Planning for Falling Down

By Kevin Gibbons

We usually plan for success. No one plans for failure.

But there is a difference between planning for the possibility of falling down in your journey and planning to fail. This idea can be useful in many areas of your life, but today, we will talk specifically about cooking and meal planning. With the holiday season rapidly approaching, time becomes an ever-more precious commodity. Coupled with the increase in entertaining and social obligations, it is very likely that once or twice in the next three months your plans for preparing a healthy meal for your family will get torpedoed.

Something will come up that will either keep you from going shopping when you had planned, or an event, or traffic, or weather will conspire against you so that you get home at 8 instead of 6. When this happens, you’ve fallen down in your meal execution plan. In those cases, many of us will either forego a meal entirely (if we live alone or with a significant other) or order take-out (if we have a family that we have to feed that night). Neither option is good, either for your personal health or your financial health.

But, if you plan now, you can put safety nets in place to catch you when you fall down in those busy months.

What do those safety nets look like? Well, take a step back and look at what emergency responders do to plan for undesirable events. (My wife, Leta, spent 23 years in the Coast Guard. I learned a lot from her about planning for emergencies and how to execute under pressure.) In any emergency, whether something as serious as a medical emergency or a natural disaster, or as mundane as missing a meal preparation, you want to keep the steps simple, so you don’t have to spend a lot of mental energy improvising under pressure. You want to use materials that are readily at hand and with which you are very familiar, again, so you don’t have to spend that mental energy figuring out how to find and use them. You want to have high confidence that the steps and materials will work and give the results that you need. The Coast Guard and other emergency responders achieve these goals with many hours of planning and practice.

Fortunately, for meal preparation it can be a lot simpler. Pick your favorite, simple recipe. The one that you can do in 10 minutes or less, on 4 hours’ sleep. Make sure you always have all the ingredients on hand. That usually means it will be some kind of grain (pasta or rice)-based dish with protein you can keep frozen or in a can (chicken breast or beans). It should be a dish that you know how to prepare without a lot of thinking and one that you know your family will eat. I’m not going to give you recipe ideas here, because the key goal is for you to choose a dish with which you already are familiar. Remember, you don’t want to be reading a recipe and trying to figure out the cooking steps when you are preparing this. This dish is for when things go wrong in your day and you have to prepare a meal for your family at the last minute, under stress. Just like the fire department is not going to try out a new fire engine for the first time at an actual fire, you want to stick with what is familiar and you know works. But, if you do need some ideas, take a look at Mastering Cooking Through Basic Dishes.

So, how do you Plan for Falling Down?

  • Pick a meal you know how to prepare and that your family likes.
  • Make sure your selection is simple and easy to prepare in a short amount of time (10-15 minutes)
  • Make sure you always have the key ingredients on hand.
  • As a back-up, always have a healthy frozen meal (or better yet, frozen leftovers) on hand and ready to put in the microwave for those truly critical situations

Make your plans before things get hectic. If you don’t have to use them, then you still have the wherewithal to cook a simple meal and take an evening off.