Planning the Perfect Portions

Many times in our constantly busy lives, we take random decisions to overcome sudden situations or survive hectic schedules. When it comes to food, random decisions only exacerbate our problems in the long run. The habit of creating weekly or monthly meal plans can help us in many ways.

Here are some reasons why having a meal plan is important:

  • Guarantees a healthy family diet: A meal plan gives you the chance to think about which food groups you could combine for your family and when. This ensures that your family enjoys a variety of well-balanced meals throughout the week.
  • Caters to specific dietary needs: Meal plans enable you to think and share ideas with family members so you can cater to picky eaters or anyone who has specific dietary requirements for health purposes.
  • Saves food and money: With a meal plan, you would have already made conscious decisions to only buy products that are needed in your plan. This means you will avoid making quick, impulsive decisions at the supermarket that waste both money and food.
  • Saves time: A meal plan will save you time because your list will incorporate leftovers and dishes you have frozen – making you more prepared and more likely to use leftovers and the dishes in your freezer rather than run in panic to the supermarket.
  • Reduces stress levels: Finally, as you start to notice that you are saving money and time and are more organized, you will feel more relaxed and less stressed when it comes to your meals. Why stress over food when you know what to prepare every day and already have the ingredients for it?

 

Now that we have established the importance of planning meals and portions ahead, here are some tips on how to build a meal plan:

Tips & Hints

How To Build A Meal Plan

  • First and foremost, find a good time when you will not be interrupted to sit down and think about your meal plan.
  • Make a standard meal plan for 10 days, two weeks or even a month, if you like, and include in it all daily meals including snacks and kids’ school lunches. The plan can be repeated (i.e., like a standard template) as much as you like with minor modifications each time. Remember, having a routine makes taking decisions easier and quicker, helping you to save time in your busy life.
  • In your plan, think about including leftover recipes and prepared meals from the freezer. Also, include enough portions so that you can cook double and freeze half for later times. Do not forget to account for days when you and/or the family will be eating out.
  • Food with short storage life should be placed first in your meal plan.
  • Think thoroughly about calculating the correct portions. Remember, you may not get the portions correct the first time; so throughout your first attempt, ensure to record what went right or wrong in your portions to adjust them the next time you repeat the meal plan. Perhaps you can even create your own portion list and hang it in the kitchen for reference. Also, check out our party portion-planning tool that could help you calculate the right portions – whether for parties or just your family. [To Web Developer: insert link to Party Portion Planning Tool]
  • Plan your meal plan around your and your family’s schedule. For instance, place meals requiring longer preparation hours on less hectic days and quick easy meals on busy days.
  • Make conscious decisions about your family’s meal plan: where do you want to take it in terms of nutrition? How can you link it to your budget? For example, how do you want to improve your meals? What needs to be modified or excluded altogether to limit the budget?
  • Another example is your approach to meat and fish as they are expensive ingredients. Perhaps you would like cutting costs by planning a number of vegetarian days per week. Also, you can tailor your list in a way that includes one or two days per week where you eat leftover meals from the freezer.
  • Include your family in the planning process as they may have particular preferences or dietary needs. One idea is to stick your meal plan to the fridge so all members know what is for dinner and make their own suggestions. Including the family will bring them with you on the same page. After all, preserving food should be a collective thing.
  • Include contingency plans for days when you have guests or family gatherings so you don’t end up pressured when you’re least ready. In this regard choose dishes with ingredients that can be used for a number of other dishes as well. Also, since you never know exactly when you will need these ingredients, make sure they are the types that can be either put in the freezer or which have a long shelf life.
  • Don’t forget to include snacks and school lunches for the kids in your budget and plan.
  • Ramadan approaching? Plan ahead for the holy month! Remember, quick random ideas for a meal will always consume more money, time and most of all nerves! You don’t want to spend those last hours ahead of iftar in complete panic. Creating a routine in advance will ensure that you have a manageable and civil hour before iftar and will also reduce food waste – all of which are important values of Ramadan.
  • If you are cooking for a big gathering, especially for a Ramadan iftar, then instead of squeezing in all the cooking preps on the day of the feast, prepare vegetables a day ahead. This reduces the occurrence of food-wasting mishaps such as burning food under pressure. It also gives you space to utilize food in the best way possible rather than throw parts away or look for quick, but expensive, solutions. For example, on the day preceding the gathering, it would be a good idea to cook the eggplants for musaka (a Mediterranean vegetable dish), to cook the margoog (a Saudi vegetable and meat dish) or edam (vegetable stew), or to prepare the hummus (chickpea spread). In fact, some of these dishes taste better the second day since the herbs and flavours have had more time to settle in well. Just ensure to cover ready-in-advance dishes properly when placing them in the fridge.
  • A two-week or monthly meal plan works the most for families as they eliminate food waste and save time, money and effort. In a one-person household or in cases where individuals have unpredictable working hours (medical staff, aviation, etc.), perhaps shopping daily or fortnightly is a better approach since you buy only what you need for those few days. However, even in these circumstances, having a good idea of certain recipes and their ingredients can be a helpful guide when shopping. Also, having ready-to-eat small portions in the freezer come in handy for those with unpredictable schedules.