An Ayurvedic Approach to Meal Planning
How do you eat well in our busy, modern world? The answer is simple: be prepared and organized. It makes all the difference to have the right tools and ingredients ready to use in your kitchen, and an idea of how you want to map out your meals for the week ahead.
Ayurvedic wisdom promotes eating meals that are life-giving, fresh, and filled with prana.
When you buy frozen premade meals to be reheated or eat fast food on the go, you’re consuming something with very little life force left in it. Equally, eating food several days after it’s been cooked and sitting in the fridge will have a different effect on the body and mind than eating a meal freshly cooked that day.
With a little planning and preparation, eating well doesn’t have to be taxing on your time or your budget. Here are a few ways you can plan, prep, and cook fresh meals without stress.
Lack of time is a common complaint to eating nourishing, home-cooked meals. Planning meals for the week ahead can help cut down on the confusion of what to eat while saving time, money, and food waste along the way.
Map out your menu by looking ahead at your work schedule, social events, and your body’s needs. Pick one day to make your weekly meal plan and shopping list. Stick with your familiar meals and pepper in a few fun new recipes to try out on your slower days. Scour your cookbooks and favorite blogs to find new dishes to test.
Your grocery list will reflect your new recipes, along with the staple ingredients you know you will rely on (think cilantro, leafy greens, root vegetables, and fresh dairy). This way you know what recipes you’re anchoring around while still having some flexibility to mix and match fresh ingredients in a quick meal.
Instead of batch cooking, which makes you a big pot of something to reheat and eat throughout the week, try batch prepping.
There’s nothing more frustrating than opening your fridge and seeing a whole butternut squash that still needs to be peeled, or wilted cilantro you forgot to wash and store properly.
To batch prep, take time to wash, peel, and cut some of your more durable ingredients when you get home from the grocery store. This might mean cubing root vegetables and storing them in a container in the fridge for the week, or trimming and cutting leeks, scallions, shallots, or ginger to store in a jar for quick access.
With lighter, more perishable ingredients such as greens, you may wash and cut these the night before use. Try preparing jars of pre-blended spice mixes for making chai, chutneys, kitchari, or other soups and stews. Here are a few ideas of spice blends you can make in advance.
Keep Your Pantry Stocked
Keeping your pantry stocked with your favorite everyday ingredients helps save time and money on grocery shopping. Ayurvedic cooking uses affordable ingredients you’ll likely find in most bulk food sections at your local market or online in larger quantities. So instead of shopping for a single recipe, try buying your dry goods in bulk to stock your pantry.
You may look at the food guides for vata, pitta, and kapha, as well as the seasonal food guides to explore what staple grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and spices do well for your body type and your digestive capacity as you rotate and restock your pantry through the year. Here are some ideas to get inspired:
- Whole grains such as amaranth, barley, buckwheat, farro, millet, rice, oats, quinoa, wheat bran.
- Legumes such as adzuki beans, black eyed peas, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, green mung beans, split yellow mung dal, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, tempeh, tofu (served hot), toor dal, urad dal, white beans.
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnut, macadamia nut, pecans, pinenuts, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds.
- Spices such as allspice, ajwain, black pepper, bay leaf, cardamom, caraway, cinnamon, chili, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, long pepper, mustard seed, nutmeg.
Tip: To stay tidy and organized, store your bulk items in glass jars or sealed containers so you can easily see the ingredients. You’ll be more likely to use them than let them get lost in a sea of plastic bags inside a messy cabinet or drawer!
Using Time-Saving Tools
Having the right equipment can also set you up for success in the kitchen. There are a few tools you’ll return to time and time again, some old and some new. Modern tools like the InstantPot (an electric pressure cooker) and the VitaClay (a clay pot rice and slow cooker) are two of my favorite ways to cut down on time in the kitchen, but you can also make do with the tools you already have on hand.
Generally, when shopping for the right cookware, it’s best to avoid equipment that contains harmful chemicals, such as Teflon and aluminum. Instead, look for items that use natural materials such as wood, clay, cast-iron, and steel. Here’s a quick list of items to support your kitchen flow:
- Ceramic or earthenware pots
- Cast-iron skillet
- Stainless steel saucepans and pots
- Stovetop or electric pressure cooker
- Rice cooker
- Baking dishes, sheets, and pans
- High-speed blender
- Wooden utensils
- Quality knives
- Microplane or handheld grater
- Fine-mesh sieve or colander
- Cheesecloth or nut milk bag
- Spice grinder (mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder)
- Wide-mouth thermos (for taking food or hot beverages on the go when you can’t eat at home)
- Stackable Tiffin lunchbox (another great way to take food to go)
- Glass storage containers (for batch prepping and storing ingredients)
- Beeswax reusable storage wrap (a zero-waste way to wrap and store food)
Cooking for One, Two, or a Few
As a rule of thumb, a ¼ cup of dried beans or rice is a good portion for a single serving of a dish such as kitchari. One handful of raw cut vegetables or two handfuls fresh cooked greens often serves one person, and two hands cupped together is the desired portion for a meal you’d want to eat to satisfy your stomach’s needs without overfilling it.
With this in mind, you can scale back your recipes if you’re cooking for one or double a recipe if you’re cooking for a few. You can also choose to cook ingredients separately, say a pot of whole grains, a legume dish, a veggie dish, and chutney or condiment on the side.
This way your picky eaters or meat eaters can mix and match what they want on their plate. You’ll be able to cook one main meal, with the option of keeping it vegetarian or adding an animal protein for extra sustenance.
How to Modify Your Plan
Life happens, plans change, the weather shifts, and so does your digestive capacity. The goal of a meal plan isn’t to lock you into a rigid routine, but rather to create a container for your creativity to flow while having enough structure so you don’t get off track when things get busy.
If you’re feeling very dry, you may add more ghee to a recipe and cook your root vegetables into a soup instead of baking them.
If you’re feeling ravenously hungry after a big run and your agni is insatiable, you may increase your portions or make a dosha-friendly snack to feed your appetite as needed.
If you’re feeling heavy or dull, you may add more agni-boosting spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, and pippali to increase your digestive fire.
There’s a myriad of ways to modify your meals to meet your needs! With a general plan and an idea of how to work with these ingredients, meal planning becomes a fun part of your weekly routine and a foundation from which to thrive.