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Meal planning 101 – Check out this essential guide to meal planning Indian food and learn all the tips that’ll help take the stress out of making homecooked meals.
If you prefer eating homemade meals to frozen food, this meal-prepping and planning guide is for you. Learn all the tips and tricks to make cooking weeknight meals a breeze.
Many of us who grew up in India might find the concept of leftovers unfamiliar. Why? Two main reasons:
- Most middle-class families in India had the luxury of affordable labor, ensuring daily help with cooking or at least assistance with chopping vegetables.
- India’s warm climate meant we usually cooked just what was needed for the day, as food tended to spoil rapidly, even with refrigeration.
When you are used to fresh homemade food, all hell breaks loose when you have to travel abroad for work or studies. Suddenly, you’re the chef, sous-chef, and the dishwasher all rolled into one. Add in the pressures of long work hours, seemingly endless commutes, and kids’ packed schedules, and the luxury of a fresh homemade meal every day starts to feel like a distant dream.
Having gone through the same grind, I have some tips and tricks for you that’ll help you cook homemade food without waking up at the crack of dawn.
What is meal planning?
When it comes to meal planning, everyone has their own style.
Some folks like to plan, shop, prep, and whip up all their meals over the weekend, turning the weekdays into a simple reheat-and-eat affair. Others, meanwhile, might prep and shop on the weekend and churn out fresh meals every day from the prepped ingredients.
Personally, I’m in the second camp because I like cooking fresh food every day.
Irrespective of which method you prefer, here are the steps to follow –
Step 1 – Meal planning
Let’s begin with planning first.
Note: In this post, I’ve focused solely on dinner options to keep things simple. Begin with planning just one meal daily. Once you feel you’ve got the hang of it, the same strategy can easily be applied to other meals.
Here’s my weekly meal planning process in a nutshell:
- Start by categorizing – think dals, biryanis, pulses, curries, side dishes, rice dishes, and one-pot meals. Add your family’s favorite recipes under each category.
- Assign a theme for each day of the week. Use the categories above to pick a theme, and then, for each day, pick one recipe from that category. Here’s an example of a 7-day Indian meal plan.
- Monday – Dal (E.g., Rasam, Sambar, Dal Fry, Tadka Dal + side dishes with Rice or roti)
- Tuesday – Potatoes or any other vegetable side dish (Dum Aloo, Aloo methi, Aloo Matar, etc.) + dal or roti
- Wednesday – Paneer (E.g., Palak Paneer, Matar Paneer, Paneer Makhani, etc.) + Roti or rice
- Thursday – Pulses (E.g., Channa masala, Chowli, Rajma, Mung, etc. with rice or roti)
- Friday – One pot meal (such as Vegetable Biryani, Khichdi, Pasta)
- Saturday – Seafood (E.g. Fish Curry, Shrimp Curry, Shrimp Biryani)
- Sunday – Chicken (Curry or Biryani) with rice or Parathas
- Load your meals into meal planning software such as Prepear (affiliate link) and generate your grocery list, or you can grab my 4-week meal plan. The other option is to use an Excel meal planning template and update it weekly.
- Make a shopping list – Make sure to check for existing ingredients in your pantry. Here’s a helpful article that will guide you on how to track your pantry items and create a grocery list efficiently.
Step 2 – Meal prep
There are several chores that you can do over the weekend to make weeknight cooking less time-consuming. Here are some things I do over the weekend to plan for the week.
- Chop vegetables and freeze them – Ever tossed veggies because they began to spoil before you could use them? Here’s a pro tip: dice and freeze! Beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and okra (bhindi), among others, retain their flavor well when frozen. I use frozen veggies most of the time for side dishes such as beans poriyal, cabbage poriyal, bhindi do pyaza, etc.
- Make curry sauce – This basic onion-tomato sauce is a life-saver. They store well for a week in the refrigerator (and freeze well too). It is a versatile sauce that you can use as a base for curries, including Makhani gravies, chicken curries, and even dals. Here’s a detailed post on how to make and use curry sauce.
- Chopped onions – When I am not using curry sauce, I keep a week’s worth of onions chopped in the refrigerator. While the onions are being fried, I use the time to cut tomatoes, mince ginger/garlic, etc. Also, it is a rumor that stored onions turn poisonous.
- Peeled Garlic – You can either buy store-bought peeled garlic (available in Costco or most grocery stores) or peel them over the weekend.
- Roti dough – Roti dough stays perfectly well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. You can always make extra dough and store it in the freezer. For detailed instructions, read this post on how to make and store the perfect roti dough.
- Homemade ginger garlic paste – Don’t like the taste of store-bought ginger garlic paste? Make a big batch of homemade ginger garlic paste (or ginger paste and garlic paste separately) and refrigerate for a week. Need it to last longer? Blend ginger and garlic, freeze the paste in an ice-cube tray, then transfer the frozen cubes to a Ziploc bag or freezer-safe glass container. It’ll keep for around a month!
- Coriander chutney – Whip up some coriander chutney over the weekend. It pairs wonderfully with many breakfasts and snacks and retains its zesty flavor for several days. For bulk batches, freeze and store it just like the ginger-garlic paste method mentioned earlier.
Equipment needed for meal prepping
Here’s a list of my preferred tools that I use to work in the kitchen efficiently
- Instant Pot or any Electric Pressure Cooker – Any stovetop pressure cooker is fine, too!
- Blendtec Blender or Vitamix – A high-performance blender is worth every penny. I use it to make everything from sambar masala powder, smoothies, and even idli batter.
- Immersion Blender
- KitchenAid Stand Mixer – It is really handy for kneading chapati dough.
Want to take a peek into my kitchen? Here’s a list of all the equipment and tools that I have in my kitchen.
Note: You don’t need all of these tools, but they do shorten your chopping and cooking time considerably.
- You can store your frozen veggies in a freezer-safe Ziploc, but I prefer these glass containers.
- Mason jars – These are perfect for overnight oats and chia pudding.
New to Indian cooking? This complete guide to Indian cooking is a comprehensive post that will get you started in no time!
Helpful meal planning resources
- How to stock your kitchen – Learn how to create a master grocery list, track your pantry items, and have a well-stocked kitchen to cook delicious meals anytime you want!
- How to meal plan – A detailed guide on how to start meal planning.
- Meal themes – how to use them – Check out these 20+meal themes to help you create delicious meals that your whole family will love.
- How to meal prep Indian food – Meal prep is the secret behind stress-free weekday meals. Learn how to meal prep like a pro, even if you are a beginner.
- Pantry staples – Considering meal prepping? Make sure you have a few pantry staples always available in the kitchen so that you can meal prep whenever you have time.
- 30+ tips for meal planning success – Review these easy-to-follow tips and strategies that will help you meal plan and prep like a pro.
- Out of milk app – Learn how to use your phone to track your pantry items and create shopping lists by store.
Meal planning is designed to simplify your cooking routine. If things don’t go precisely as planned, give yourself a break. Consider designating a day for leftovers or your favorite takeout. Remember, flexibility can be a key ingredient, too!
Before I sign off, let me quickly mention the meal planning app I use – Prepear.
Meal planning app
Prepear is an app that allows you to easily organize your recipes, plan your meals, and create your grocery list.
While I have my recipes and meal plans on Prepear, you will also find 10,000+ recipe ideas from other bloggers. Meal planning has never been this easy.
Find out more at Prepear.com.
This post was originally published on January 19th, 2019, and was updated on April 03, 2020, and October 03, 2023, with new information.