–Shalini C Goyal/Founder, AMIYAA: What’s Cooking
‘The 100+ Thali Project’ was a challenge that I set for myself.
I wanted to see how my life can change and how different my meals can be if I start planning them the way I am wanting others to do, using AMIYAA App.
Ghar ka khana (Home-cooked food) usually does not elicit a very excited response unless one has been away from home for long. In such a scenario, the simplest of home food becomes the strongest of cravings. Once this craving is taken care of, we resort back to the “lauki-torai” jokes and make light of it!
The other occasion when one talks wistfully of Ghar ka khana is about the favourite dishes that one’s Mom cooked for the family or what one ate in one’s childhood and youth.
Else, home food mostly remains on the periphery of public discourse and is taken for granted most of the time.
Daily Home Cooking and its associated chores are considered mundane and monotonous with little or no differentiation brought in, on an everyday basis. It is at a huge disadvantage for this very reason and has caused a bit of apathy and more than a bit of discontent amongst the people impacted – those who are eating and those who are cooking!
However, with the variety of ingredients, fresh seasonal produce, diverse cuisines, more experimental palates, I sought to bring some excitement into this daily chore and experience in my own home.
We are a family of 4 ranging from 16 years to 56 years. Our parents (76/84 years) join us for lunch on weekends and holidays. Everyone is vocal and has strong preferences where food is concerned. While I prefer being a vegetarian, my family likes to eat non-Vegetarian food as well so we do cook it occasionally.
How I went about it?
The first thing I did was to sit with my family and list down all of our favourite meals in the AMIYAA App’s very useful “My Handy List” in the Library module. We would keep adding to the list as and when we would remember. By the end of it, this list itself became quite long and helped me plan meals of choice.
We also realized that we have some favourites Dals (Pulses/Legumes) which we combine with standard Sabzis (vegetables). Then there were certain dishes that we like to have with Rice & others with Chapatis. In our Meal Plans, we tried to switch these combinations for variety.
We tried not to repeat any one type of Dal or vegetable within a week and ensured that we also had ample protein in the week along with seasonal produce.
As a family, we also order in sometimes so that had to be accounted for in the Meal Plans as well, along with the times when we were going to a friend’s place or had guests over.
The deal with the family was that while Breakfast would be on the go as everyone had a different schedule to follow, we would have one Dal-Sabzi Meal in the day and one meal would be ‘different’. The latter usually was Dinner or Lunch on Sunday when we all ate together.
We also agreed that we will try to incorporate new ingredients/dishes/recipes in our Meals occasionally to add variety to our daily meals.
However, we agreed to have a few new introductions to have a fall-back option in case one/more family members did not quite like the new dishes. The fall-back option usually was a leftover from a previous meal so that took care that one did not have to cook more dishes for any one meal.
With this understanding amongst us, I set to work. I started by making my Meal Plans for 3-4 days at a time and planning accordingly. I found this easier than when I tried to make plans for longer durations. I did not mind doing this twice a week as it also gave me an opportunity to ensure that my fridge was not collecting too many leftovers or unused ingredients. This helped me cut down the food waste tremendously.
The first week was tough to get the discipline in place. It took some getting used to for me and the family. There was a good selection of fresh vegetables, proteins and greens in the meals, along with ensuring that none of the Dals got repeated. We also got to eat ‘Litti-Chokha” at a friend’s place. We had never had it before and loved it.
Lunch & Dinner
As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to eat vegetarian food and, in my quest, to add vegetarian protein sources, I introduced Soya chunks to our menu. Each of the family members (including myself) had a certain preconceived notion about Soya having eaten it earlier. I took the opportunity to make it to our tastes and this worked for us.
Now I am looking for new recipes for Soya once the Green Peas go out of season.
We also had an epic failure in the Amla Methi Sabzi. I had seen the recipe on the internet and got swayed by the health benefits of both ingredients. As expected, both of them lent their sour taste to the dish and it was almost unpalatable. The day/meal was saved by the Dal and the freshly made pickle of Carrots, Turnip & Cauliflower (Gobhi-Gajar-Shalgham ka Achaar)! J
The family enjoyed Mutton Curry at my elder brother’s place on Saturday.
Inspired by the Litti-Chokha of last week, we made Dal-Bati for lunch on Sunday which was loved by all three generations of the family. We happily repeated it for Dinner.
Learning of this week – You win some, you lose some! 😉
Lunch & Dinner
This week saw Cabbage Sabzi being repeated (after 9 days). But no one complained or noticed. This could be because it was paired with a different dish this time. 😉
Our daughter (21) made Pasta Dinner on Friday.
Our Mother is an amazing and generous cook and on Sundays, we like to eat her specialities. She makes Dosas like a pro and that is what we had this Sunday with all possible accompaniments.
In the evening, we had friends over and had Red Thai Curry with Steamed Rice for Dinner.
Lunch & Dinner
Sem Phali was the new vegetable on our menu this week. We had never made it at home or even eaten it previously. It was strongly recommended by our vegetable vendor and so we bought it and cooked it with potatoes. We loved the crunch and mouthfeel and will definitely have it in future as well.
Chowmein got repeated after 12 days (Week 2) but again its pairing was different from earlier. And it is a ‘least resistance meal’ where I am concerned! It is part of the Family’s Favourite List!
Cholai Saag (Amaranth Leaves) got repeated after 8 days but it was green (Week 3) vs red (week 4) and the dish combinations were different each time. Also, we like Cholai so planned to have it again.
Soya chunks made a re-entry, albeit in a different avatar. A dry Sabzi as opposed to the Curry version of Week 2.
Lunch & Dinner
Bokchoy Soup & Fried Rice make a comeback in our dinner after 13 days. Oriental flavours are enjoyed by all in the family and this time they had Chilli Chicken to go with it.
I tried an Andhra recipe of Methi Koora (A dry preparation of Methi Leaves with Arhar Dal) for lunch one day.
Our family likes the Sindhi dishes of Sai Bhaji (All greens & Chana Dal) and Bhugar Chawar (Spiced Rice). This week We also had Dal Pakwan, another Sindhi Dish at our friend’s place.
We ordered in Samosas and had Chaat for dinner one night.
We went out with the family for lunch on Sunday and had a light dinner to balance the sins of the afternoon! 😉
Lunch & Dinner
We tried Kundru Sabzi (for the first time) this week. Liked it and will be making it again. Gajar Matar got repeated in the Menu after 20 days but since we all love it, no one had any issue with it. In fact, the complaint was why it had not come into circulation earlier?
Baingan Bharta & Kala Chana Curry (Last made in Week 1), Palak Paneer (last made in Week 2) were other dishes that were repeated this week. These again are part of the Family’s Favourites List so were happily accepted by all.
Rounded off the week with a sumptuous Aloo-Puri, Kaddu lunch on Sunday.
Lunch & Dinner
Soya Curry made a comeback this week (Last made in Week 2) and Fried Rice after Week 3. The Kaddu Sabzi made a faster comeback (within days) on popular demand by the family.
Our office colleagues came for Dinner one night and we had the Burmese Khow Suey with them.
Dal Bati returned to the Sunday Lunch scene again on demand, by old and young alike!
Lunch & Dinner
A lot more dishes or ingredients from previous weeks appeared again on the Menu. These were included after discussion with the family. But having done this for almost two months, the family was happy to see their favourite meals coming back into the menu of this week and I was relaxed knowing well that meals were being enjoyed by everyone.
Lunch & Dinner
How did we benefit?
The repetitions in the Menus were not for lack of choice or bandwidth but consciously picked on from the long list of family favourites list that we had created initially.
Our relationship with food improved tremendously and we started enjoying the meal times more. We started looking at new recipes, dishes and cuisines more curiously wanting to try them at home. Our collective urge to ‘order-in’ reduced drastically as everyone was getting to eat a variety of tasty food of their choice at home.
The family discussions were diverse and did not get waylaid by complaints of food! 😉
We made Menu selection an inclusive activity so that it did not fall on anyone’s shoulder (mine!) singularly. We ate consciously. We were happy and looked forward to our meals every day!
For me, personally, there were a lot of other gains too.
I reduced my stress of figuring out what to cook for everyone by making it an inclusive activity.
I saved my time by planning the meals for a few days at a go and then following up with organizing groceries and prepping in advance.
I planned my monthly purchases such that I availed the ongoing deals in the store.
I also reduced wastage by not buying excess and limiting fresh produce purchase to only what is needed for the next 3-4 days.
I got time to work on my startup (AMIYAA) and to spend it with family & friends too.
And we all ate healthy and tasty food and continue to do so!
It took me much longer to write and put together this blog post than it took me to make my meal plans of 8 weeks (2 Months) and put them in action! J
I think everyone should try Meal Planning. It helps!
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