Eating home cooked meals regularly is the first step toward good health. As a busy mother, it can get challenging to provide wholesome homecooked food to your family every day. But with a little meal planning, it is possible to eat healthily and do so consistently. If you are starting on your own healthy and clean eating journey this year, these meal planning tips will come in handy.
BACKGROUND ON MY JOURNEY TO CLEAN EATING
I have always been deeply interested in food and nutrition. But I did not take cooking seriously until after marriage. Once we set up our home, I quickly took up the challenge of making healthy home-cooked meals.
This meant learning lots of new skills. I had to learn everything from how to cook something as simple as dal (lentils) in a pressure cooker to making more skill based meat dishes.
Thankfully for me, I come from a family of gifted cooks. This helped me understand the flavor balance required when preparing a meal. I continued learning new recipes as I got better at cooking.
Along the way, my own knowledge about the health benefits of plant-based foods was increasing. This lead to a change in our families diet and invention of new easy dishes that supported our busy lifestyle.
An important point to note here is that my husband is a great cook, more often better than me. This is a big help as we run our household. The more skilled cooks in the house the easier it is to whip up dishes in a jiffy.
Both of us are on the same page when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle at home and he pitches in and helps with weekly meal prep too.
At the time of writing this blog post, we follow a Flexitarian diet – Plant-based foods are at the center of all meals in our home, with a focus on reducing meat, dairy and processed food intake to a minimum.
Okay, now that you have a background on what we follow at home let me also tell you that every health journey is different. Be open to learning new things and enjoying the process rather than fixate on certain goals.
Here we go,
Easy And Healthy Meal Planning Tips
1. Build a recipe bank
In order to cook meals at home, you need to know how to make a variety of dishes. When I first started cooking, I maintained a recipe box.
Every time I made something that tasted awesome I would jot down the recipe and put it in a box. This box is what I call my recipe bank. I categorize recipes in my recipe box under the following headings – Breakfast, Mains, Appetizer, and Desserts.
Here is the recipe box I own.
Whenever I am running out of ideas, I quickly reference my recipe bank. The box looks good on my kitchen stand and acts as my go-to on days I am lacking inspiration.
You can use any other method to maintain recipes too. Bookmark a recipe online when you like it, make a Pinterest board (here is mine if you are interested in taking a look), save them on Google drive, or maintain a recipe book.
2. Build a pantry essentials resource
Ever since we started clean eating I started maintaining a word file on my computer with our favorite brands for pantry essentials.
In a country like India, finding clean eating friendly snack brands and organic groceries is a little bit of an exercise. Having a pantry resource list on hand helps when I go out shopping.
Here is a look at my personal pantry list. Always remember, if you like a brand when shopping , note it down in the notes app of your phone and have this list ready the next time you go shopping.
3. Build a weekly menu
Plan the weekly menu on a fixed day of the week. For most of us, it is Saturday.
Take stock of what’s in the fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what you have on hand before writing out your weekly meal planning ideas.
I usually make a meal plan on Saturday and use Sundays to shop and meal prep for the week.
Another time-saving tip is to order groceries online or ask a local farmer/vendor to deliver a weekly groceries basket home.
We use a mixed strategy; I order staples through a local organic grocer. We get weekly vegetables and fruits basket delivered home. Then whatever extras I need I shop on Sundays. This saves me a lot of time and effort.
Choose easy meal planning recipes. Recipes that can be batch cooked and stored or ones that are one-pot meals or under 30-minute meals.
I stick this magnetic weekly planner on my fridge so that the weekly meal ideas are available at a glance in my kitchen.
4. Make a grocery shopping list
Some staples on our weekly grocery shopping list are;
Grains: We use a variety of grains in our cooking. Different types of rice, millets, pasta, quinoa,
Lentils and legumes: A variety of lentils and legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, whole masoor, moth beans, black eyed peas etc.
Milk: Nut milk or Cow milk
Fruits: 3-5 different types of fresh in-season fruits. Sometimes more than this.
Vegetables: 5-7 vegetables for the week
Nut and seeds: Depending on what nuts and seeds we are running out of, we stock up on almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, flax seeds, hemp seeds. We also buy natural nut butter.
Dried fruit: Raisins, dates or apricots. I always have all or one of these in my pantry.
Indian gravy base ingredients: Ingredients like fresh coriander leaves, curry leaves, green chilies, dry red chilly, mustard seeds, cumin seeds are needed to make the Indian curry base.
Dry spice powders: Stock up on dry spices as needed.
Frozen peas, Tofu, and Eggs
Snacks or ingredients to build healthy snacks: We look for clean snacking options for the week, or buy ingredients that can help build quick snacks.
For our home its usually 1-2 packaged snack options (I select healthy options like lotus seeds, murmura (rice puffs), chana, or certain baked packaged snacks from our local supermarket). At other times we make clean eating friendly snacks at home like energy balls, energy bars, homemade chivda (rice puff based savory mix) or baked sweet potato.
Related reading : Easy snack ideas for lactating moms (Quick snacks that everyone can enjoy!)
5. Theme nights
You can add a theme night on some days of the week. For example, Thursdays as pasta night and Saturdays as soup and sandwich night.
This gives you something to look forward to and brings in variety to the weekly menu.
6. Plan a break
Meal planning does not mean you cook every day with no breaks. Plan a take-out night or go out for dinner as a family. The key is to add some fun to the routine, which helps you stick to eating regular meals at home.
We plan 2 family dinners every month. As a family, these dinners are an opportunity for us to bond with our son. We try different cuisines with him and introduce him to different regional and world foods.
7. Meal Prep
Sundays are meal prep days in our home. We go through our pantry and bulk prepare some of the foods we are running out of.
We make nut butter in batches and store 2-3 small jars of this homemade nut butter in the fridge. They last around 3 – 4 weeks in the fridge.
Other than nut butter, we make almond milk that we use in pancakes and smoothies.
Boil potatoes and store in the fridge. Boiled potatoes come in handy to make vegetable patties as a side with any meal.
You can even chop vegetables for the week and store them in the fridge.
When I am planning a busy week I prep and store mix of vegetables in an airtight container and these I will use throughout the week to add in omelets, stir-fries and rice dishes.
Keep flour mixes ready to make pancakes quickly in the morning. I fill a container with ragi and wheat flour ready to use in the mornings for breakfast pancakes.
Weekends are also a time to make dosa batters at home.
Clean and chop veggies and fruits. I usually clean off the skin of fruits like pomegranate and store in a large airtight container to use throughout the week during breakfast or as a snack option.
I also use whatever time I find in the week or on the weekend to make small batches of homemade snacks like energy balls, roasted makhane (lotus seeds), bake and store large sweet potatoes. Or make a huge batch of hummus that can be used as a dip and spread. These simple preparations help me eat clean snacks during the week.
8. Try new recipes
Both my husband and I are lovers of variety. We try new recipes or styles of cooking to keep things interesting.
This is the key to maintaining momentum with meal planning and eating at home. Chalk out a day or two each month when you try a new food or recipe.
9. Batch cooking
As a busy mom, you don’t want to be in the kitchen whipping up meals the entire day.
Cook in large quantities so that extra food can be used the next day as leftovers.
One trick I use frequently is, reuse leftover vegetables by mixing with boiled potatoes and make patties the next day. This way we have an additional side with lunch. Or I make vegetable patty wraps for lunch instead of a complete meal.
Batch cook foods like dal (lentils) that can be stored in the fridge and used over a period of 2 days.
Staples like quinoa, sweet potatoes, broccoli can be cooked, baked and steamed and stored in airtight containers. On busy afternoons these can be assembled to make a quick lunch budda bowl style. Here is a basic quinoa recipe for beginners.
10. Invest in good cookware and kitchen appliances
How can I talk about meal planning and not talk about some amazing tools you need to make meal prep quicker and easier.
Here are some of my favorite kitchen appliances. These are budget-friendly appliances that are also time-savers in the kitchen.
Chopper by Pigeon Best chopper to make chop onions and tomatoes.
Mixer-Grinder by Philips We use our mixer grinder for everything. This is the single most used appliance in my kitchen. We make Indian gravy bases, energy ball mixes, smoothies, and almond milk in this mixer-grinder.
Prestige Pan You can’t make Indian food, especially dal without a sturdy pressure pan. We own this pressure pan for 5 years and it is still in great condition. The only thing that needed changing was the inner rubber ring that wore out on constant use. Other than that in the last 5 years I had no issues with this pan.
Food Storage Containers I prefer rectangular shaped containers compared to the round ones. They take up less space in the refrigerator.
There you go,
These are all the tips and tricks we use in our home for meal planning. Hope this blog post inspires you to start regular meal prep and cook more often at home.
Do you meal plan for the week? What are some of your successful meal planning tips? Leave us a comment below.