3 Ways I Escape the Dinner Rut

I am really terrible at meal-planning. It has always overwhelmed me because there are so many moving parts—figuring out what you have, deciding which days it would be good to have leftovers, determining how to buy in such a way that your chicken doesn’t go bad before you use it. Plus you throw in trying to be healthy and inexpensive, and it just gets crazy.

I’ve definitely improved, but it’s still a struggle. If, like me, you’re a terrible meal-planner, the best advice I can give you is: just do it. You’ll figure stuff out and make mistakes and let stuff go bad, but it gets easier over time (for me, very, very slowly). 

However, lately making dinner has been hard. It’s the combination of the witching hour: a generally-fussy baby, a tired mama, and a toddler who always seems to need something I’m not able to give him at that particular time. Plus we’re just coming off of over a month of someone in our home being sick, which means having to find our groove again.

However, I enjoy making dinner. More than that, I enjoy having a plan for dinner that I know in advance and then executing that plan. I love looking forward to a particular meal and then getting it on the table.

So this week, I’m making a plan again and doing as much of our shopping as possible in advance.

When you’re in charge of your own schedule, it can be hard to know what to do and when to get it done. I’ve heard several people say that one productivity secret is becoming your own manager and then becoming the employee. When you’re the manager, you’re deciding what work to get done and delegating it. That way, when you’re the employee, you don’t have to make decisions. Rather you can just do the work.

So in this sense, I sit down and make my plan (as the manager), and then each night, I just do what it tells me. I try not to let myself question it once it is made (although if we’re in the mood for a particular meal on night, I’m fine with switching).

In addition to actually having a plan (which really does make all the difference), I also have three other things that make a huge difference in my dinner fiasco.

1. Buy exactly what you need. I am a chronic under-buyer, and I love to say, “Oh, we’ll make it work.” But then I feel so uninspired about making the recipe, or I steal the heavy cream from another recipe and throw off my whole plan.

At one point, we tried a meal subscription service, and though I didn’t love it overall, the fact that I had the ingredients I needed—from the protein down to the specific spices—made it so much more enjoyable for me to cook.

I don’t like to over-buy, but I do make sure to buy exactly what I’ll need now. Plus this keeps me from letting food go to waste in my fridge because I'm missing the other ingredients in the recipe.

2. Try a new recipe. I get really uninspired if all my recipes are tried and true. Each week, I need at least one (but probably not more than two) new recipes to try. I love flipping through cookbooks or seeing a recipe on a blog to try. I look forward to these new recipes all week, even though they take a bit more time and effort to execute (though sometimes they don’t!). This week I'm trying a Grilled Chicken and Strawberry Salad Wrap  and Peruvian chicken

3. Put butter in the skillet. Sometimes I just feel lethargy. I just don’t want to go in the kitchen and make the recipe; the effort feels too great. On these nights, I get out my plan and then turn on the stove and throw butter in the skillet. The act of starting is tremendous. It makes me think of those people who say that the secret to exercise is just to put on your shoes. That first step can feel so big, but once I’m started, I’m good to go.

We’re still in a season where making dinner is hard. It’s a bit stressful and unpredictable. But I’ve realized that I’m more stressed out by not having a plan. So here’s to a new week and a few new recipes!

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P.S. When it comes to planning, I love Plan to Eat, and they just keep making their software better. I love that all my favorite recipes are there, especially the ones I otherwise forget. I love the way the planner works, as well as the grocery list. They usually have a good sale around Thanksgiving, so I've gotten it two years in a row for 50% off.