As moms, we are often frustrated at meal time. This is especially true when we purchase the latest and greatest thing to help with meal time, or when we try that cool app to help with meal planning, and we are still frustrated. Part of this problem has to do with marketing and misunderstanding tools vs solutions. In this episode we’ll dig into both and help you create a balanced system made up of multiple tools.

Dinnertime can feel like the days biggest battle for a mom. The problem gets worse when we keep trying product after product that promises to make meal planning or dinnertime easier and we keep failing. Part of the problem is our mindset and our misunderstanding of mealtimes tools vs. solutions. This guide is a must-read for sahms and wahms who get stressed about dinner.

Does mealtime constantly feel like a stressor no matter what you do?

Maybe you’re so burnt out from trying to make it work that you rely on takeout and fast food way more than you’d like to (or like to admit).

I’ve been there too.

You might be frustrated because you feel like you’ve tried all of the dinnertime meals and solutions and you still can’t seem to get dinner on the table regulary without crazy amounts of stress and overwhelm.

I’ve been there too.

Mealtime Tools vs. Solutions

Part of the reason you might be so frustrated about your mealtime predicament is because you don’t understand mealtime tools vs solutions.

Understanding tools vs solutions is key to coming up with a system for mealtime that works for you and your family everytime and gives you the confidence you deserve in the kitchen.

So how do we define tools vs solutions.

It really is quite simple.

A tool is something that helps you accomplish a goal.

In the kitchen that might be a cookbook, a knife, an app, an instant pot. These are tools.

A solution is the human component and the combination of tools used in a strategic way to make mealtime a win for you.

An instant pot could never be a solution because without a human operating it, it’s basically useless.

Why we get so confused about tools vs solutions

I hope when I defined tools vs solutions you were saying “duh” in your mind.

This concept is not difficult.

The problem comes though when we convince ourselves that tools are solutions.

See if this sounds familiar.

“I hate meal planning, it’s so time-consuming, I should just buy a meal plan that’s already done and then I will never have to worry about this again.”

or even this.

“I literally have zero time to cook, takeout is the only feasible way to feed my family regularly.”

Our internal narrative plays a big role in we humans giving tools too much power.

…but when we do this, we actually make all of our mealtime stresses even worse.

Let’s take the meal planning example and say you do invest in a menu plan, but because it’s too time-consuming, or there are too many ingredients you don’t like, or you still don’t have time to cook or grocery shop you never use it?

The meal plan can’t cook itself.

OR let’s take the takeout example and say that you or your spouse lose your job and suddenly finances are really tight.

Takeout is only a viable option when someone pays for it.

In your mind, you think that these tools are the solutions, but that’s not the case.

You are the solution.

You, the human part of all of this are what make the tools useful and make them work for your family.

The good news is that you are amazingly smart, adaptable, flexible, and ready to take on whatever the world throws at you.

…and there are numerous tools to help you along the way. Just don’t give them too much power, don’t use them for the wrong jobs, and be willing to recognize when a tool is no longer serving you and moving on to the next.

Mealtime tools and how to use them

So how should you be using tools to serve you (the solution) better without getting drawn into the trap of feeling like a failure or you aren’t cut out for this, or anything else I hear moms say about making mealtime happen.

Let’s talk about some of the tools available, how to use them to your advantage, and how some people are abusing them leading to feelings of guilt or shame.

Keep in mind that your tools will be different than mine, and that’s okay. You are you and I am me…and since we are both our own solutions it’s natural and expected that we would use our tools a little differently. …and that’s okay!

Let’s talk about some common mealtime tools that we are constantly being sold.

Fast Food:

Is there a good time to use fast food? Totally! Here are some of my favorite times!

  • When you are on the go and it doesn’t make sense to pack something
  • When there is something to celebrate
  • When your dinner plan has gone horribly awry and there’s nothing you can do to salvage it.

When shouldn’t you use fast food?

  • In place of meal planning, if you don’t plan you’ll find every opportunity to just grab takeout which will lead to you abusing this tool.

Convenience Foods:

Sometimes I think I give myself the reputation of being a little crazy when it comes to meal prep.

More than once I’ve had someone ask me why I would make something when I could just buy it.

I usually turn that question around and ask why they would buy something when they could just make it.

In all seriousness though, there is definitely a time for convenience food and I don’t actually make everything from scratch.

Sure, I have probably tried making every thing from scratch (we’re talking marshmallows and ketchup here people, yes I am a little crazy), but if I find out it’s more time than it’s worth, I just buy the thing.

So let’s talk about when convenience foods are a good idea.

  • When making the item at home is incredibly time consuming (breads, croissants, etc…)
  • In times of great stress/need (aka the newborn phase)
  • When travelling or other times when keeping fresh food on hand safe and good quality is hard
  • When you are trying to break out of a slump or burnout.

When it’s best not to use convenience foods?

  • Just because you can-you might be able to make something easily and it will likely be cheaper and better for you. If you try making something on your own and it’s too much? Don’t stress, just keep buying it.

Meal Planning apps

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of meal planning apps, but even they have their place.

When a meal planning app is a good idea

  • When you are in a recipe rut
  • When you are just learning to meal plan and meal prep
  • When you are diagnosed with an allergy/intolerance/or disease that requires a special diet

I think apps can be a great starting place for beginners to cooking or meal planning. They can also be great if you are in a recipe rut and need somewhere to begin.

When not to use meal planning apps:

  • Don’t use them because you don’t want to take the time to make your own meal plan. You’ll likely end up wanting to change half of it and it would be faster to just start from scratch.

Box Meal Kits

I have actually never used a box meal kit, but I’ve got some in my cart for the next few weeks because my sister’s getting married, we’re moving, my daughter is starting kindergarten, and I feel like I could use a little break.

I also wanted to give them a fair shot so I can share my experience with you all.

Here’s where I can see box meal kits being useful.

  • Use when you want to cook at home but you are short on time
  • When you want to try new things and new recipes

When a boxed meal kit isn’t the best solution?

  • Don’t use long-term because it will hurt your pocketbook and it’s super easy to create your own box meals

Meal Prep

Even meal prep can be overused. There was a time when my weekly meal prep was so stressful and time-consuming that I was having a hard time getting through it it all. There have also been times that I’ve meal prepped something that should have been made fresh and it just doesn’t taste great.

When to use meal prep:

  • Meal prep as much as it relieves stress, and stop when it starts causing stess.

I hope this episode has made you think, and most of all, I hope it can help you take away some of the mom guilt associated with dinner time.

You are the answer to your dinnertime problems, but there are lots of tools to help you. The exact combination of the tools above (and others that we didn’t get into) that will work for you won’t be the exact same as my combination of tools and that’s okay.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, try things out, see what works for you and develop your mealtime system over time.

You aren’t failing, you are learning, and every failure is one step closer to success.

As always, i’m rooting for you. You’ve got this!

Next week’s episode is all about breakfast. I’ve noticed that my day goes so much better if I eat a good wholesome breakfast, but who has time for that? I’m sharing the what and the how of breakfast in our house and hope it helps you improve that “most important meal of the day”

Until next time, happy planning

Amanda

Amanda is a dietitian turned mom and food blogger. Her goal is to change lives one family at a time by providing easy, from scratch, family friendly recipes that the whole family will enjoy!

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#45 Mealtime: Tools vs Solutions