Sunday morning, I'm on my second cup of coffee, with my menu planner spreadsheet open. It takes me a good 45 minutes to fill up the menu sheet with a week's worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner and lunchbox. Seems like a waste of precious Sunday morning hours where I could be putting my feet up and reading a book or watching reruns of my favourite shows, right? On the contrary, it's the best use of 45 minutes that makes my entire week stress free, at least in the kitchen department. I'll tell you why.
I am not a person I'll call super-organised by any stretch of the imagination. I'm at my efficient best when I'm rushing around at the last moment. With a kid that needs to be ready to leave home pretty early in the morning, I'd often be staring at the fridge at 6am, wondering what on earth am I going to put in his lunchbox that is healthy as well as tasty. While I can cook up stuff in 15 minutes, it is stressful as hell, especially when dealing with a sleepy, grumpy kid on the side.
It's also tough when you want to cook up an interesting dish for dinner and ingredients you need to cook that dish are just not stocked up. Elaborate dishes and impulsive cooking do not partner well. Sometimes I tend to run out of the utter basics like onions or ginger. So much for being a food blogger, right?
Since school opened in June, life is so much easier when I start Mondays armed with an excel sheet, and I can spend time focusing on work and other things. Here are the top benefits of a weekly menu plan that I have experienced. If you have any tricks up your sleeve, I'll be happy to hear from you!
- Time management - If you have an early start in the morning, keeping things ready the night before on the counter top, saves you a lot of time in the morning. When I'm running around like a headless chicken, I end up missing the salt jar in front of my eyes. Bam! 5 precious minutes lost in the morning. So whatever can be prepped the night before for the kid's lunchbox, I do it the previous night and it's smooth sailing in the morning.
- Combining chores - While this is a part of time management, it worth a separate mention. It saves a lot of time to combine common tasks, rather than do it twice separately. If I know there's bean soup for dinner and there's dal on the menu for lunch, I can well pressure cook them together in the morning and put away the cooked beans for the soup in the refrigerator until dinner time. I can even get the mirepoix for the soup chopped up and saved in an airtight box, when I use the food processor for some other dish during the day. Neither of this would have happened if I didn't know what I would be cooking for the oncoming meals. So you wash the chopper only once as against twice! Where's my lazy person of the year award?
- Eating healthy balanced meals - When you prepare a menu for a whole week, you can ensure that you are getting enough protein, healthy veggies and fruits. Especially for a vegetarian, it is easy to have carb rich dishes 3 times a day, but when I put things down in a sheet, I ensure I'm eating protein 3 times a day. For example, you can note down eggs for breakfast 3 times a week - and then you can decide whether you want to eat an egg sandwich, or boiled eggs or scrambled eggs.
- Getting kids involved - With the start of the current school year, my son started getting back food in the lunchbox. I don't stuff his box with too much food, so it was worrying for me that he's not getting adequate calories to tide over a long school day. As a way to getting him involved in his lunchbox planning, I asked him to write down a list of 5 things he wants me to prepare for his lunch. You'll never guess what he wrote. "Curd rice" 5 times! Funny, right? After a bit of coaxing, he did write down 4 other dishes that he likes and promised that he would eat his entire lunch.
- Kitchen economics - Ever since I've started shopping online for vegetables and groceries, I often make the mistake of buying way too much. How easy to go click-click on a kilo of that and a couple of kilos of this, and soon you have 8 kilos of vegetables sitting in the fridge for a small family of 3. Now, weekly menu planning works two ways to help this. When we prepare a weekly menu and then go about our shopping, it limits our buying to the things that we need. This ensures that half the fresh stuff is not languishing at the bottom of the vegetable crisper, only to end up in the compost pile. The other way to go about this is to ensure that you make the menu, keeping in mind the fridge and pantry items, on a first-in-first-out basis, or on the basis of perishability of the produce. For example, using up greens, lettuce and other delicate vegetables early on and leaving the root vegetables for later, as they will stay a couple of weeks.
While it is a bit time consuming initially, it does get easier and you can always repeat the same menu every few weeks. Check out the sample menu provided here.