Why planning and prepping meals is a culinary revolution

Why planning and prepping meals is a culinary revolution

On a Sunday, you didn’t need to ask me twice to wash the dishes. Shortly after we’d had dinner, I would get up from the kitchen table and gleefully start collecting all the plates and pots and pans.

It wasn’t that I particularly relished the task before me. Rather, the task allowed me to relish a specific delicacy. Before soaking it in hot water and soap, I scrapped and savoured every last crusty, crunchy piece of roast chicken from the bottom of the roasting pan. Sometimes there would also be pieces of potato skin that had stuck to the base while the meat slowly roasted in the oven.

This was one of the many reasons why I loved Sundays. I loved that we would go to church in the morning, and after the service, I would have some time to play with my church friends while our parents were busy with their after-church gatherings. We would get home as midday approached and have a light brunch before the long lazy afternoon stretch.

If I had washed and ironed my school uniforms, polished my shoes and completed my schoolwork, I would have uninterrupted hours to bask in the sun, reading. It was bliss to languidly lie on icansi (a mat) that I would lay out on the verandah floor.

Or if I felt like some company, I would sit on the steps at our back porch while the chickens scratched at my feet, occasionally forcing me to emerge from my literary cocoon by clucking too loudly.

I would have a sense of the passing of time, and a growing excitement that dinner was coming, soon. And it would be a dinner I loved to eat – roast chicken and potatoes with ujeqe (steamed bread), vegetables and relish. Knowing what I would get to savour later was a joy. One that shaped the days of my week and, by extension, my life.

A calendar for cuisine

For the larger part of my childhood, my family had a set menu for supper.

Mondays, we ate rice with delicious gristly beef bones, which would be boiled with potatoes, cabbage, carrot and any other seasonal vegetables that could simmer in the meat juices.

On Tuesdays, we ate mince that would be served on phuthu (pap) or rice.

Wednesdays were set apart for samp which came with a protein of some sort – the most popular of which was oven-grilled pork rashers.

On Thursdays, we would have a stir-fry. Rather than the store-bought variety, this would be chopped and constructed at the kitchen table. It most often featured carrots and green beans, but occasionally other in-season vegetables like cabbage would be sliced and added in. Alongside this stir-fry, we would have sausages and a starch of either rice or phuthu or scrumptious stiff pap.

Fridays were a feast of fish and chips. All of which would be homemade. I would come home from school and hover around the kitchen, pretending to do my homework, while actually hoping to catch my gran off-guard so I could steal a chip or two as they were draining of oil in the colander. Perhaps just to cause me some consternation, there were days when she would start by gutting, filleting and then frying the fish in her homemade batter. This meant the chips would be fried last; which radically minimised my opportunities for covert appropriation as dinner would be served once the chips were ready. When finances permitted, we would also have pies to add some substance to the meal. I loved eating the pie by lifting layer upon layer of pastry until the steaming hot filling emerged. While waiting for it to cool, I would nibble the pastry all around the sides until just a serving tray of chicken and mushroom remained. Before they knew of the savoury joys of pastry, I would swop this tray with my sisters for the top layers of their pie.

On Saturdays, beans would be boiled on the stovetop. I would only know after a few hours if they would then be turned into a bean curry to be served with ujeqe or if they would have maize meal poured into the bubbling pot to make isigwaqane (beans and maize meal) that would be served with a vegetable and tinned fish stew.

Adapting to what works

In subsequent years, as my sisters and I grew up, the menu would become increasingly fluid.

Today, we mostly stick to it on Fridays and Sundays but are more likely to have samp in the middle of the week than on any other day. Sometimes when the time old problem of what to eat for dinner seems challenging to solve, we draw inspiration from our old menu.

In my own adult life, I don’t have a set menu, as such. But I am a meal-prepping whizz. Having become vegetarian almost 12 years ago, I initially found it challenging to eat well. I feasted on bread, cheese and potatoes with abandon for the first two or so years. And then my health, and weight, protested.

Attempts to learn how to eat for function first, and pleasure second, resulted in my now mostly plant-based whole-foods diet. Meal-prepping helps me achieve this by looking at the week ahead and determining what I will need to eat. Considerations include the weather, budget, health, work schedule, sustenance and preference.

Adopting this practice has had an additional benefit – that of helping me be a more conscious consumer. Before I started meal planning, I would be driving home from work, and stop off at the shops to solve that days’ dinner dilemma. No matter how nutritiously noble my intentions would be, I would invariably walk out with some form of potatoes and popcorn.

Far too often, I would buy more than could possibly be consumed in one evening and would pop the leftovers into the fridge. Here they would languish for days, being pushed further into the recesses by new arrivals of half-eaten microwave dishes. As I found myself throwing away ever-increasing packets of food, I determined that I had to do and be better. It didn’t make sense for me to be pro-justice in other areas of my life, but to forsake practices of food justice by buying and then throwing away so much produce. How I approached food was in conflict with the values I claimed to espouse.

Because food was personal and so pleasurable, I gave myself a free pass to purchase whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it (and could afford it). There’s nothing wrong with this, apart from the fact that I couldn’t properly manage either my buying or my eating, resulting in frequent guilt-ridden furtive dashes to the rubbish bin.

In attempting to practice better personal food ethics, I now try to buy and eat more consciously by meal planning and then choosing smaller independent shops, food markets and farmers markets for purchases.

It’s a work-in-progress still, but I make a valiant effort to remember that my eye is bigger than my stomach and that I have complete delusions of grandeur about just how much I can cook and eat. Sticking to a meal plan and then prepping most of those meals has helped me live in a more moderate reality. It’s not always a joy. There are times when I’m annoyed at having to eat rice and beans because that’s what I’d pre-determined must be for supper.

On such days, though, I think back to my childhood and remember the invaluable lesson that Sunday is coming. DM/TGIFood


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Norah Stoops says:

    What I love most about this article is the description of a lifestyle that had sit down meals on a regular basis. In today’s modern life a sit down evening meal does not happen often enough. I may not have eaten quite the same food, but I identify with the comforting environment where the day was planned and structured and I knew what was going to happen. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents with my grandmother coming straight out of Victorian England. Breakfast, midmorning tea with something savoury, main meal at lunch – always with dessert, afternoon team with something sweet and a light supper. And of course fish on Friday. Laundry day was Monday when the sheets were changed. About the present with food prep and planning – still a work in progress. But we do sit down every evening for dinner…..

  • Wanda Hennig says:

    “It’s a work-in-progress still, but I make a valiant effort to remember that my eye is bigger than my stomach and that I have complete delusions of grandeur about just how much I can cook and eat.”
    Isn’t this the most common challenge, whatever ones preferences and inclinations, when prepping and cooking for oneself…

  • I moved to Switzerland 8 years ago, from a house in JHb, with an outside workshop to a 146 m^2 apartment
    Cooking became my new creative outlet. With a lot of waste, in a country that everything is eye watering expensive.
    Over the last year we have used
    Saved us a fortune in non wasted food, as we plan a weeks menu, add ingredients to the shopping list. The recipe feature is good in giving you the ability to tick off steps, making sure you don’t forget a step

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