Like you, your meal plan is unique, and the reasons it fails are also unique. However, here are some common reasons it might not work out and some tips to make it more successful.
1 ) You are trying to make it do too much because you haven’t decided what you really want it to accomplish.
If you’re not sure what is important to you, you may try to do too many things at once and not really succeed at all of them. Read the Lazy Genius’s When Your Meal Plan Has House Hunter’s Syndrome (very quick read) for a great discussion of why this doesn’t work. This is why it is so important to know what you want your meal plan to do for you and why I wrote a whole post about it last week!
How to fix it: Decide the most important things (1-3) you want your meal plan to do for you and don’t worry about the rest
Narrowing down what you really need (e.g. time efficiency, variety, stability, nutrition, cost savings, comfort, ease of preparation) will help you prioritize and eliminate the effort of trying to accomplish what you don’t need (e.g. time efficiency, variety, stability, nutrition, cost savings, comfort, ease of preparation) See how what you need could be the same as what someone doesn’t need?
See What you need for your meal plan to be successful for some good examples of what this might look like in different situations, including what my meal plan was like in college.
2) You don’t take your real life into account
Sometimes when we plan meals, I think we imagine this separate time and place where we will have a clean kitchen and lots of workspace, plenty of energy, and enough time to leisurely and lovingly prepare new and delicious recipes maybe with some nice music to sing and dance around to.
Is that just me?
Anyway, we are realists here at Nutrition for Real Humans and I don’t know about you but that only sometimes happens. When it does, it’s great, but most of the time, at least one of the following is true.
- It’s after a long day of work and I’m tired
- I have very little time between work and another commitment so there’s no time to cook
- There are enough dirty dishes from the day that I have to work around them
- We don’t have that much counter space
- I don’t feel like chopping vegetables
- I’m really hungry and would rather just eat now
- I don’t feel like eating what I’ve planned
- I watch YouTube videos while cooking instead of dancing to nice music
Surely there are other things that make following a meal plan more challenging for you: kids are upset, there’s after dinner activities, an appointment unexpectedly went late, the ingredients you thought you had you don’t or they’ve gone bad . . .etc.
How to fix it: Look at your calendar and really imagine your day while you’re picking the meals to plan
Choose meals that will fit the day.
Don’t plan to try an involved new recipe on the day you have to leave early for choir practice – plan a slow cooker meal, sandwiches, or plan to get something to go
Don’t plan a meal that nobody really likes that much on a stressful day – choose a comforting, easy-to-make meal
Want to try a new involved recipe? Pick a day when you’ll have time and energy to enjoy the process!
Of course this doesn’t help for the unexpected. Another reason your meal plan might fail:
3) Your meal plan isn’t flexible enough
This one’s tricky because for some people, the whole reason they need a meal plan is for stability and predictability. Different people will need different amounts of flex, you might not want very much and that’s ok.
But I think more meal plans would succeed if they included a little flexibility for days when you are unexpectedly busy, or you’re missing a crucial ingredient, or just don’t feel like making what you planned because let’s be honest, it happens.
How to fix it: Plan 1-2 meals that can flex, or can easily be moved around
- use ingredients you always have on hand (nothing special, they’ll get used even if you don’t use them for this meal) or won’t go bad (frozen stuff is GREAT for this)
- are generally easy and quick to make
- are generally always acceptable to eat
- (This can also be planning to get takeout or go out to a restaurant)
Some of our go-to flexible meals are bean burritos made with canned beans, macaroni and cheese, eggs and toast, frozen fish and oven fries and frozen peas, pasta made with jarred or frozen sauce.
You can use a flexible meal to fill in for a planned meal that doesn’t work out
These meals can be skipped like no big deal because those ingredients will definitely get eaten eventually. This is useful for
- unexpected spontaneous dinner plans (hey! meet us for Taco Tuesday!)
- unexpectedly abundant leftovers that need to get used up
And if everything goes to plan and you make all your other planned meals, then great, your flex meals give you an easy and appealing meal to look forward to making!
4) You have picky kids (or picky adults ) 🙃
This is a whole other blog post. Stay tuned.
Watch below if you’d rather listen than read:
This post is intended to be informational only and is not medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about your unique needs, ask about a custom meal plan or speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist near you.