Even if you change your meal planning mindset, you may still find it difficult to carry out your meal plan. Committing to follow your meal plan is the first step. The next step involves looking at other mistakes you may be making now that you are committed and ready to move on.
Are you making these meal planning mistakes?
You have to skip a meal you have planned because you forgot to thaw the meat or you don't have the correct ingredients.
After you create your meal plan, consider the ingredients you will need for your meals that week. Double-check what you have on hand and add what you need to your grocery list. Every day, review your meal plan and look ahead a day or two. Take out the meat that needs to be defrosted and it will be thawed in time.
In the event you find yourself with frozen chicken breasts and you have an Instant Pot, here is a recipe that cooks your chicken, straight from the freezer in less than half an hour. I've made it many times and you can't mess it up.
You try to reinvent the wheel every time you meal plan. You don't have a system that helps you choose the meals you will cook each day. There are many meal planning resources that suggest you choose a theme for each day of the week: "Meatless Monday" or "Taco Tuesday" or for a non-alliteration, "Spaghetti Wednesday." These themes can be carried out from week-to-week. After considering our family's schedule, I created our family's own system:
Saturday: roast/nicer meal
Sunday: BBQ/grill (or soup during the winter)
Monday: Tacos/burritos (easy meal because it's laundry day)
Tuesday: meatball variations (Kirkland frozen meatballs - are amazingly versatile. Check out the link for five ways to serve them from The Lazy Genius Collective.)
Wednesday: chicken thighs/breasts
Thursday: bean/vegetarian night
Friday: Costco or frozen pizza night!
Consider your own schedule. Then, create a system you can actually follow and choose meals from a specific theme or category for each day of the week.I've also found that this builds confidence in the kitchen. By making certain meals more regularly because they correspond with the theme (i.e. on Tuesdays - spaghetti and meatballs with frozen broccoli and salad), I have become more proficient at making a group of recipes.
You suffer from unrealistic expectations, information overload and decision fatigue because you allow yourself to be constantly bombarded by new recipes, diets, eating plans and studies. You become paralyzed.
Determine your food priorities and then let go of the things that don't matter to you. Consider the capacity you have right now. If you have a new baby in the house, your capacity to get really creative and care about a lot of food-related things is going to be smaller than it is when everyone is sleeping through the night. Especially when you are still establishing how you meal plan, having a lot of different stipulations, beyond dietary needs, can really make you feel paralyzed through the whole process.
Focus on striving for progress over perfection. Make a list of all of things you'd like to try to commit to and then choose one thing to work on that week, instead of trying to do it all at once.
You try to make too many new recipes each week.
I am guilty of this mistake. I have decided I will only try one new recipe a week (if that) and I only make it on a weekend or when my husband is home. I find that trying a new recipe requires a lot of focus and if I am wrangling kids at the same time or if we are having a particularly difficult afternoon, getting dinner on the table is enough of a challenge without trying a new recipe.
You don't begin with what you know when meal planning.
Make a list of all of the meals you can make without a recipe (i.e. scrambled eggs, quesadillas, salad or wraps with chicken or beans, tacos or burritos, grilled cheese and tomato soup, spaghetti and (frozen) meatballs, etc). I am always surprised at what I can throw together off the top of my head. Plan to make these recipe-less meals on days when you know you won't want to follow a recipe.
Then, make a list of favorite recipes. Include a section for special meals when hosting. Refer to this anytime you are meal planning and you need direction.
You regularly plan to make something that you can't get behind (i.e. you don't like it, it's difficult to make, requires more chopping than you want to do, etc.)
If you need a jumpstart back into meal planning, don't include the meatloaf recipe you can't stand. Make it somewhat enjoyable and build confidence and momentum toward meal planning that works.
You give up mid-week because you believe you have failed in some way due to a change in schedule or you ate out once on a whim.
It's never a lost cause. You can always start again for the next meal. Meal planning and carrying out the plan requires a lot of adjusting and starting again. This requires a lot of practice and trial and error. Don't give up!
You don't have the ingredients for several simple and easy meals on hand.
There are going to be nights when just can't follow your meal plan and that is totally fine. I have found that there are several meals with ingredients that I usually have on hand that are easy to make and can save me on rough days. Here are two meatless meals for days when you want to bail.
You don't plan to eat out.
Maybe eating out isn't an option at all right now. However, if you find yourself spontaneously eating out through out the month, consider adding the number of meals you'd like to eat out to your meal plan. I have found that knowing an opportunity to eat out can help me push through a night when it's hard to cook. It also makes eating out more special instead of resenting the fact that you had to eat out again.
Need help writing your meal plan? Read part III: Tips for writing a meal plan that you’ll actually follow.