Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How To Make A Monthly Meal Plan, part 4

For some people, making a monthly meal plan (or even a weekly one) is fraught with peril.  There are several pitfalls that people come across when they attempt meal planning on a larger scale for the first time.  There are six big ones that I can think of and I'll share with you, half today and half tomorrow, how they can be addressed or avoided.


So now you have spent valuable time and planned out your meals, written your grocery lists, bought your food and gotten it all put away.  You are all set for a week/month of stress free dinner prep, except:
- Someone (your kids, your husband, perhaps even yourself) always says they don’t want that for dinner.  Can’t we have/go to _____ instead?
Sure you can.  Sometimes things just don’t go as planned and you have to roll with the punches and consider that the important thing is that everyone was fed a relatively healthy (hopefully) meal.  However, if it is happening often perhaps you might think about why this isn’t working to see if there is a theme. 

Does it happen regularly on specific days?  For me it happened every Monday.  After having Hey, Babe home during dinner prep on Sat and Sun, I dreaded starting it up again solo on Monday nights.  Now I make sure I’m planning things that I will look forward to eating and be more willing to prep like my favorite homemade pizza.   Another option is to plan something that can be totally assembled earlier in the day while the kids are napping that just needs to be popped into the oven at the correct time. 

Does it happen for specific meals?  Tell it to me straight, you don’t like my chili do you?  You never feel like eating it, though you have before said you like it, and now when it comes up on the rotation we always seem to waffle around it and eat something else.  Since you never actually eat it, stop planning on eating it.  It is a waste in more ways then one.  Maybe leaving it off the rotation for a while will make it more appealing in the future.  Or maybe you can plan it for the night that whoever it is that hates it is not going to be home for dinner. 

Is it always the same person?  I have two separate suggestions here.  First off, maybe they just need to learn to live with it.  Pickiness, especially when it comes to food, is never welcome.  You are allowed to have things you prefer to eat and prefer not to eat, but if a meal is made for you, you eat it or you go hungry (ESPECIALLY if you are an adult/teenager).  I’m sure that as with any rule, there are exceptions (allergies, intolerances, etc.) but generally speaking this should hold true.  For some households there is always an alternate option to have (pb sandwich, hummus, etc.) for other households that just means you say, “Okay, the next time we are eating is at __ o’clock, see you then.”  It is up to you to decide which method will work better for your family.

Another solution would be to have the unsatisfied person contribute more to the meal plan.  If they are asking for blueberry pancakes for dinner instead of the spaghetti and meatballs you are making tell them “Ooh, what a great idea! Why don’t we write that down and have that ___ (tomorrow for breakfast/lunch, next week for dinner, etc.).  When you are making the next meal plan, have them come up with a list of foods that they want to eat and maybe make them a part of the preparation process for “their” meals.  You might want to make a note of which of the meals were their ideas so you can point out to them that they are the reason it is tonight’s dinner if their pickiness comes into play anyway.

In our household, I know that I am the most likely reason that dinner isn’t following the menu.  Not the kids, not Hey, Babe, not any other factor.  Just me.  I need to remember to suck it up and just make whatever is on the plan because I KNOW that when I don’t it makes the last few days of the month rather hairy and takes away the peace that meal planning is supposed to bring me.  I have to keep in mind when I am meal planning that what I have planned may not be exactly what I am in the mood food, but it is still tasty, nutritious food.  If I am going to tell my kids, “tough, that’s what is for dinner,” than I have to do the same for myself. 

-I just bought AAAAALLLLLL this stuff to make ONE MEAL, and it costs so much money, and now whatever isn't used in that one meal is either going to spoil or get pushed to the back of the cupboard and lost forever:
You may need to tweak how you are planning slightly.  There are four things I can think of to fix this: 
1.      Choose less complicated meals, or at least do so for some of them.
2.      Freeze leftover ingredients (granted, some things don’t freeze well.)
3.      Make twice as much of whatever the meal is and freeze half for a bonus meal next week/month! (yeah, some things still don’t freeze well).
4.      Plan another, different meal that will incorporate those extra ingredients for a night or two later.  Leftover ricotta cheese? Make some lasagna, stuffed shells, or cheese blintzes.  Use it up somehow.  Some of my tastiest creations came from adding odds and ends together so that none of them went to waste.

- Similar to the last complaint, I made dinner every night this week and we have a ton of totally prepared food in the fridge and yet another new meal planned for tonight:
I had this trouble a lot myself and started planning fewer meals for a while until Little Man started eating more.  You can go a few routes with this one:
1.      Eat leftovers for lunch and stop buying so many other lunch options.
2.      Plan fewer meals for the week, make one night leftover night and free up some time where you would have otherwise been in the kitchen.  Maybe make a nice dessert on leftover night since you didn’t have to cook dinner.
3.      Make smaller quantities so that there aren’t leftovers.  Scale recipes down, cut portion sizes in half, and have some extra salad to fill people up instead.
4.      Reinvent leftovers.  Make a roast on Sunday and plan on using the leftover meat on Monday for Pulled Pork Sandwiches or soup or a casserole.  Or if you think your picky family might catch on to the fact that it is similar to yesterday’s dinner, plan on using it Wednesday or pop it in the freezer and use it next week.
5.      Intentionally make enough that there is a whole second meal and freeze one of them for a bonus meal!

If you missed the beginning of this meal planning series please start here.  Tomorrow, three more pitfalls with suggestions how to resolve them.

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