Food is an important part of my lifestyle. I spend most of my adult life earning for it, planning for it and looking forward to eating it (last one is especially true when having to study or at work). With so many amazing recipes all over the internet, we are spoilt for choices. But honestly, how many times do we have the discipline (or pantry stash) to follow the recipe or actually look it up well in advance? If it doesn’t fit my meal prep plans, the recipe just gets starred and saved, only to be forgotten eventually. Our life practically depends on meal-prepping and I do it religiously and meticulously. Also helps that I am an organising freak.
I began meal prep almost soon after getting married. I have never enjoyed cooking process per se. It is a chore and will always remain so, ugh. Any type of cooking requires some prep. And even when you decide to make a salad, it takes prep and chopping and what have you, of some kind. The peeling, chopping, dicing, slicing, dressing, offering my first-born to the food gods and turning three times..gahhd! The whole drama just adds up to 20-30 minutes for 2 people. Throw in the headache of also making lunchbox for next day and breakfast prep and you can say goodbye to your ‘me-time’ in the evenings.
Then you realise that you don’t have much time during the week days to ALSO fit a workout of some kind. So also bid adieu to fitness. Add being an Indian vegetarian with a predominantly flavour-rich and savoury taste preference in the mix-and you are pretty much doomed to wondering when your actual healthy habits will begin. You see how things snowball?
Kitchen helper* and I aren’t too fussy with the menu. We can make do with same food all through the week-having the same thing for lunch all week and other item for dinner all week and third for breakfast and so on. We mix it up by including Indian items which can be paired with accompaniments and eaten with roti or rice to change things and break the monotony. And there are always accompaniments with different permutations. Yogurt-plain or as raita*, salad, papad, pickle, chutney, all add flavours and moods to the meal.
I meal prep by making all the items for a coming week on Saturday/Sunday and freeze half of it. For people who want absolute variety for each day, making a menu and then chopping veggies or making bhoona masala* and freezing it, is the first step. Having a complete idea of what you would be eating at each meal all the days of the week is very important; including snacks. You can then plan groceries exactly and avoid wasting anything at all. It is just good sense. And it’s only painful the first time, to be honest (okay, I still hate planning, ugh!). But, once you get into the habit and you see how easy your life becomes through the week and how much peaceful fun-time you get after work, it is soooo worth it. Most importantly, it helps with keeping fit.
Find a way to plan by taking your meal patterns and cravings into account, and incorporating fruits in your diet. And by find a way I mean sit down and actually make the meal plan for the week. It is plainly as simple as that.
A few tips that have worked for me over the years:
- Always make bhoona masala for Indian curries and freeze. Because it is the most time-consuming part of Indian curries.
- Salad is important for each meal, so chop your veggies in an airtight container and toss all together with a dressing of choice for that week for each meal. Ready to toss salads almost always have weird ingredients in the dressings, so check carefully before you choose those.
- Same chop and store trick goes for stir fries too
- Peeling and chopping onions that you would need through the week, and keeping in the fridge, saves heaps of time collectively. Also I hate peeling and chopping onions. Enter kitchen helper*! Keep the chopped onions in an airtight container and you are all set!
- Frozen veggies and canned items are best avoided and that is easily do-able with planning your menu ahead and grocery shopping accordingly.
- Almost every dish you make, can sub unhealthy items for something healthy without compromising the taste too much. You just have to be willing to do the subbing by planning ahead.
- I find daily fruit recommendations to be crazy difficult to keep up with. So do consider adding a fruit smoothie to your diet because it is literally the easiest way to ensure fruit intake.
- Do not lie to yourself that an item is ok to pass as healthy. In our hearts we all know what is healthy and what isn’t. Sugar and preservatives are the enemy. Always.
- Bad foods can be rightfully categorised as CRAP
C = Carbonated drinks (all of the drinks so unabashedly promoted by movie and sports stars *face-palm*)
R = Refined Sugars (as seen in your granola bars *gasp*, sports drinks, chocolate milk, ready-to-add pizza/pasta sauces, ketchup etc.)
A = Artificial foods (As seen in your store bought items with these words on the label: MSG, corn syrup, artificial food dyes, artificial sweeteners, E621, sodium sulphite, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Identifying these is the most irritating because then you are the weirdo in the aisle who is actually reading the labels. But you can assume that your chips and snacks have these, also the cup noodles etc. type items and boxed pasta mixes)
P = Processed foods (As seen in your store bought breakfast cereals like chocos, tinned vegetables, savoury snacks, convenient ready-to-eat microwave meals, cakes, biscuits etc.) But not all processed food is bad though. We still heart cheese!
Basically, if it was too convenient and came prepared and ready to eat/add from a packet/jar/tin, then it is most likely not the healthiest choice.
That granola you buy, has some syrups for flavours. The ready to use pasta sauce has shitload of preservatives and oil and probably many words which you don’t exactly know the meaning of. In your head you will always know that store bought easy-to-use item, that is way too convenient, is probably not the healthiest option. And do not confuse hard gymming to be a legit reason to hit those sports drinks either. They are apt for elite athletes. If you are reading this, you probably aren’t one, so just stick to fresh juices and water.
I have personally never used Marley Spoon or other such popular services myself, but from what my good friends have told me, it just saves the effort of ‘deciding’ and grocery-shopping what to make; by no means is the actual effort cut down really. Especially if one wants to eat some actual cooking rather than boiled bland assortment (sorry, but for Indian taste-buds, potion-making-sorcery-level of cooking is the only acceptable method!). But when you don’t have time to grocery shop, opt for these services to still ensure waste-free healthy meals.
As we go ahead, I will share all my tips and tricks and very quick subs will be included.
Happy cooking (or tolerating it) until then!
Husband dearest is the best kitchen helper ever. And it significantly reduces our cooking time! It mostly includes me barking orders to bring out or keep away stuff, or wash and chop things.
Raita is simply mixing yogurt with different combinations of certain veggies, cucumber and onions being the most popular. Pineapple raita is slightly different but happens to be one of my favourites too. It’s like your flavoured yogurt but much better and filling and NOT boring. For real.
Bhoona masala, or some form of it, is the root of all that yummy gravy that curry has. According to many outsiders, curry is pretty much all that Indians eat apparently. Face palm.
Where’s the hygge?
The very obvious hygge for me, is the time I save all through the week and the comfort of knowing that each meal is ready for me to be consumed well in time. The time I therefore save to finish workout in peace, pursue a hobby, and do my own thing all evening long, is priceless.
Photos by Jack Mohr
Editing by me.
Also check out this post by Stephanie Vainer here that gives more ideas on how to meal plan!