I have been given a lot of thought as to why sometimes the menu planning I have done doesn't work and what I can do about it. I have mostly gotten past the initial challenges of what stops me from making menus in the first place. I can pretty well get the menus made easily enough. It's just sticking to them that can get to be a bit difficult. I can't help noticing how the challenges end up sounding whiney (I'm too tired, I don't feel like it, I don't want... ) - suck it up and put on your big girl panties, baby!!!
Here are some of my challenges and the actions I am taking. What are yours?
PROBLEM #1 Top reason for me - Delays in getting home - If I end up working late, stopping at the grocery store, running an errand, or whatever, I might not get home until after 7:00/7:30 or later, so I tend to just pick something up on the way home, rather than making hubby wait until 8:00 or later to eat (which makes for a cranky hubby).
SOLUTION: Make more things ahead of time. For instance, this morning I assembled a casserole and stuck it in the fridge. Hubby can stick it in the oven when he gets home, so dinner is already made when I walk in the door. Alternatively, I rely more on crockpots for the same reason. I have also worked harder at better scheduling my errands - doing things on my lunch hour instead of after work, stacking things so I finish 3-4 errands on one night instead of multiple nights during the week, etc.
PROBLEM #2 - Procrastination - This is my other biggie - when I am too lazy to do the advanced prep after a "hard day at the office", and then in the morning I am too rushed (or again, too lazy). Bad Girl!
SOLUTION: Sadly, I don't have a good one other than a kick in the tail and forcing myself to be more disciplined. However, I am really really trying to make the effort on this one. It also helps to remind myself of the ripple effect of my efforts (see #6), and the financial, health, weight loss and other benefits of getting off my tush and doing what I need to do.
PROBLEM #3 - I forgot to do the prep - I didn't pull something out of the freezer to thaw for instance.
SOLUTION: I have created a short list of about 5 different dinners that I can make without advanced prep - a frozen pork roast in the crock pot, spaghetti, vegetable soup in crockpot (made with canned and frozen stuff - goes together in about 5 minutes), etc. I also try to keep on hand some frozen prepped items like cooked ground beef. Also putting together a short list of things that can be cooked from frozen - like burgers or chicken fillets on the grill. I have added a column to my monthly menu planning spreadsheet for advanced prep - like pull ground beef out of freezer today in preparation for tomorrow night's meal. Other days it might say to pre-cook ground beef or cut up vegetables or chicken or assemble a marinade.
PROBLEM #4 - Not planning ahead for events/appointments. Sometimes I forget that I will be attending a meeting and not coming home for dinner (and then poor hubby gets stuck with a tv dinner), for instance.
SOLUTION: When setting up my monthly menu, I added a column called What's going on, where I list meetings and appointments that are occurring that day. I try to factor those into my planning - by using crock pot meals, and preassembled casseroles for instance, where I can just leave hubby heating instructions.
PROBLEM #5 - Food wastage - OVERCOOKING and ending up with so much food that we can't eat it all before it goes bad. Also, if I already have 25 different leftovers in the fridge, I don't want to cook yet another meal for more leftovers!
SOLUTION: Planned leftovers - like the turkey breast I made in the crockpot, I included in my meal planning with a turkey Caesar salad one night and a turkey casserole another night to use up the leftover meat (and I may STILL have enough for at least 1-2 more casseroles). I also factor in how much I will need of leftovers for lunches. I am trying to get better about freezing things instead of optimistically sticking things in the fridge (still need to work on that a little more). Also, incorporating a leftover/pick what you want out of the fridge night into the menu planning following a few days of large meals. I also try to make sure I include some no-leftover meals during the week (usually towards the end of the workweek like Thursday) like grilled chicken breasts with no extras made.
PROBLEM #6 - The ripple effect - when I miss a night of cooking and bring home takeout, that usually means I don't have anything to pack for lunches the next day, so this expense actually becomes MORE expensive! It also may effect future meals, if I were planning on using tonight's meal as a basis for a future meal (like leftover chicken or beef).
SOLUTION: A stern talking to myself to discourage myself from saying "it's easier to buy takeout". I am really working on my discipline in this area (with varying degrees of success). I also have a mental list of a few things I can make for lunches (like tuna salad sandwiches) when I have no leftovers. We don't usually have lunchmeat in the house, so that's not often an option.
PROBLEM #7 - Not "in the mood" for what I planned
SOLUTION: Fortunately this one doesn't happen too often to me as I rarely have a "taste for" anything specific and I don't make the leftovers the next night, so I don't get sick of eating a certain food (except sometimes as leftover lunches). I know others struggle with it though and I have seen the suggestion of just writing up a list of 5 or so meals that you are prepared to make and then picking one off the list each night. This seems like a good solution to me. Also swapping nights - I planned chicken tonight and pork tomorrow, but I'm in the mood for pork tonight, so I just swap the two nights' meals.
PROBLEM #8 - But I *LIKE* eating out! Especially for lunches, this is really tough for me. I used to meet friends for lunch to eat out several times a week. I really enjoy this social time and I LIKE restaurant food!
SOLUTION: I pack my lunch every day after reviewing just how much those lunches were costing me. I limit myself to lunch once a week (hubby wants it to be once every other week, but HE doesn't have anyone he "does lunch with"). During the warmer weather, I arrange to meet friends at parks where we eat outside and they can pick up lunch, but I just pack my own. This works well. During the winter, it is a little more of a challenge. I also remind myself of how much healthier I am eating and how this is supporting my financial AND weight loss efforts.
How about you? What are the challenges you face in following a menu plan and what solutions do you have for those challenges?