The Why, When and How of Menu Planning- All you need to know to create and adhere to your own personalised meal plan!
There are just 24 hours in a day. But the to-do list of most families these days has more than 24 items, doesn’t it? One needs to work, exercise, eat heathy, socialise , find time for hobbies, travel, be there for friends and family, care for the environment, visit the shrink/s once in a while and these are just basics for a family with two adults. Add to the mix young kids and the two-dos increase ten fold. Planning one’s day becomes an indispensable tool if anything needs to get done. Being a child of routine, planning my day came easily to me. However I really struggled in planning meals. I would make a meal plan and fail miserably when it came to adhering to it because it did not satisfy the greedy palate which craved for something different on most days. And the result? I wouldn’t meal plan and end up cooking the same old regulars because either I wouldn’t have enough time to think on busy weekdays or I wouldn’t have the right ingredients in the pantry.
Why I Meal Plan
“I” being the operative word here. Some reasons why I do it might be different from why you would like to do it but we all would agree that it makes life easier during hectic weekdays. I live in one of the most efficient cities in the world, work from home most days and I have a fairly flexible schedule with a full-time help. I also love cooking and trying new flavours/cuisines and so does my family.
So, my reasons to plan a weekly menu are:
- It helps me delegate the mundane and routine tasks to the help and frees up my time to focus on the more important stuff
- Grocery shopping becomes easier and efficient
- Ensures I rummage through the pantry stock and see whats expiring and what needs to be finished first
- Keeps me in control of what we are eating as a family even on the days I am not the one cooking . I try my best whilst planning that all food groups are represented in each meal and if not each meal, then at least each day and that we eat seasonal as much as possible
- Keeps everyone with different palates happy and even picky eaters will have something in every meal that they like ( do not expect overnight results though. It takes time to build good eating habits and with time and patience magic does happen)
- Different flavours and cuisines are represented and we eat and try much more than just delicious Indian food
When I Meal Plan
Sunday evenings, after the kids are in bed, is my time to sit with my planner and a hot cuppa. I set aside a minimum of 90 minutes to put it in black and white for, a rushed and quickly put together meal plan is a futile meal plan which would land up in the trash bin as quick. So, please do not rush it. Pick the time and day that works for you to devote your hundred percent to this activity.
How I Meal Plan
Some old, some new and borrowed few is my mantra. We have some family favourites that feature regularly in the menu whilst trying a few new recipes each week ( more because it is work and hobby for me) and I shamelessly ask friends for their tried and tested ones that we could include.
However if this is the first time that you are doing it, the following pointers may come handy :
- Pick your grocery shopping day and plan the menu around it. For me it is usually Monday which means Monday meals are fairly simple and with easily available ingredients in the pantry
- List down all your family favourites for all three meals, on paper, not just in your head.Remember when you write things down, your brain takes it more seriously and makes it happen. Sounds like too much gyaan? It isn’t! It is tried and tested and it works
- Pull out your favourite cook books or food blogs or recipes that have been on your “meaning to try” list and pick up to three recipes and write them down. Feel free to pick more than three if you think you or whoever is cooking will have time on hand during the week to try and make more new ones
- If eating seasonal is your goal, then make sure if not all, most recipes listed have ingredients which fit the bill
- Keep your social calendar handy especially if it involves eating out during the week
- If you have young kids and lunchbox needs to be sent, make sure to take that into account . For example : We as a family are trying to cut down on bread and eat more whole grains which means more Indian breakfast and lunchbox. But this also means prepping well the night before depending on how much time and help you have in the morning
- Take into account diet restrictions, if any and look for making one meal which even the family members with no diet restrictions can enjoy. Say for example , because my husband has a sedentary job and hence needs lesser carbs in the night , I will plan dinners around that
- List down the especially busy days– mornings or evenings and highlight them so you put something simple to put together on those days or use leftovers
- Celebrate leftovers! In humid Hong Kong food sitting in the fridge for more than a few days isn’t really the best to eat. So, we either control how much we cook or finish leftovers the very next day (or two) . It is one of the things I do before I go to bed- check what is left over so we can find ways to use it the next day. So, make sure you leave room in meal plans for those “hiding in a little box” yummies
- Communicate! I cannot stress this enough. Having your family on board would make it so much easier for your meal plans to be successful. Ask them what they would like in their lunchbox as their Friday treat or if the husband has been craving something specific. And remind them that you are trying to make them all happy- One day at a time! This means someone who doesn’t like to eat chicken, on a particular day will have to eat just rice and daal and maybe a small nibble of the chicken dish because his brother loves chicken and because he gets to eat his favourite fish the next day. This also motivates kids to try different things rather than saying an outright no without trying
- Remind yourself- I am only human! It is okay if your meal plan doesn’t look straight out of BBC Goodfood Magazine or any of those “50 best meal plans for You” websites. A plan which you can stick to and food that makes you and your family happy and satiated is the best one FOR YOU!
- Flexibility is the key. Allow yourself to be not married to the meal plans especially when you are starting off. It is okay to not adhere to a few meals due to a last minute social engagement or because you didn’t t feel like it. The idea is to make your life easy and not end up feeling stifled.This brings me to the last one
- Leave room for take-outs or eating out if that is something which you enjoy as a family. For example weekends for us are mostly doing things with friends and eating out, so some meals are not planned at home accordingly
That’s it! With all this infonnution (yes, I invented that one ! It is a portmanteau of the words, information and ammunition) up your sleeves, you are all set to create your very own personalised Meal Plan! It really is that simple! Remember to have fun with it!
Some of my go to blogs while making my weekly menu:
And last but definitely not the least here is what our’s looks like this week:
|BREAKFAST||Boiled Eggs + Toast||Cheese Dosa||Sabudana Khichdi||Idli||Tomato Uttapam||Poha with scrambled eggs||Frittatas|
|SMOOTHIE||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Blueberries , Flax Seeds||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Apple, Flax Seeds||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Banana , Flax Seeds||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Dates , Flax Seeds||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Strawberries , Flax Seeds||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Oranges , Flax Seeds||Celery, Cucumber, Baby Spinach, Cherries , Flax Seeds|
|KID LUNCHBOX||Spinach-Toor-Masoor Daal +Rice||Eggs & Veggie Fried Rice||Pasta in Spinach Sauce||Diced Chicken Meatballs Fried Rice cooked in coconut cream||Avocado Parathas + Red Bell Pepper Hummus||NA||NA|
|KID SNACK BOX||Dried Mango + Nuts||Cherry Tomatoes||Dried Jackfruit + Nuts||Celery Sticks + Hummus||Treat Friday- Oreos + Nuts||NA||NA|
|ADULT LUNCHBOX||Rice + White Matar Sabzi+ Salad||Baked Chicken +Stir fried string beans||Rice+ Rajma +Salad||Roti+Hummus + Stir fried Tofu +Salad Greens (DIY wrap)||Pan fried Sesame Salmon + Choi Sum stir fried||NA||NA|
|LUNCH||Rice + White Mater Sabzi+ Salad||Eggs & Veggie Fried Rice||Rice+ Rajma +Salad||Pan fried Sesame Salmon + Mint-Lime-Cucumber Salad +Sticky Rice||Avocado Parathas + Red Bell Pepper Hummus||Chicken Kebab Wraps||Leftovers or Eat out|
|SNACKS||Banana Muffin||Banana-Dates Smoothie||Cherry Tomatoes||Banana Muffin||Cherry Tomatoes||Crackers||Banana-Dates Smoothie|
|DINNER||Rice + Split Green Moong Daal + Bhindi||Pasta in Spinach Sauce + 3 Bean Salad||Chicken Meatballs + Rice + Yellow Moong Daal||Thai Style(in red sauce) Baked Fish + Bok Choi stir fried + Yellow Moong Daal+ Sticky Rice||Kadhai Paneer+ Bhindi Fry+ Mixed Daal+Rice||Leftovers||Aloo Parathas or Leftovers or Eat Out|