When recipes say the prep time is XYZ minutes, they don't account for the time you spend thinking about what to cook. Would you agree that almost one third of your kitchen time goes in surveying your pantry and refrigerator and wishing you'd soaked or marinated something overnight?
That's why meal planning is so crucial for healthy eating and optimum use of ingredients in your kitchen. And for those who juggle multiple responsibilities, it can save you a lot of time and stress. Here are five sound ways to plan ahead for the week.
1. Use social media
We keep seeing interesting recipes on the Internet but none of them come to mind when you need some inspiration. Sounds familiar? Keep pinning tasty dish ideas on Pinterest or use another tool to collect recipe ideas. You could 'save' Instagram posts from chefs and food bloggers as well.
And don't forget that you can create playlists of IFN recipes on our Youtube channel as well! When you're bored of the regular stuff, all you need is to look at the collection or playlist.
2. Take an inventory
Set aside two time slots - one during the weekend and one during the week, for taking inventory of your kitchen and stocking missing items. You may find some neglected vegetables drying up in the refrigerator or a pack of brown rice you forgot you bought. Look for recipes that use the food items you have.
And if there are one or two additional ingredients, shop for them in advance. If there are certain power foods you want to include in your diet, buy them in advance so you're forced to find ways to consume them later. Make sure you always have healthy snacks, nuts, dried fruits, spices and herbs in your kitchen.
3. Prep during weekends
If you also hold a full-time job and have kids to take care of, weekend prep is absolutely non-negotiable. Draw up a menu plan for the entire week during the weekend and make sure all the ingredients and equipment required for those recipes are present in your kitchen.
Also spend some time chopping vegetables and melons, pre-cooking meat, sorting greens, de-seeding pomegranates, roasting nuts, grinding masalas and doing whatever else you can do in advance to ease the cooking and eating process during the week.
4. Make your food work twice as hard
There are so many dishes that can be re-purposed for the next meal in an interesting, healthy and tasty manner. Leftovers are certainly not always undesirable. For instance, extra brown rice leftover from dal rice can be turned into a simple pulao the next day.
Cut leftover roti into strips and toss with vegetables, spices and a little oil or butter for a creative breakfast. Mix leftover dal into roti dough and make dal parathas. The ideas are endless. If there's no time to cook before leaving for work in the mornings, make extra for dinner and re-purpose the same dish for breakfast.
5. Experiment with themed meals and world cuisine
Often, we get into a food rut because we're eating and cooking the same sort of food all the time. You and your family may love Indian food but there's no reason why you shouldn't teach yourself to prepare Chinese. Foreign cuisine dishes may look daunting but when you get down to it, you realise it's just a different kind of cooking.
Theme meals are a nice way to beat dinner table boredom. Enjoy 'fast food night' on Monday to beat start-of-the-week blues with some home-made pizza and garlic bread (use whole-wheat base, lots of vegetables and make the sauce yourself to keep it healthy).
Tuesday can be Thai day with easy-to-make yet scrumptious green curry and steamed rice. Sunday can be go-back-to-your-roots day with a traditional spread that brings out the best of your community's culinary heritage.