It’s 5pm on a Tuesday evening, as a group of us busy moms stood swapping notes at swim practice.
As I gave a sigh of relief at the thought of my slow cooker bubbling away with our favorite kidney beans for dinner that evening, one of the moms mentioned that it was gonna be another take-out dinner evening for her family.
My next question, ‘what was on your menu tonight?’ was met with quizzical looks from the group.
So why do you need a Weekly Meal Plan? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of having one…
• It helps plan your weekly grocery store visit and save money.
• Lets you avoid eating unhealthful take-out food as an impromptu weekday option.
• Plan an entire week’s dinners once a week, instead of the daily grind of ‘what do I make for dinner today?’
• Helps ensure more balanced meals for the family with no repeats.
• Sets family expectations, so everyone knows what’s coming up for dinner.
These 5 handy strategies for effectively making a weekly meal plan will help set you off on the right track to hassle-free weekday meals.
1. A ‘Chicken or Egg’ situation:
Most people are left baffled by this thought: Should one plan the menu first and pick up ingredients as per a pre-set grocery list? Or is it more prudent to visit the grocery store or farmers market first and plan the menu around seasonal finds?
I say, balance it out; create a broad menu planning formula that works for your family. This is how mine has looked for the past decade with a few relevant tweaks as the kids have grown: Rice or pasta twice a week, Indian bread based meals twice a week, interspersed with a sandwich dinner once a week. Fish or meat on one day and vegetables on rest of the days; and at least once a week, my meal comes out of the freezer, giving a much needed day off cooking.
From here, follow the wisdom of this next tip…
2. Go seasonal:
If Brussels sprouts or butternut squash are in season, then work with those, and during summer and fall, incorporate more sweet corn and zucchini in your meals.
The supermarket produce section or farmers market will be your guide at this step. Keep in mind that unseasonal produce is always unreasonably expensive.
3. Raid the Pantry and Refrigerator:
Check the pantry for left over rubs, marinades, spices and sauces, before you plan the menu. A forgotten half bottle of rub or marinade can easily lead to lamb chops or kebabs served with saffron rice or couscous.
And don’t forget to glance at your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer; nothing says delicious hearty meal like a leftover-vegetables pulao.
4. Double the Effort:
Over the years, I’ve held on to two old mantras for menu planning: ‘pre-prep’ and ‘double the portion’.
If you’re cooking for one meal, it’s easy to make a double batch for another day. And ideally a grocery trip should end with washing and ziploch-bagging (I’m sure that is a real term!) the produce.
Over the weekend, chop and prep vegetables and marinade meats, as possible.
5. Support ‘Spontaneous Weekends’:
Leave weekends open and free from menu plans. This makes sure that meals are not always regimented and creativity comes into play.
From fun summer grilling weekends, to Saturday family movie nights with burgers and home fries; our family loves creative dinner discussions over the weekend (sometimes we have a too-lazy-to-cook-let’s-just-grab-a-pizza weekend.)
How Does Indian Food Fit into the Equation?
The make ahead nature of Indian food is my time tested favorite with limitless possibilities for weekday meals.
Swap out a few ingredients in most Indian preparations to create a completely new serving.
Plus Indian meals give the option of advance prepping a meal, without losing out on the freshness or quality of the food. Meats and kebabs can marinate refrigerated for up to 2 days, and most lentils, gravies and casseroles can be made in double batches, since they keep well for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and 2-3 months in a freezer.
My favorite Indian meal option is the magical one-pot Indian technique of making a weekday ‘Pulao’ by adding a couple of warm spices and desired meat or vegetables to steaming basmati rice.
Resources and Ideas for Making a Weekly Meal Plan:
Dishes like Parsi frittata– Papeta per endu, simple delectable kebabs, vegetable hash-Pav Bhaji and shrimp Patia often feature on our dinner plan, while couscous chaat and egg panini-toasties are a favorite on busy weeknights.
In addition, check out these great websites for planning family meals:
• Menus 4 Moms is filled with resources and meal planning ideas for busy moms and families.
• Plan to Eat offers a great online menu planning tool.
• Sign up at 100 Days of Real Food for a detailed menu plan delivered to your inbox.
• Food on the Table tailors a menu to your preferences, and sends it right to an app on your phone
Got some of your own thoughts and time-tested ideas for menu planning? Would love to hear them…