Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meal Planning and My Obsession with Variation

Meal planning.  I do it weekly, by the way, although I post about our dinners monthly.  I spend at least an hour, often more, planning.  It is a long, lengthy process wherein I browse my Pinterest pins, bookmarks, previous months meals, cookbooks, etc. looking for ideas.  Every week, I wait to be inspired.  I have huge binders of recipes and numerous recipes on the computer, but I keep searching for something new.  Something inspiring.  Something life-changing.  

I have known a number of people who have a weekly menu that plays on continuous repeat: Roast on Sunday, spaghetti on Monday, chicken on on Friday, and baked potatoes on Saturday.  They might vary up the type of chicken or their pizza toppings, but it more or less stays within this predictable pattern.   I kind of wish I could do that.  I wish I wasn't so obsessive about what I ate, "but, we had meatloaf the week before last.  I can't eat it again!"  I have even played around with just having general themes by which to plan: A Mexican meal, pasta night, pizza night, etc., but even that seems too constraining.  I become all tortured artist by such thought: "I don't want to set any limitations to my creative menu muse!"

Adding a husband and a toddler to the mix (oh yes, I am a meal planning veteran.  I was meal planning years before I actually got married) has made the process even more difficult.  I will come across a recipe that I think sounds good (black bean quesadillas with mango for example) but then I have to see if it passes the Finn or Mr. F. test.  (Yes and No respectively if you are wondering.  Mr. F. has this real hang up with fruit in savory applications.  It kills my creative muse on a regular basis.)

I don't know from where this stems.  Growing up, we had a core set of recipes that were in heavy rotation.  It didn't repeat by the week, by any means, but I am sure we had some repeats within the same month.  I was completely fine with this.  I liked knowing what to expect.  Hamburger soup?  I knew exactly which soup my mother was talking about.  Macaroni and cheese?  Kraft Mac and Cheese from the box, baby.  By comparison, I tell Finn we are having macaroni and cheese, and he might wonder which of the twelve variations it could be.  (He was not a fan of the green macaroni and cheese we had for dinner the other night, by the way.  Can't really blame him.  It didn't look particularly appetizing.)

I think there might be an issue here, is all I am saying.

As I was thinking about menu planning and my childhood, I was reminded of this clip from This American Life: A Little Bit of Knowledge.  Of course the whole episode is great, but the applicable bit starts around 10:09.  A girl describes how she was raised and what she ate for dinner:

Robin didn't think there was anything strange about the way she was raised. She lived together with her sister and her parents in a nice house in the suburbs. She went to school like the other kids, watched TV and did her homework. And she ate the exact same thing for dinner every night of her life, baked chicken.
Robin: It was like Monday, chicken.  Tuesday, chicken.  Wednesday, chicken.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, every night of my life until I left for college.
She then goes on to tell the story about how she found out that other people had variation in their weekly meals.  Hilarious.

Besides it being a funny story, I have to have a private little chuckle too--this would be my father's worst nightmare.  He was not particularly fond of chicken (although we ate it on a regular basis.)  When asked why he didn't like it, he would spin this tragic tale of having a pet chicken/duck (it varied on the telling), and his mother cooking it for supper one day.  That experience (so the story goes) has rendered him incapable of fully enjoying chicken.

So how does menu planning look at your house?  Do you have a core set of recipes that you work from?  Do you obsessively look for new ideas like I do?  Do you eat baked chicken every single night of the week?

1 comment:

Melanie said...

I was just thinking about this topic the other day. Although I tend to gravitate toward similar flavors and ingredients, there are few dishes that I make on a regular basis. There are just too many recipes to try out!

Oddly enough, I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every morning. It's the one meal I can stand to repeat over and over.

Every time I serve food to guests, I always say, "I hope you like it, because I have no idea what this tastes like. This is the first time I've made this dish." I know, this violates the cardinal rule of entertaining, but when you only cook for one, sometimes you need guinea pigs upon which to test recipes.

Growing up, we had more of a rotation. My mom didn't hate cooking, but she didn't love it either. If she started making a lasagna we knew the missionaries were coming for dinner.

Also, I just made the black bean and mango quesadilla this week and I am in love!


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