauts who survive for months on the same rations.
Moreover, if they get tired of eating the same food or give up on consuming the daily nutritional requirement, their physical conditions could degrade quickly.
Menu fatigue is limited not just to astronauts and armed personnel, even the best caterers in schools and restaurants have faced this problem of people getting tired of the food choices available to them. Even at home, we get tired of restrictive food choices. To avoid menu fatigue, it is important to dedicate some time and effort in proper menu planning.

Ways to Avoid Menu Fatigue

Balance is the Key

It is important to strive for balance when planning the menu. Every consumer has variable food needs. By providing them a variety of food choices, or some different cooking methods, you can enhance their interest in food. With flavor and variety in food choices, it is also important to keep in mind the nutritional value of foods.
For example, a bland diet for children with non-fat healthy foods and milk can become boring for children. Adding simple spices like herbs and adding some high-fat food in the menu, once a week, will make a winning combination that is not only flavorful but also healthy.

Variety is the Spice of Life

While we are all creatures of habit, but a bit of variety in the food choices can make the menu interesting and also make the experience of eating much more enjoyable. Moreover, a variety of foods are needed to provide the body with adequate nutrition for sustenance. To add variety to the menu
  • Change the menu for the main course everyday. One day you can have beans, the next day you can serve chicken casserole or have sausage spaghetti. The choices are endless and in majority of the cases the dishes can be varied with very little effort and time.
  • Avoid serving the same type of food on consecutive days. For example, chicken lasagna, and meatballs and pasta.
  • Avoid planning your menu in such as way that you are serving the same foods on the same day every week.
  • Include different food types or a new, unfamiliar food. For example, instead of including pork or chicken as the protein source, use scallops or shrimp.
  • Try different cooking techniques like broiling, grilling, baking, pan-frying and steaming. These can greatly affect the end result.

Create Winning Combinations

When planning the menu it is important to include a range of flavors in the dishes. A menu which caters only to salty or sweet flavors can become boring in the long run. It is thus important to create winning combinations that have both sweet and salty flavors in the menu.
Some foods and flavors complement themselves quite nicely, like fish and lemon or wine and cheese.

Along with flavor the texture of food is also important. Foods are classified as hard or soft, based on how crunchy, crispy, chewy, brittle or mashed they are.
So, while combining food if you add a chicken gravy with rice and mashed pumpkin then the "all-soft" meal may not go down well with certain people. Instead create a combination of hard and soft foods like chicken with stir-fry vegetables to add a crunchy taste to the meal.

Colors and Shapes are Important

Food should not only taste good, it should also look good. This is based on the principle that people eat with their eyes, so appealing to eater's visual sense is very important .This can be done by introducing a range of colors to the dishes. Using too many foods of the same color like rice, cauliflower and white bread lacks any color contrast.
This can be avoided by combining white and light colored starches with yellow or green vegetables and brown-colored meat.

Adding garnishes like chutneys and sauces can also help in contributing to the visual appeal of the dish.
Along with color, the repetition of shapes like round balls or flat rectangular-shaped breads can be boring. Add foods that have different shapes or height (salad greens) to add variation to the meal.
Trying new recipes, creating an ambiance, plating the dishes attractively and planning each meal thoroughly are some simple ways in which menu fatigue can be avoided.

What About the Astronauts?

Although the above mentioned points can help in fighting menu fatigue in establishments like restaurants or schools, for astronauts and military personnel who have limited, often predetermined rations and almost no equipment, following these rules can be impossible.
Most of them have to survive on packaged meals that are made for a certain shelf life. While planning a menu for them it is also important to consider the following points:
  • Diversity like race, religion and beliefs
  • Medical needs (diabetic diet, food allergens or gluten free diet)
  • Lifestyle choices (vegetarianism)
  • Nutrition needs
  • Operational difficulties (lack of cooking equipment or fresh food)
Even with these hurdles in menu planning, there are some ways in which variety can be introduced in meals. Adding simple spices, avoiding repetition of food especially in packed meals, and using quality ingredients can help in avoiding food fatigue.
For astronauts on long-term space missions, prepackaged meals and the resultant menu fatigue can be a serious problem because their foods and dishes have to be canned and dehydrated to have a shelf life of more than two years.
To overcome this problem the Advanced Food Technology group is considering alternatives for alleviating menu fatigue for the astronaut's trip to Mars.
Since Mars' gravity allows visitors to boil water and chop vegetables, researchers are focusing on a greenhouse option where the astronauts can grow their own vegetables and cook them, allowing good nutrition and providing better meal variations.
Adding variety and flavor, while keeping the nutritional value in check, can be a challenge for menu planners. However, with appropriate assessment of the menu and in-depth planning, menu fatigue can be avoided.