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How to plan a Menu

5 May 2016

Most people find planning a menu the most difficult part of inviting people over for lunch or dinner. Actually it isn’t, it should be quite easy and smooth. Follow the steps in this article and you won’t have any difficulty in planning the menu for your next “3zouma”.

Start by identifying the number of guests so as not to make too much or too little food. If you or your guests like classic food, then this should be even easier. The classic dishes are well known and anyone can make them. But it’s nicer to try and make dishes that are not very common or traditional, you will be surprised that most of the guests will enjoy them. It is also nice to make a theme for your event in the house and table decorations like having a certain color or design as your theme. You can go further by having a theme for the menu like choosing a certain food cuisine (Italian, oriental, Thai,..etc) and choosing the same type of serving platters to match it.

There are two main approaches in composing a menu; first one is to have fewer items/dishes with larger quantities and second is to have a wide variety of items with small quantity of each. Never do both otherwise it would look bad, people would be confused and you will end up with a huge quantity of leftovers.


Menu components:




Main dish: meat, chicken, seafood

Side dish of carbohydrates: rice, pasta, vegetables, pastry, or wheat derivatives



Fresh fruits


Some dishes combine 2 categories like Fattah (it contains meat and rice), or pasta with chicken, or vegetables with noodles (they contain vegetables and noodles are considered light carbs). You can also serve some main dish and its matching side dish in the same platter like roast meat with vegetables or roast chicken on a bed of rice.


If you are inviting 8-10 people, this is the easiest; make a few items with small quantities. You should have:


1 salad

1 appetizer

2 main dishes (meat, chicken or seafood)

2 matching side dishes to the main dishes, mainly carbohydrates

1 vegetable dish

1 dessert

1 fruit item


For 15-20 people, you could go with the first approach and have the same items as above (menu for 8 people) with more quantities, or you could go with the second approach and make smaller quantities. It’s best to have:


2 salads

1 or 2 appetizers

3 main dishes

2 side dishes

1 vegetable dish

2 desserts

1 or more fruit items


Note: Here it would be smart to use one of the main dishes a combined dish like pasta with seafood or stuffed chicken with rice. If you don’t like to include seafood in a menu, replace it by a chicken or meat main dish.


General guidelines:


-          Start building the menu by first selecting the main dishes, then find the side dishes that match them. Finish with the appropriate salads and appetizers, and finally the desserts.

-          The menu items should have a variety of colors (red, green, brown, white, yellow,…) but are in harmony in texture and taste.

-          Salads should contain mostly greenery and other vegetables. Adding cheese or fruits to the salad has become more and more popular.

-          Appetizers are not supposed to be very heavy, remember they are just starters to warm up people to the rest of the food.

-          Main dishes should include a variety of tastes and cooking methods; one main dish with a sauce (white or red), the other is roast with gravy or brown sauce, the third is fried or grilled.

-          Side dishes must match the main dishes; this is their most important job. So if the main dish with a sauce, its perfect side dish would be plain rice or pureed potatoes. If the other main dish is roast, its perfect side dish would be roast or grilled vegetables or baked potatoes. If you have grilled or fried main dish, its perfect side dish would be pasta with sauce or stuffed vegetables.

-          It’s always nice to have one homemade dessert and a fresh seasonal fruit dish. A fruit salad with ice cream or a homemade pie is always a winner.

-          If you serve a cheese platter with its condiments along with the desserts or after them, you will be surprised at the great effect it has on people and the whole atmosphere of the gathering.