Meal Planning! Do you want to step up your game and embrace a whole new dimension in housekeeping this year? Well, let me share a little secret, have you ‘meal planned’ yet?
If not, let me tell you, Meal Planning is the number one thing to get more organized at home.
Wait a minute, did I hear that right?
Well, well I get you! The first time, I heard the word, I thought it was only meant for “the perfectionist” weirdo’s (no offense!).
Growing up in, a small town in South India, where we literally grew most vegetables in the garden or bought it from the fresh vegetable vendor who rolled his cart outside our front door, meal planning was unheard of in my world then.
Honestly, to this day, I cannot unsee our maid running to the giant curry leaf plant in our backyard to grab fresh leaves for seasoning/tadka while the oil warmed on the stove top. That’s how “organic” we ate our meals those days. No planning was involved, just right out of the garden into your plate.
Fast forward a few decades, these days, I get emotional when I spot a fresh curry leaf pack in our local Indian grocery store with two or three twigs in each pack.Organic has taken a whole different meaning altogether, and I am still learning the ropes with “meal planning” …….getting better at it, each passing year.
So what does this mystery word ,“Meal planning” mean and why is it “all popular” in the world I now live in?
What is Meal Planning?
In simple terms, Meal Planning is asking the “What’s for dinner?” question once, for the whole week.It holds a world of meaning, especially if you live in regions where winter happens and sticks around for half the year, literally.
Especially on those evenings when you have driven through crazy traffic stuck in snow and desperately prayed to get back home to a hot meal.More so, if you are the Momma shopping, planning and executing the meal, all in a day’s work.You learn to compartmentalize time and spend it as efficiently as possible to save your sanity, time and money ( not necessarily in that order!).
In other words, instead of grocery shopping last minute and prepping the ingredients just before cooking (that was so yesteryears!), you smartly plan ahead for meals…..and that is, in short what Meal Planning is all about!
Meal Planning, is a game changer! Spending a few minutes filling out our meal planner once a week will transform how you run your household.
Grab our FREE Weekly Meal Plan Template here now or by clicking the image below...
Note : If you love Indian food and enjoy home cooked meals, then Meal Planning takes it to a whole different level. Why? Simply b’coz, as delicious and amazing as the food looks and tastes, there are many steps involved in cooking Indian food. If you want to eat tasty Indian food, you better be ready with all the ingredients before you get started, lest the flavors drastically differ from the authentic taste.
What are the benefits of Meal Planning?
- Makes for healthy choices -When you buy seasonal produce, it not only costs less but because it is abundant and in season, you are also bringing home healthy nutritious food for your family and you, by shopping smart.Meal planning let’s you plan ahead for busy and not so busy nights.No more last minute takeout stops or expensive ready meals.Cooking from scratch is a great way to manage your health goals. Both take-out and pre-made meals from your local grocer are going to have more fat, sugar, and sodium than the same foods cooked at home.
- Reduces waste -You buy only what you need for the week, when you buy just the essentials and the specials.This reduces food wastage and guilt of finding something buried deep in your refrigerator or pantry, you had forgotten all about, thus saving you dollars.
- Makes grocery shopping a breeze – When you know exactly what you want to buy. When you get organized before you hit the grocery store, you won’t buy food you don’t need. Since you already have an idea about what you plan to cook that week, you will know what you need, what ingredients you already have in your pantry and see what’s on sale. You will then make an efficient grocery list for only what you need and not walk around the store aimlessly adding things to your cart you don’t need. Our E-Book : Grocery List for Indian Cooking, has a complete list of ingredients you will need each month for your cooking needs.It has user friendly check boxes for you to make a note of what you already have and what you need to buy, so you can plan and budget efficiently. Grab your copy now by clicking on the image below.
Read all about, How to make an easy and effective grocery shopping list? in our blogpost here.
- Saves your sanity – Yes, your sanity is valuable too and worth every minute you spend meal planning. When you plan out your meals every week, you’ll feel less stressed. No frantic runs to the store, hoping to find dinner inspiration in one of the aisles.Instead, you’ll be able to enjoy the drive home! You won’t have desperate moments rummaging the pantry to see what you can come up with in the last minute, as a quick fix dinner. You will breathe easy knowing you already have everything you need for dinner.
- Saves your time – Have you ever had instances were you are trying to come up with a recipe, after rummaging through your refrigerator and pantry ? Just when you thought, you got it figured, that one key ingredient is missing? Time to run to the store or on second thoughts why not pick up ready meals (b’coz you are running low on energy?).It’s the worst feeling, to loose time and money at the same time. Instead when you meal plan, though it takes a little time in the front end, it saves so much more day to day. It is totally worth it.
- Saves money – Meal planning helps you plan to buy what’s on sale, seasonal and in the specials section for the week, saving you money.No more random purchases of things you might use because they seem like a good idea in the moment.By planning, you’ll spend less money and waste less food.A win- win, both ways! Meal planning also helps you beat those drive-thru and snack machine temptations.Keeping some nonperishable snacks in your car and at work helps keep the munchies under control, saving you your hard earned money to put towards money goals.
- Adds variety – It may seem like meal planning is rigid and boring, but statistically, families are more likely to eat the same meals over and over if they don’t meal plan. Meal planning allows you to ensure variety and avoid falling in to the trap of eating the same five meals over and over again.
How to create a meal plan that works?
Many a time we hear others saying, ” You should meal plan! It will change your life!” But how exactly does one make that happen? Let me explain, Meal planning is not hard once you get the hang of it.It just takes a little time while you figure out what works and what doesn’t for your family. Once you do, it saves you so much time, energy and money.
Here are 7 ways you can create meal plans that actually work.
- Keep it simple : Each family has their own favorite meals, make a list of your family favorites.Weeknights are busy so keep the recipes simple, plan the extravagant time consuming ones for the weekends or special occasions. Aim to build up a list of around 30 dinner recipes. Then simply rotate these meals every month.
- Check you calendar : Look at your family’s schedule for the week. What days involve late nights and limited (or no) cooking time? What’s going on this week? Do you have to work late, do you have plans for dinner with friends, or kids sport practice? Which days are busy school days needing fast breakfasts and easy lunches? Meal plan based and tweak as necessary.
- Make time to meal plan before the week begins : Dedicate an hour on Friday or the weekend to go through your refrigerator and pantry. Make a list of items you have have and those you need or are running short. Write it down on a piece of paper or on your phone or laptop.I generally have magnetic erase boards in my kitchen, where I write down any ingredient I am running short, so that when I go grocery shopping next, I click a picture of it on my phone and go out and buy.This habit saves me time to go through the pantry all over again on the weekend.Try whichever method works best for you, to save valuable time.
- Consult your budget : It will help greatly when you break your monthly grocery budget into weeks.As you meal plan, keep your grocery spending within what works for your budget. And if you spend more than that one week, you’ll need to tighten it up another week.
- Look at sales ads and coupons: Plan your meat and fresh produce purchases based on these discounts. Because they can get pricey otherwise! Plus, stock up on sale-priced pantry and frozen items you could use later in the month.
- Pick a fixed time and day to go grocery shopping in the week : Having that fixed grocery day forces you to keep on track with meal planning, pantry checks and budget tracking. It all starts with setting a weekly grocery date and sticking with it. For us we plan on Friday, go grocery shopping every fortnight on Saturday morning (less crowded), and then use an hour or so on Sunday for meal prep.Usually when you go early the produce is fresh, you pick from your list and head home in 30 minutes sharp. Mind you, this is no time to go off script, so stick to your list and you budget and you are in and out in no time. Click here to get our grocery shopping list for Indian cooking, and you’re good to go! Our blogpost on creating an effective grocery shopping list will help you with this step a lot, you can read it here.
- Cook things you and family really want to eat: Do not get distracted with some exclusive recipe pics you see on the net and have no clue what they taste like and spend hours trying to get it to taste right. Cook the ones you enjoy as a family.
Smart Mom’s meal prepping hacks
Whaaat? There is still meal prepping to do? Wait, before you dial the local takeout number, let me give you a few smart and easy hacks that will make dinner time a whole lot easier for you. Promise.
- Invest in good quality food containers : The ones I recommend are glass containers where you can see through what is stored inside.They keep food fresh, last longer and make leftovers look way more appealing. Ziplock bags and aluminum foil help store portion sizes depending on the food you want to store in them.
- Wash, Chop and Pack your Veggies Immediately : Plan to wash, chop and pack your veggies and fruits immediately on returning home from the grocery store ( make time in your weekend schedule for this on your grocery shopping day!).
- Bring out your crockpot for those cold winter evenings: Driving to get home through crazy traffic and heaps of snow usually makes one “hangry”.Thinking of cooking a meal when you get back home only frustrates you further. Crockpot to these rescue! Dump your ingredients in the pot before work and come home to a delicious (almost) done for you soup or meal.Sit back and enjoy your warm meal by the fireside.
- Cook once, eat twice : Double up on some recipes and freeze the extra batch.While cooking an India menu, when you cook dal once, you can have it plain, in sambar or rasam, spreading it out for multiple days in different varieties.
- Foil Packet Dinners are amazing! Individually wrapped portions that you can prep ahead and bake in the oven or cook on the barbecue.Get the kids involved with this one. Like Chicken drumsticks or Chicken stuffed buns try any one of these, this week.
- Revive stale Bread : Bread a little crusty and stale to eat? No problem, try using old bread to make Bread Upma, sprinkle some water while cooking, it will taste like fresh out of the oven.
- Freeze leftover fresh herbs in butter : Don’t let those expensive fresh herbs wither on the kitchen windowsill or go waste. Rather save them for later by chopping them up, popping them in an ice cube tray, top with olive oil or melted butter and freeze. To use, just add to a hot pan until the oil cooks down and is ready to add in a curry.
- Wash berries in vinegar to make them last longer :You can extend the life of fresh berries and grapes by giving them a bath in 1 cup of vinegar and 3 cups of water before you put them in the fridge. This clever little trick kills any mold spores and bacteria that speed up the decay process.
- Use stress free, time saving kitchen tools : Some kitchen tools/gadgets are worth spending money on like the immersion blender, kitchen aid, blender saving you so much stress and time by making the work easy for you.
- Repeat and rotate your meal plans : Once you make a list of your family favorite meals and create a meal plan ( say 6 or 7 of them) you simply rotate and repeat.
- Theme Nights : They make meal planning that little easier.Biryani on weekends, Dals on Tuesdays, Seafood on Wednesdays.Knowing what to make each day of the week simplifies meal prepping. And the kids love it too!
- Smoothies and Fruit juices for breakfast : On busy mornings you can throw in some fruits and oats into your Nutribullet or juicer , and sip it on your way to work and hand the kids theirs while dropping them off to school.
What meal planning is not?
- Entirely home-cooked : Some days it is perfectly OK to eat out, make sure you mark you calendar for those days you don’t have prep meals.Pizzas and chaats are always welcome!
- Just for families of four: Meal planning is for everyone. You just tweak and employ different strategies depending on the number of people you’re planning for. Whether you’re flying solo, a family of two, three or four it fits everyone’s lifestyle.
- Expensive: When you plan smart and do it well, this practice will save you money. Try it for yourselves to know!
- A lot of work: Not true. You do a bit of concentrated work up front, but it’s smooth sailing once you begin to work your plan.
- Inflexible: There’s so much room for experimentation, quick revisions, and customization in meal planning. It’s not set in stone.
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The Bottom Line
Meal planning is not difficult, but it’s not easy either, when you are a beginner.You are well on your way already, if you showed up here wanting to make life calmer and easier for you in the kitchen.
Every time you go through the process of meal planning you will learn what not to do, the places where to improve on next week, what you can skip, and how to customize the entire practice to fit your needs. Continuing to do it only makes you better.You did it once, now go on, do it again!
Now that you know all about meal planning and how it will help you big time in organizing your day, eating healthy, saving dollars and leading a stress free lifestyle, hope you will incorporate some of our helpful tips in here. You can always tweak and tailor it according to your needs, it’s not the holy grail.
We would love for you to share your comments about how our post helped you in establishing routine meal planning for your family’s needs in the comments section below.
We are open to any suggestions you have on meal planning from your own treasure chest too! Each day we learn and that is what sharing and growing as a community is all about here in SMSS!
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- Do you want to step up your game and embrace a whole new dimension in housekeeping this year?
- Reduces waste -You buy only what you need for the week, when you buy just the essentials and the specials.
- Time to run to the store or on second thoughts why not pick up ready meals (b’coz you are running low on energy?).It’s the worst feeling, to loose time and money at the same time.
- Meal planning helps you plan to buy what’s on sale, seasonal and in the specials section for the week, saving you money.
- No problem, try using old bread to make , sprinkle some water while cooking, it will taste like fresh out of the oven.
- : Some kitchen tools/gadgets are worth spending money on like the , , saving you so much stress and time by making the work easy for you.
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