The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

How Meal-Planning Saved My Life

For my Wednesday food post this week, I would like to discuss: Meal Planning. If we are Facebook friends (and if not, WHY NOT? Is it because you’re talking about me behind my back? Because you know we can still be friends on Facebook and then when you want to make a status update that says, “Dude, did you see what Elizabeth Newlin is wearing today? Honey, Halloween is still five days away, put the sequined leggings back in your closet.” But you don’t want have some awkward confrontation where I comment, “Um, listen, Sweetheart, just because you don’t have the calves for sequined leggings and your mama didn’t teach you how to accessorize your way out of a paper bag doesn’t mean no one else can pull them off.” you can just hide that status from only me. I don’t actually know how to do it, but I totally have a friend whose mom is all, ‘How come you never post anything on the Facebook, Dear?’ even though this friend is Booking Face constantly. So friend me. Even if you like to make fun of how I dress. End Tangent.) you probably see my regular weekend status update about how I’m slogging through meal planning and think, “Oh, really? And now you’re scratching your ear? Thanks for the news flash. My life is now complete.” And you’re so right. It’s one of those things I feel compelled to share that is absolutely not interesting, informative or entertaining. I should stop. But instead I’m just going to do a whole blog post about it.

I’m not going to say meal planning is as fabulous as the cure for Polio or anything, but it’s maybe as good as the vaccine for chicken pox. Not very many people ever died from chicken pox, but it sure saves a whole lot of calamine lotion and parental PTO days now that kids don’t get it any more. Meal planning doesn’t make our family perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does keep me from locking myself in a closet so I can curl into the fetal position without my kids pacing around me saying, ‘Oh no, did Mom forget to buy herself Diet Coke again?’ at 5:15pm every day. The end of the day, when I’m starving, frazzled and out of patience tends to be extra difficult for me, and planning out our family dinners a week at a time has been the key to my survival. Let me give you a little illustration of why I’m so into Meal Planning.

Nightly Internal Conversations Before I Meal-Planned:

Wow, today sucked even worse than yesterday, who knew that was possible? I’ve been on the phone with lenders and clients for the last 10 hours and I’m pretty sure the kids are in the backyard tunneling under the block fence. It’s 5:03pm and the last thing I ate was half a free jelly donut at the office meeting at 10am. I’m so ravenous the cat is starting to look delicious. There is no conceivable way I can convert the contents of our pantry (5 cans of diced tomatoes, microwave popcorn, a package of bunny shaped novelty pasta from last Easter and a packet of powdered Hollandaise sauce) into anything edible for dinner. There is also no way I can put the kids in the car, drive to the store, brain-storm what to buy that can be converted into dinner and get home without running over the teenager who puts away the carts from the parking lot in a hunger rage and then make dinner and eat before midnight. We’ll surely all die before then. The only option is to call Jason and beg him to stop and get Chinese takeout on the way home. Well, or I could drink a bottle of wine and eat the microwave popcorn and make Jason and the kids fend for themselves. That’s better parenting, isn’t it? I’m teaching them the art of survival. (2 hours and $45 in Chinese takeout later) I hate myself. That was gross and I’m bloated with salt, grease and MSG. And $45! What the hell? I’m a financial failure; that’s ridiculous. And I just practically fed my children poison. Sweet and sour pork with white rice and fortune cookies has zero nutritional value. I’m a parental failure too. I better still drink that bottle of wine to dull the shame of my shortcomings.

Nightly Internal Conversations After I Meal-Planned:

Huh, is it really possible I just showed 9 houses in four different cities to 3 different clients, burned $40 in gas, and I still don’t have a paycheck on the horizon in the next month? Oh and it’s 4:45pm and we all just shuffled through the door from the 3 sets of child pick-ups, but child #1 needs to be dropped off at soccer in 30 minutes. Is it wrong to hope I am skewered by a stray arrow in the next 3 minutes? There could be archers practicing nearby. I’m just saying it could happen. OK, but it says on the list here on the fridge that I have everything needed to make a quick baked spaghetti with mozzarella, fresh basil and garlic bread. That actually sounds kinda nice. I can drop child #1 at practice and come home and dice garlic and cut up chunks of mozzarella and have a nice cold glass of Pinot Grigio. It’s always socially acceptable to have a glass of wine while cooking. Jason will pick up kid #1 and be home just as the pasta is finished baking and then I won’t have to hang myself from the curtain rod upstairs. We can sit and have a nice dinner. One foot in front of the other. I can do this.

So I’m curious: How many people out there don’t do a weekly meal plan? If you don’t, how do you make life work? I’ve been doing it for over a year now and I don’t think I can ever go back, but I’d love to know if there are other systems I’m not considering, or maybe I’m just a giant 5pm baby. Have I morphed into a ridiculously rigid, unspontaneous, fun-sucker? It’s possible. I do like to go to bed early.

9 Responses to How Meal-Planning Saved My Life

  1. Wow, a week in advance? Truth be told, I don’t remember what we did when we had three kids at home, but I know it didn’t get planned a week in advance. I think maybe we only knew how to make two things, so we just alternated between thing A and thing B.

    What I do now is to browse recipes during the day until I find something I want to cook, then stop by the grocery on my way home and pick up what’s required, then cook it. But we don’t have kids at home, and I’m in front of a computer all day and can browse recipes at my leisure. So, I guess none of this applies.

    On a related note though, last week I spent all Sunday morning cooking up a batch of chicken and dumplings, and then a batch of something else that I can’t remember, and portioned them out into lunches and froze them. So now I have lunches for a month, although I don’t remember what half of them are.

    I’ll stop now.

  2. How is it that I, who am a confirmed list maker, do not plan meals? It seems like a natural fit for my personality. Instead, my system is that when I get home, I have to piece together one protein, one vegetable and one starch. For instance, last night it was chicken sausages (grilled), green beans (in olive oil) and potatoes (mashed w/ loads of sour cream but don’t tell my husband who does not eat sour cream…that he knows of).

    It is painful to come up with the three items sometimes, but usually I manage because I shop with them in mind. (I have three starch options but only one veg, back to the veg aisle I go.) I used to be a great cook. (No, really! Once upon a time.) Now I muddle through. Also, the closest take-out for us is Pita Jungle or LGO so that feels not so bad.

    But I only have one kid, so really, what do I know? Ask me what I do when I have three. You are a saint.

  3. I did. And then I got pregnant. And nothing I plan sounds good that day. So I either force myself to eat it and contemplate vomiting because it’s so unappealing or I throw temper tantrum because I’m so hungry and nothing sounds good so I beg husband to think of something that sounds good and it’s always chicken-which I could happily never eat again now that we have eaten it like 5 nights a week. I’m ridiculously cheap and hate buying take out because I’m sure I could make something cheaper. Except Arby’s. I could eat that every day. So the point is I did and should because when I am hungry I revert to 3yo status and should have a warning sign about sudden outbursts.

  4. I experience a similar difference in weeks I meal plan and weeks I don’t. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing more “don’t” lately, and it shows. Most kids beg their parents to eat out. I know we’ve been eating out too often when mine starts begging to eat at home! :-\

  5. Hey.. So how does one friend you on fb? Theres a few

    My meal planning doesn’t stretch past 3 hours. (some women dig

  6. I would LOVE to meal plan. Problem is, I’m alone for meals a lot, so what’s the point? So then I end up eating the same d*mn things over and over again from Fresh and Easy. Or, you know, a bean burrito. But, Ryan’s home tonight, and I know I have to cook something, but I don’t know what yet. And we have no food in the house. Wish I’d planned for that.

  7. I meal plan and I dont have any kids! On Monday’s my hubs and I eat canned tuna with tortilla chips. Tuesday its pizza night. Wednesday canned soup (warmed up if hes lucky). Thursday cheese and wheathins. Friday is pb&j.

    My husband is 5’10 and weighs 150 pounds.

    …and thats still not enough inspiration to make me use a stove.

  8. Yes i meal plan… some nights just doesn’t go as well as planned though and i do have to revert to making a sandwich or getting something bad for you and really expensive. Like Taco Bell… How we spend $25 at taco bell for 2 people is beyond me, but there you are.

  9. My solution – all of my kids a) know how to cook and b) have their own online accounts at pizzahut,com. I don’t mean to brag, but my youngest could make an omelete when he was in kindergarten AND has a full grasp of how to maximize coupon usage when ordering online.

    Just a thought…your kids sound pretty resourceful.

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