According to new conventional wisdom, menu planning is the key to modern domestic bliss. In the absence of cloning machines that would allow us to successfully cook, clean, entertain children and be good partners all while making good coin, this one little task is a supposed godsend. After all, staring into the refrigerator has never resulted in a roast chicken jumping into my hands, and if it did, I’d probably throw the chicken out.
I have read many an article that would lead me to believe this parent/partner thing is dead easy for people who have their shit together. It should only take 20 minutes to come up with seven well-balanced meals that everyone will enjoy. Then we’re off and back from the store before our precious bundles have realized it’s time to wreck havoc. We've probably even managed to teach them about macroeconomics while we were gone.
In my experience, this is complete bullshit.
I have been known to go on menu planning kicks. I sit on the floor of the pantry, amongst the vacuum-immune cracker crumbs, and dive into my glorious cookbooks. I sift through recipes looking for meals that speak to my seasonal palate all while imploring my husband to manage the children while I solve our dietary dilemmas.
I don’t just plan a week, I plan a whole month. I don’t just plan dinners, I plan meals that can be repurposed for something totally different the next day or made into beautiful scenes on a melamine plate. I cross-reference what’s in the pantry and the freezer and make side notes for the produce I’ll need to purchase at the beginning of each week. Most importantly, I make sure there is no repetition, other than Fridays when the kids eat pizza and we have our post-bedtime take-out date.
Yes, I realize this means I need to get out more. But it is a work of art, I tell you. I could probably sell these puppies if I had nicer handwriting or any skills in graphic design. At least then I would know someone would use them. I, on the other hand, seem unable to take direction, even from myself. As soon as I’m done, I look to see what’s on for that night and immediately think, "Screw you, menu! I’ll cook whatever I damn well please.”
It makes me wonder whether housewives in the 1950’s faced the same issues while sipping bourbon and dropping cigarette ashes into hideous globs of blown glass. I have this notion that life was easier back then. People didn’t worry about expanding their children’s palates or making sure they ate kale and quinoa. They worried about getting the kids fed and off to bed so they could sip more bourbon and play Yahtzee with the neighbours.
“Let’s see, should we have meat and potatoes, tuna casserole or something encased in Jello?”
A wiser soul once suggested that instead of planning meals for each day, I should make a list of meals that are easily achieved. That way, I can maintain my strange, the-dude-does-not-abide mentality without having to search the entire Internet for an acceptably enticing way to prepare chicken and rice.
Again, the notion failed. For, along with my distaste for authority, I also eschew predictability. Food is the culinary version of music. There are only so many notes in the scale and yet somehow people continually compose music we’ve never heard. Remaking food we’ve already tried would be like putting the same album on repeat from now until acid wash is back in style (please tell me it isn’t back in style).
Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you I’ve come to a fabulous solution but sadly, I have not. I generally start thinking about dinner when the chill of the toilet seat brings me into consciousness every morning, then procrastinate throughout the day until it’s too late to do much more than mezze (fancy word for veggies, hummus, olives and whatever else looks promising). Perhaps one of these days I’ll get my shit together and realize how easy this gig really is. Until then, I have a well-planned and blatantly ignored menu ready for anyone willing to show it some love.