How to Come Up with a Weekly Meal Plan

How to Come Up with a Weekly Meal Plan

In What Would Nigella Do we explore the basics of cooking and being comfortable in a kitchen. The title is a hat-tip to our favourite home cook who approaches cooking with resourcefulness, practicality, and most importantly, a sense of humour. Although this is a series that may appear to be directed at beginners alone, it is also for that cook who makes the perfect pavlova, but never seems to get that pot of rice right. In the time of MasterChef and molecular gastronomy, we are sometimes a little sheepish to ask the seemingly obvious questions. When faced with such a dilemma, we ask ourselves, What Would Nigella Do?

One of the main challenges of cooking for yourself is making a meal plan for the week. When you have a full day of work, and can only step into the kitchen at 8 pm, you have neither the time nor the inclination to come up with an exciting meal on the fly. I’ve tried getting around this by stocking my fridge with as much fresh produce as I can, but this isn’t a good idea because most of it tends to go to waste if it isn’t consumed fast enough. Although I had grand ideas of eating a different dish every day for dinner, each one inspired and with a new undiscovered ingredient, the reality has been that I have reached for Maggi noodles or ordered takeout more often than I am comfortable admitting.

It’s taken me several months of false starts to get an idea of how to go about planning for the week. A few things are crucial – prepping for the week ahead over the weekend, having a decently well-stocked pantry and a making a few base meals that you can riff off of and don’t mind converting into new avatars and eating over the course of the week.

One of the most obvious options is roast chicken - there is a reason people make roast chicken on a Sunday – because with a little foresight and stretching, it can feed you for 2 extra meals excluding the stock that can be used to make some simple yet spectacular soups.

A few ideas for a base meal are: roast chicken/beef/lamb, a filling like tuna that can be used in pasta, sandwiches and salads. A tomato sauce that can be used in a soup, pasta or even to make pizza. Hummus, chimmichuri or even some salsa are great to have on hand to spruce up a dull meal.  

A few things to have in your pantry/ fridge at all times:

Canned beans* (I’m going through a phase where I’m obsessed with cannellini)
Tinned tuna
A leafy green like lettuce, baby spinach or pak choy
Dosa batter
Frozen shrimp

* I never make hummus with canned chickpeas.

A guide to weekly meal planning

Here’s a week’s worth of meals (mostly) from scratch to get you started:

Sunday: The base for most of the meals during the day need to be prepped today. Marinate a 1 kg chicken with soy sauce, a little bit of ginger garlic paste and butter and roast it until the house smells like heaven . A roast isn’t complete without some mash, especially with a dash of miso. Remove the bones from the chicken and make broth. Shred the remaining chicken.Sautee tinned tuna with chilli, curry leaves and garlic – the most delicious filling for pretty much anything that needs a kick of umami. Mutton stew is the simplest curry from the Mappila repertoire and easy to pair with most flatbreads. A good ‘just-in-case’ to have lurking in your fridge.

Monday lunch: Mix the mash with some flour and egg, shape into disks and fry to make latkes. Eat with a baby spinach and tomato salad that has been tossed with lime juice, olive oil and seasoned aggressively.

Monday dinner:  Shakshuka is one of those healthy meals that is both delicious and easy to put together. Add some bell peppers, and cous cous to keep things interesting. Pour a little bit of the chicken stock into the tomato sauce to help it along.

Tuesday lunch: Tuna sandwich is one of those things that my mother fed us when she couldn’t think of anything else, and it is still my go-to meal when all else fails. It’s easy to put together, and with some instant pickled vegetables (mix julienned cucumber and carrots with some vinegar salt and sugar), it makes for an impressive sandwich with minimal effort.

Tuesday dinner: Cannellini soup with the homemade chicken broth. Few things in the world are as simple or as comforting. A little olive oil, and garlic and this is the simplest feast for one.

Wednesday lunch: A chicken and rice casserole for one that is a little more laborious than a regular weekday lunch, but it is worth it. Rice cooked in broth, layered with shredded chicken and a béchamel sauce and baked in a low oven until the panko topping is golden and the béchamel underneath is bubbling away. Because one of my goals for 2017 is to eat more vegetables, I add some baby corn and mushroom to it.

Wednesday dinner: Idlis with malabari stew is a combination that deserves an instagram account of it’s own. Store bought dosa batter makes perfect idlis, and since it’s a more hands off process than making dosa it’s perfect for a work-night dinner.

Thursday lunch: Tuna salad for lunch. Crisp lettuce, a handful of sundried tomatoes, a soft-boiled egg, spicy tuna and topped with a drizzle of ranch dressing.

Thursday dinner: I roast the biggest eggplants I can find with a basting of miso and soy sauce. The flesh has a silk-like texture, which is both marvellous in it’s softness and slightly gross at the same time. I sprinkle some  panko on top for a bit of crunch. With some Greek yogurt, this is the sort recipe that makes me feel like I’d be okay if I ever decided to turn vegetarian.

Friday lunch: I defrost the pizza dough in my freezer and top it with a béchamel sauce, some baby spinach, garlic and sun dried tomatoes. Even though I’m far from perfecting homemade pizza, it still makes me want to pat myself on the back every time I make it.

Friday dinner: Eat out!

Aysha Tanya is the co-founder of Goya Media. When not working at Goya, she enjoys reading and marvelling at the wide range of mustard types available in the supermarket.