By Salima Jivraj
“What should I cook today?” Five words that make anyone who ‘gets it’ cringe.
This year is the first time I’m meal planning during Ramadan and it makes so much sense to do so because meal planning saves time. The more time you save in the kitchen, the more time you have to reflect, pray and make the most out of this month.
You can use this during any month really, but I highly recommend giving it a try during Ramadan as well.
Meal planning might seem like a long drawn out process and although I agree it does take some organization and change of habits if you’re used to winging it – but it pays off in heaps when you’re done. Once the groundwork is complete, it’s basically all repetition from that point and it will save you time and heartache. You’ll even find yourself getting creative with your meals as you find more time to get inspired.
Some people prefer weekly meal plans and do weekly groceries. After experimenting a little, I found monthly or a 5-week plan works best for me. I also limit grocery shopping to fresh foods only on a weekly basis and then grocery aisles once a month (I’ll explain this a bit later).
If you’re ready, it’s just brainstorm, plan, shop and go!
1. First step is brainstorming.
Gather the family and start listing off what everyone likes for dinner. This step is KEY. It allows you to be able to fill in your meal plan quickly and ensure you’re planning things the family will enjoy and eat. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just grab a pen and paper and start writing.
One tip is to do this activity with a friend or two. Get them to make their family list, and then swap lists. It’s so easy to fall into habits and get food tunnel vision. Seeing what’s on your friends list is a wonderful way to expand on what you’re making.
Plus, you have an expert to help you in case it’s complicated! I would aim for about 25-30 meals so that you can plan a full month of diverse and exciting meals for your family.
Now that you have 25 meal ideas, start planting them in the 5-week planner. I’ve attached mine as a sample (DOWNLOAD MEAL PLAN TEMPLATE) so you can see how I space out meals and give myself cooking “breaks”. I use colour-coded tags so I know what I’m up for well in advance. When I can see the month as a visual and everything is mapped out, I feel MUCH more relaxed.
I like the 5-week view and if you’re the creative type, you can create little icons to represent each of the following:
Meal Plan Month
Take out/Eat out – This is exactly what it sounds like. Personally I take more liberty with this at the end of the week when I’m drained. So I’ve blocked out alternating Friday’s and Saturdays with this icon as default.
Cook Fresh – This takes the bulk of my meal plan month and is where I plug in my menu items from the brainstorming activity.
Batch & Freeze – This is a cooking day on steroids. It’s when I cook, cook and cook some more. Then freeze in family sized portions so I can simply thaw and heat for a leftover/recycle day or an emergency.
Left Over/Recycle – This can be straight heating up of last night’s dinner or you can re-purpose leftovers to make a new meal. This can also be a something in the freezer when you did batch cooking.
I’ve colour coded each as a primary colour so you can use my 5-week planner easily with a coloured pen, pencil crayon, etc and just match up the colours with the corresponding tag. Make sure you print what the meal is beside each tag.
3. Go Shopping!
I do my grocery shopping on the Monday and Friday of every week. I only buy what I’m going to use before my next shop and I only purchase from the fresh sections of the grocery store – produce, bakery, deli (for things like cheese, dips, etc), dairy, meat and seafood. My rule on these days is to never go into the middle of the grocery store.
Why? Most traditional grocery stores are all set up the same; fresh around the perimeter and grocery/packaged in the middle aisles. By eliminating packaged grocery items to a once a month purchase, I’m either buying it in bulk or I am not using it as much at all.
Once you lay out your full month on the calendar you need to do an inventory to make sure you have everything you need to make all those things on your list. Whatever you don’t have gets added to your grocery list. The first grocery shop should be your biggest.
Side note: I am not a fan of stock piling. Most sale items are mostly always packaged or processed things – rarely fresh items! So you end up eating all of it because you bought it! It’s not a healthy practice.
Once this is complete, it’s now all about taking it one day at a time. The best part of this is you can switch things up as you go, nothing is set in stone. The point of a meal plan is not to schedule yourself in and lock up the key to one set way; it’s about being in control over your kitchen and finally your time!
I can’t wait to hear your progress with meal planning and please let us know if you have any questions!
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