“What to cook for dinner” is more than just a WhatsApp joke. It is a reflection of the busy lives of modern moms. And an even bigger question is, “What to cook for the kids tiffin box”? In the hassle of our average school mornings, we end up making what is ‘easy’ or ‘won’t come back untouched’. Planning meals ahead is a great way to ensure kids nutrition and an organized family budget. In today’s post, I share my tips and tools for planning meals for your family.
The Need for Planning Meals
A couple of days ago, I shared a link on social media about ‘How to add these super greens to your kids’ diet‘ from the leading Indian parenting portal Parent Circle. If you haven’t read it yet, do it now! It is an extremely useful article for Indian parents. Many of you even shared your ideas for incorporating healthy foods in your child’s diet. There are indeed some creative ways to sneak in some powerful veggies into your child’s everyday meals. But the issue got me thinking about why many moms are not able to actually put these creative ideas into action. A major reason for this is our busy mornings!
Busy Mommy Morning Scene 1
Here’s a typical morning scene from my own life:
The kids are sleeping like logs. Their alarm was helpless. I am making several trips to and from the kitchen to the kids bedroom, alternating between getting them ready and getting their lunch box ready. I also have to warm the milk and set it on the table along with cereal. I need to get the lunch box ready before my son needs help with his shoe laces and my daughter with her ribbons. And if the baby wakes up, I will need to look for a Plan B which I am not really sure if I have one.
I take one look the fridge and cross off these things –
- Brinjals – My daughter won’t eat them unless I prepare them the ‘long’ way
- Bottle Gourd – Will take a lot of time to chop
- Bitter Gourd – Both tiffins will come back untouched if I cook them unsalted
- Spinach – no time to wash and chop now
- Paneer – I am out of the ‘masala’ I use for PBM.
- Mixed Vegetable Sandwiches – No bread!
So, I turn to the pantry, pick up 4 to 5 potatoes and make a quick sabzi by ‘almost deep frying’ them and draining out the oil. While the potatoes cook to tender, I make the chapatis. The tiffins are packed in time and the kids reach the stop just as the bus arrives.
Mission accomplished! But I don’t feel very successful. My kids come back at around 4 o clock. Which means this is their lunch. And that is all the nutrition I have provided them with, for the active school day.
I sigh inwardly and resolve to cook something nutritious for dinner to make up for it.
Busy Mommy Morning Scene 2
My kids simply cannot get their eyes to open in the morning. They were probably fighting with each late at night after I dozed off thinking they had gone off to sleep. on one of my trips to and from the kitchen to their bedroom, I take out my prepped vegetables from the refrigerator and let them stand. Preparing the ‘lauki aloo’ sabzi is a breeze when all ingredients are washed and chopped. After the pressure cooker lid goes on, I make the chapatis, chop some carrots and tomatoes for a simple salad and keep one laddoo each in the lunch box.
All done, I go upstairs to hurry the kids further. Today, we have more time left and the kids even have time to sit down and read some news about a kids marathon in the city. My son glances at the meal chart on my fridge and reminds me, “Tomorrow is Palak Paneer, Mamma! Don’t you forget!”
I won’t. It is his favorite and the spinach is going be washed, chopped, boiled and pureed tonight itself. Won’t take long to prepare it tomorrow morning. All ingredients required to make it have been stocked in advance.
Why You Should Plan Meals
If busy mornings are not as big a concern in your family, here are some other reasons to plan meals ahead.
Proper Nutrition: Planning meals gives you the opportunity to feed your kids a variety of foods. Instead of repeating the same easy-to-cook dishes, you can actually bring variety and get creative with your recipes.
Time Saving: A lot of our precious time is wasted in deciding what to cook. Take out the guesswork and prepare a list of meals for a week in advance. It also saves the time spent in making shopping lists and actually shopping at the store.
Budget: Not planning ahead often results in a lot of wastage and unnecessary shopping. Planning meals gives you a concise idea of the grocery list. You can shop for, and stock all required ingredients in advance. It gives you a fair idea of how much you need to set aside for food.
Reduce Stress: Deciding what to cook tonight can really be stressful at times. With a plan of action, you can reduce stress and prep for your meal with ease.
Variety: Just check my one week meal plan below. This is only for one week. I have several more hardly repeating any lunch or dinner recipes. Planning ahead ensures different dishes for weeks!
How to Plan Meals
Here is an example of a simple planner that I use to plan my meals. This is a sample menu for one week. Download and print it or make a similar one yourself. Write down what you will make for breakfast, lunch and dinner and simultaneously, write down the ingredients for making them in the shopping list section, depending upon what you don’t already have.
Some tips to remember when planning meals:
1. Include all types of foods – leafy, root, legumes etc. Planning ahead gives you the freedom to cook almost any type of food.
2. Make a mark for foods that require longer preparation times like soaking overnight etc. You might have to start prepping for them a morning before (For e.g. Chhole – Soak in the morning – boil at night – they are ready to cook next morning)
3. If your kids do not like a particular vegetable, try a different recipe for it and prep accordingly. Like my kids most vegetables if I make them according to certain (really lengthy!) recipes.
4. Prep as much as possible the night before. I get my cook help me chop, puree, peel etc. in the evening. It is a very easy to just give all the ingredients a ‘tadka’ in the morning.
5. Plan interesting sides too. A little bit of sweet and deep-fried is not bad for health. In fact, planning meals make it possible to enjoy every guilty pleasure in a balanced manner. They are also important when a particular sabzi is not a big favorite. Like lauki or turai is accompanied by pakodas in my home 🙂
6. Make your preparations do double duty. For e.g. my sunday menu makes use of the same Idli batter to make dosa at night and then mini uttappams for breakfast 2 days later. Similarly, you can make extra onion-tomato puree for a couple of days. Some of the spinach puree made for Palak Paneer can be reserved for making spinach parathas the next day.
7. Take into account your activities during the week. If a particular day is going to be very busy, keep very easy recipes for that day. I keep elaborate recipes for the weekend.
8. Take into account your family’s eating habits when planning meals. Like in my home, we usually have heavy breakfasts and simple dinners.
9. Make your own recipe book of all recipes featuring in your meal plans. Write down all the different ways of cooking one single food item.
10. Be flexible. Having all items on hand makes it easy to switch from one dish to the other in case of an emergency. Sometimes you might have to make a change due to unforeseen circumstances. For e.g, leftovers might need to be recycled in the next meal. Or curdled milk might make an excuse for adding paneer bhurji to the next meal.
A little planning goes a long way! Planning meals has made my life easier as a mom. Do give it a try and let me know how it works for you.