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Do you find meal planning too good to be true?

post #1 of 41
Thread Starter 
As in you really want the whole meal planning thing to work, but find that in practicality it's nothing but a pipe dream? I'm struggling to get our meal budget in line and failing miserably at it. I've tried meal planning off and on for as long as I've been married. When it was just dh and me things went relatively easily. After my son was born it all went down hill.

I often put *A LOT* of time and effort into coming up with a very complete meal plan - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I get my recipes, I do my shopping, but then it comes to actually making the meals. It's typically a combination of things - like the fact that no one seems to want what I've planned or if I'm too tired to make a meal then my dh will usually respond that he doesn't know what to make (I love the guy to pieces and he's incredibly helpful around the house, but he seems unwilling or incapable of reading the meal plan...on the fridge!). Lately it's been exacerbated by the fact that my husband has been working so many hours. I'm exhausted. He's exhausted and making meals seems insurmountable. And that's just breakfast and lunch.

Dinner is even more frustrating b/c dh works second shift. I'm by myself with the three kidlets (one very clingy baby, a preschooler, and a kindergartener). I'm exhausted and it's a bit difficult to summon the energy to put forth the effort only to have one's efforts less than appreciated with the complaints about what little folks do not like.

I guess meals have become my stress relief valve. Something has to give and so mealtime is what takes it, but I can't continue financing this. I'd like to shift things around so that maybe, just maybe our circumstances would be more friendly to a first shift life.

Any ideas as to how I can do this? I need to make it work even though for something like 6 or so years it hasn't.
post #2 of 41
I leave a lot of room for changes in my meal plans. I generally plan 3-4 dinners a week. I keep things on hand to throw together for lunches (like sandwiches, quesadillas), and I also always have ingredients for a few of our staple meals that don't need planning. We usually rotate through the same things for breakfast so I don't have to plan those, just keep ingredients on hand. I just don't have the time to cook every single meal, I have to have easy throw together things in there as well, or I'd never get out of the kitchen.

Along with my plan for a few dinners, I also plan a few things to make during the week that will last a few days as breakfast or snacks, sometimes lunch. Maybe that is a batch of muffins or bread, a pot of soup, some kind of salad (pasta, chicken). I don't have to do one of those every day because they'll last more than one meal so I can stretch one or 2 recipes through the week.

Meal planning for me is most successful when I build flexibility into it.
post #3 of 41
I also don't plan out breakfast and lunch very firmly. I have things around the house that are easy to throw together and people can pick what they want -- frozen waffles, eggs, cereal bars, English muffins for breakfast; deli meat, bread, fruit for lunch.

For dinner, I actually only cook 3 nights a week. One night is pizza night. Three nights a week I make one meal (fairly simple, usually from the 30 minute recipes from America's Test Kitchen) and I make enough to feed us for 2 nights. The other three nights are leftovers of whatever I cooked earlier in the week.
post #4 of 41
Oh yes, leftovers! Those are built into my week as well. I'll never forget when I started meal planning and planned every single night of dinner. We had a fridge full of way too much food!
post #5 of 41
I'm having a little bit of trouble understanding why meal planning isn't making your life easier instead of more difficult. You have three kids and a dh who can't or won't cook. It seems like planning out dinner would give you one less thing to worry about.

And when I say meal planning, I'm not talking breakfast and lunch! In your situation, I'd just give everyone the same thing for breakfast, every day. Planning out breakfast meals? Way too much work. Pour some granola and call it good.

Same with lunch. Have a couple of things you know the kids will eat, keep them on hand, and alternate them every other day. Don't "plan" out lunch. What a headache! For me, I always have hummus around. I always have always have peanut butter. I always have bread and fruit. I don't believe in being elaborate for lunch.

I need to know what I'm making for dinner. When my kids were younger, I used that knowledge to get a head start early in the day. Maybe I sauteed the onions in the morning so they were all ready. Maybe I made the lentil soup ahead of time. Maybe I mixed up and cut out a batch of biscuits, put them on the pan and stowed them in the fridge till 5.

Knowing what you're making allows you to do parts of the meal throughout the day, so you don't have to start it all half an hour before dinner.

Also, my meals are not fancy at all, except Friday. They are mostly inexpensive things I don't need recipes for. Typical week looks like this:

Mon: Pasta with roasted pepper sauce, salad
Tues: Mujadarrah, cucumber raita
Wed: Frittatta with spinach and mushrooms + biscuits
Thurs: Split pea soup, bread
Fri: roast chicken, challah, salad, dessert

We always give the kids the option of bread and hummus for supper if they don't want to eat something I've made. But I'm not a short order cook and I don't cook individual meals for anyone.
post #6 of 41
I've read that themed days really help with meal planning. Soup Monday, pasta tuesday, chicken wednesday, tacos thursday, pizza/calzone friday, etc.

I have been enjoying cookingtf.com's meal plans, but I can never stick to it completely. It does help though. I found when stickign to the plan, I had more energy for cooking. I had to think about what to make less often, so I had the energy to throw a dessert together or a nice salad..whatever. I also found that I could just shop from the list for dinner and put my main concentration into breakfast and lunch ideas.

I'm horrible at lunches though. Hats off to anyone who gets all 3 meals together. Lunches for us are usually wrapped up in bread or a tortilla or left-overs or soup.
post #7 of 41
I do think it is important to include fast and easy things into your repertoire. You certainly can include "throw x in crockpot, take nap" in your menu planning.

We all have days where it just ain't happening.

We have sandwiches and fruit for lunch nearly everyday. I will probably start including soup in that now that it is starting to get cold. But I don't make soup everyday...I make one pot of soup that lasts three days.
post #8 of 41
I find I have to really tailor my meal plan to our weekly schedule and I need to have things on hand for when a day gets out of control or the meal-prep person is ill and we can't follow the planned meal. I have been having some trouble sticking to our meal plan lately, mostly because we have another adult thrown into the mix (my mom) and we have some recent dietary changes (I went gluten-free). We're working on it, but it does get hard.

I am thinking of doing theme days. I had done that previously and it got sort of boring but my family could probably do with a little boring these days!
post #9 of 41
I don't plan breakfast and lunch- those are cold cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, boiled eggs, toast, leftovers, etc.

Dinner- I make a list of 10 healthy, easy meals every 2 weeks (usually the night before grocery shopping- also done every 2 weeks). I include all the ingredients on the shopping list. Some meals can be started early and don't take much time. The other 4 nights are leftovers or fried eggs and toast. The current list is:

Shrimp fajitas
Beef kabob/tabouli/fried potatoes
Fish tacos and salad
Beef/bean tacos and frozen veggie side
Lentils
Quiche
Tilapia/starch/frozen veggie side
Chicken and rice (biryani)
Northern beans
Shrimp stir fry with brown rice

We usually do the meals first that require fresh produce, but then after that it just depends on my mood and activities of the day.
post #10 of 41
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by zinemama View Post
I'm having a little bit of trouble understanding why meal planning isn't making your life easier instead of more difficult. You have three kids and a dh who can't or won't cook. It seems like planning out dinner would give you one less thing to worry about.

And when I say meal planning, I'm not talking breakfast and lunch! In your situation, I'd just give everyone the same thing for breakfast, every day. Planning out breakfast meals? Way too much work. Pour some granola and call it good.

Same with lunch. Have a couple of things you know the kids will eat, keep them on hand, and alternate them every other day. Don't "plan" out lunch. What a headache! For me, I always have hummus around. I always have always have peanut butter. I always have bread and fruit. I don't believe in being elaborate for lunch.
You'd think it would be easier, but it just never seems to be so in practice. If I plan things out (even if breakfast and lunch are just done so loosely) it never seems like anyone wants to eat what I've planned. If my husband asks "what's for dinner?" or "what's for lunch?" (in spite of a lovely printed plan easily accessible on the fridge for goodness sakes!!) either he or the children will turn up their noses at it. They don't want that. They're not interested in eating that. If I hesitate or react even the slightest then they're quick with the "can't we just go get x at x restaurant?"

If I don't plan out lunch my husband is off to the restaurant in a jiffy. If I do plan lunch he doesn't want it and he's lobbying for something else (usually somewhere else). Part of it I think is because he thinks he's helping. And the other part of it is probably just me giving in because it wasn't so bad when there were just two it's far more difficult now with three.

I have to plan something for breakfast and lunch if only so I know what I need to get at the grocery store to have on hand (cereal, yogurt, etc). I'm not talking fancy meals here, but I do need to have the food and enough of it in the house.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Biscuits & Gravy View Post
Oh yes, leftovers! Those are built into my week as well. I'll never forget when I started meal planning and planned every single night of dinner. We had a fridge full of way too much food!
I've hemmed and hawed about leftovers. More often than not I've built them in to serve as another night's meal. Other times I've tried saving them for lunches. Sometimes if the meal wasn't a particular hit with the kids it will be enough for my husband to have for dinner at work for several days while the kids eat PB&J, veggies, and fruit. None of it's really been a magic bullet which is I guess what I've always wanted meal planning to be.


Quote:
Originally Posted by chaoticzenmom View Post
I've read that themed days really help with meal planning. Soup Monday, pasta tuesday, chicken wednesday, tacos thursday, pizza/calzone friday, etc.

I have been enjoying cookingtf.com's meal plans, but I can never stick to it completely. It does help though. I found when stickign to the plan, I had more energy for cooking. I had to think about what to make less often, so I had the energy to throw a dessert together or a nice salad..whatever. I also found that I could just shop from the list for dinner and put my main concentration into breakfast and lunch ideas.
I've tried themes a bit with some success. I've also tried cookingtf.com, but all those roasts (surprisingly not all that budget friendly), fish, etc got too expensive for the budget.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dawningmama View Post
I find I have to really tailor my meal plan to our weekly schedule and I need to have things on hand for when a day gets out of control or the meal-prep person is ill and we can't follow the planned meal. I have been having some trouble sticking to our meal plan lately, mostly because we have another adult thrown into the mix (my mom) and we have some recent dietary changes (I went gluten-free). We're working on it, but it does get hard.l
Some of the recent necessary dietary changes probably plays a role in things recently leaving me with a huge mental block right now, but that hasn't always been the case. I guess my problem all comes down to a lack of follow through on my part. When my family members sense a bit of hesitation of vacillation on my part they seize on that and all of my carefully laid plans are torn asunder. I've mostly found it a lot of work to make out with very little payoff in the end - meals they don't want to eat and groceries in the fridge not being eaten and going to waste.
post #11 of 41
Wait, wait - your husband is home for lunch. And he's asking you "what's for lunch?"

This is a problem, right there. The man is an adult. He can fix himself a sandwich. If he's home for lunch, he should be responsible for himself. He should man up and take that responsibility off your plate (so to speak). Honestly, it's time for a serious talk about him being a grownup.
post #12 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by pampered_mom View Post
Some of the recent necessary dietary changes probably plays a role in things recently leaving me with a huge mental block right now, but that hasn't always been the case. I guess my problem all comes down to a lack of follow through on my part. When my family members sense a bit of hesitation of vacillation on my part they seize on that and all of my carefully laid plans are torn asunder. I've mostly found it a lot of work to make out with very little payoff in the end - meals they don't want to eat and groceries in the fridge not being eaten and going to waste.
Oh, boysie, do I hear you in this bit I highlighted. My kids can smell "mama and pops are hesitating on sticking to the plan" from a mile away.
post #13 of 41
I think you're probably going to have to talk to your DH and get on the same page about menu planning. He's going to have to back you up to sticking with the menu plan so that he isn't undermining it and the kids don't see wiggle room.

If he's home for lunch instead of dinner, why not make lunch your "big" meal and dinner more lunch-like (sandwiches, etc)?

Also, one of the thing I had to learn as I started menu planning is that when you plan things out ahead of time, what you have planned may not be EXACTLY what you're in the mood for that day. But.... so what? It's food. It's still tasty food. And you're not going to remember next week that you had chicken on the day you wanted spaghetti. Once I realized that, I stopped giving up my menu plan for a quick restaurant stop just because there was another food I might want a little more.

But, yeah. I think you and your DH need to get on the same page.
post #14 of 41
It helps me, but I hear you on the food going to waste and questions about what dinner is that night. I solicit opinions *before* I shop, and I will take requests sometimes if it's between a few of the meal plan items for that week. Beyond that, too bad, you might not get exactly what you would most like that particular night, but you don't have to plan it, shop for it, nor cook it, so I get the final say on what's for dinner.

I don't plan breakfasts though. I have 2-3 choices available that are pretty self serve, even for the preschooler--granola and yogurt, cereal and fruit, and cinnamon toast and yogurt are the present choices at breakfast here. Toast takes an adult to make, but it's so fast and easy that it works fine. When we're out of a choice though, that's it, we're out of that choice. So if they eat all the granola, there's no more til the next shopping day. Don't "prefer" cereal, oh well. That's what there is.

Lunches the kids take turns choosing from 3 choices for that week. This week we have pasta with peas and parmesan cheese; quesadillas with guacamole; and pbj. Same as with the breakfasts, when that's it, that's it. And I will also say "hey, the avocado is pretty ripe, let's do quesadillas today because they won't keep."

Dinners I have a plan, and I plan out based on things like "Tuesdays we're out late-ish so it needs to be crockpot or make ahead; Fridays are order in pizza." If someone doesn't like what's for dinner that night, they can get a pbj instead, but they can't change everything. I adjust stuff on the fly once in a while if need be, like DH is going to be late coming home and the kids are crazy, so let's go with the 15 min. prep meal and not the 30 min. prep one. But I'm the only one who gets to make those shifts because I'm the cook.

I suggest that you schedule in your meal plan some number of restaurant meals, not which restaurant maybe, but some number that you feel are acceptable based on how much you eat out now. When we used to eat out a lot, we cut back on how much a bit slowly, so it didn't feel like a great effort to cook at home EVERY NIGHT when it was unfamiliar.
post #15 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by zinemama View Post
Wait, wait - your husband is home for lunch. And he's asking you "what's for lunch?"

This is a problem, right there. The man is an adult. He can fix himself a sandwich. If he's home for lunch, he should be responsible for himself. He should man up and take that responsibility off your plate (so to speak). Honestly, it's time for a serious talk about him being a grownup.
This too. My husband knows that if he asks "what's for _____?" He's probably going to make it.

I agree cookingtf can be a little steep. I alter the recipes and buy beef in bulk, so it's not as bad for my budget.
post #16 of 41
yikes! the thought of meal planning stresses me out! I am more of a "what do i feel like today" kinda girl. I always have enough beans, grains, veggies and various types of cheese and pasta (we are vegetarian) on hand to put together something depending on how everyone feels that day. Sometimes we just snack, sometimes we get on kicks and eat different types of quesadillas (sp??) for a few days. And usually on the weekend I will make a meal (like soup or a casserole, or a batch of dried beans) that will last a few days. But we like going to the grocery store and usually do so a few times a week as we need things. We aren't the big bulk type shoppers or the meal-planner type either so I just stock up as needed.

breakfast is usually one of three items: toast, oatmeal, or waffles/pancakes. and lunch is either leftovers of dinner the night before or something simple like avocado and cheese toast.

we never eat food from a box (except the occasional Annie's mac and cheese for DS if I am feeling uninspired to cook) and i rarely ever freeze anything.

For a long time i wanted to be the meal-planner type, the canner-type, the freezer-type...and some day perhaps it will happen. But I came to accept that I am just not that type and I am doing what works at this point in the game. So without the pressure to be someone I am not, I actually feel more inspired by the way I cook and shop!

good luck figuring out a system that works for you!
post #17 of 41
I love meal planning.

But I don't do it the way you're describing.

Firstly, I only plan our main sit-down meal (happens to be supper for us). I pick 7 easy meals, things I know I can cook in a small amount of time and things I know my family will eat. I don't necessarily actually cook each meal on the day I listed it. Some are simpler, some not, so if I have rough day, I'll pick a simpler meal, and safe the more involved meal for a day when I have more time or can plan better. I list them, and start my shopping list with what I'll need for those.

Lunch will be either leftovers or sandwiches, so I add to the list things like sandwich makings and maybe baby carrots for the kids to munch on.

Breakfast can be a number of things, mostly things that keep over a few days. So I might add cereal, ingredients for muffins or pancakes.

Then I look through the cupboards once more to see if I'm missing any important regularly used ingredient.

I think a crockpot could definitely be your friend here. But a lot of good meals take minimal prep. For me meal planning isn't so much about getting elaborate meals to the table, but just taking the time to think ahead and make life a little easier for me. If I don't plan, I'm often at a loss or unmotivated to cook. But if I think ahead and have a list posted, on any given day I know that I need to take 10 minutes in the afternoon to throw a pan of chicken and a few potatoes in the oven, and then I can pretty much ignore them in there until 10 minutes before supper when it's time to put on the veggies to cook.
post #18 of 41
I'm more like JonahRoo and not much of a planner, but I found that having to make all the supper decisions every week was becoming a huge grind and a big source of stress for me, so I instituted "picks". We each get to pick supper one night a week. There are 4 of us, but obviously this would work with up to 7 per week or if you have a bigger family you could stretch it out. For us, dd2 picks on Monday, dd1 picks on Tuesday, Wednesday I volunteer at the co-op so DH and girls pick together, Thurs is DH's pick, Fri is my pick and the weekend is just left loose for going out to eat or whoever feels like coking can make whatever they like. I figured I could eat hot dogs and tacos once a week. It gives the kids a sense of really being involved. I do ask them to decide the night before or at least the morning of their pick night so I can make sure to have all the ingredients on hand. Sometimes they help me cook it, but as long as I have a plan for the night I can handle putting it together. You might consider letting the kids pick at least one side.

hth
post #19 of 41
Meal planning works out so well for me, I have no idea what I'd ever end up making if I didn't do it.

I don't plan lunches and breakfasts. Breakfasts are usually quick and something we can grab on the way out. The kids eat lunch at school/daycare or pack it so I figure that out the night before. Dh and I eat leftovers or sandwiches.

Dinners, I do plan out. But I take the kids' and dh's tastes and wants into consideration. We eat at my mom's one night a week. And just this month, I've done certain things certain days. Like Sunday is always breakfast and that could be pancakes, eggs, french toast, etc. Fridays are always pizza. Busy nights we do something quick and easy. And I'll swap things around if I need or want to.

If you're having a hard time cooking dinner on your own with 3 kids, can you cook it or at least prep it earlier in the day when your dh's home?
post #20 of 41
I only plan dinners.
The other meals are pretty loose, but predictable. We always have cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, and breakfast meats on hand. Eggs are always stocked.
Lunches are leftovers from the night before. DH takes this to work. If there's more than that, DS2 and I will eat it, too. If there's not, he and I have sandwiches. Again, I always buy stuff to make sandwiches, so that's predictable.

If we have additional leftovers and no one wants it, I freeze them in individual portions and we'll eat them another time when we don't know what else to eat.

There is no option to say, 'oh, I don't feel like eating that right now.' Meals are what they are, period.
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