The age old question rears its ugly head over and over again. What to do for dinner? Where can I find ideas for supper when I am not motivated to cook?
I am frequently NOT motivated to cook. Therefore, I try to have a menu plan prepared because I find that the biggest part of the challenge at mealtime for me is deciding WHAT to cook, given the eating limitations that my personal situation presents. If I have a menu plan, the hard part is done.
My process for creating a menu plan is to sit down with a cup of tea in my favorite coffee mug and a few pieces of scrap paper and then to draw out the days of the week, noting when someone has an obligation outside of the house, which means that he will not be eating at home or that he will be eating leftovers later than the rest of us. I then look through my cookbooks and printed recipe collection and fill in the blanks.
Lately, however, I find that my menu planning process is more often than not FAILING and I come away frustrated and not much better off than when I started...I am simply STUCK for an inspiration and hard pressed to make a decision.
I wish there was a magic answer to the question, "What's for Supper" but there doesn't seem to be so I proceeded on the assumption that there are a few others out there like myself who struggle with the answer to that question. To offer assistance, I assembled a few ideas and resources on this page. They're all flexible to suit different situations and I hope they offer you at the very least a tiny bit of menu planning inspiration.
This article was originally written in 2012 when I had a family too cook for. Much still applies to our world as empty nesters though I have definitely found cooking for two adults to be radically different than cooking for two adults and two hungry boys.
What's for Supper art print from Amazon.
TRY A MENU PLANNING BOOK
7-Day Menu Planner For Dummies
A MENU PLANNING BOOK WITH 52 WEEKS OF MEAL PLANS.
If you are familiar with the Dummies series of books, you know how practical they can be. This book, the 7-Day Menu Planner For Dummies, also is very practical, delivering "a structured, nutritional approach to daily meal planning." It includes 52 weeks worth of menus.
Plan It, Don't Panic: Everything You Need to Successfully Create and Use a Meal Plan
A MENU PLANNING EBOOK FOR YOUR KINDLE OR OTHER READING DEVICE
Plan It, Don't Panic will help you make the most of your grocery dollars, to avoid the dreaded panic that entails when you don't know what to do for dinner and to prepare healthy meals for your family. Customer reviews for this book are stellar.
Buy Plan It, Don't Panic from Amazon here.
ASK YOUR FRIENDS WHAT THEY DO FOR SIMPLE SUPPERS
Brainstorming with friends about what they do for easy and quick dinners is a good thing. I did it. I simply asked a group of friends what they do when they are looking for an EASY and FAST supper when they did not feel like cooking. Here's a sampling of what they had to say. As you will see in a moment, once they got started, they shared a wealth of dinner ideas.
Dianne said, "I found a recipe for easy shepherd's pie and that is what we're having tomorrow. I made it up tonight so I can just pop it in the oven tomorrow." Brilliant idea, Dianne and I love meals for which the work is done today for tomorrow. Susan said, "I purchased salmon yesterday and baked that and we had a small baked potato and a big salad. Healthy. Tasted okay, but nothing special." I love the simplicity of Susan's meal -- NO recipe required! My version is cooking up three pieces of plain fish with just a hint of seasoning, some rice and lots of vegetables. Almost no thinking involved.
For an easy meal for company, Dianne said, "I buy a couple of kinds of bread and some deli meats, maybe some cheeses, and let everyone make their own sandwiches. If you like you can add some side dishes at the deli too. Potato salad, cole slaw, etc. or just have some chips." Joan said, "I am thinking of a spaghetti casserole for company. That would be easy for Saturday night, when they arrive because it can be done ahead of time." Brilliant, Joan will have her hands free to visit with her guests.
"Making a pasta salad is a great, customizable idea. It is good eating, requires cooking just once and makes a big batch plus you can add whatever you want in regards to fresh vegetables." This idea another one from Susan, that I have also used. However, we've never put pepperoni in ours, as her husband Chris does...and I am not sure that we ever will. (Sorry, Chris.)
Joan and her husband recently had two premade burger patties, stuffed potatoes and broccoli. She was right when she said that it was not fancy but we all wanted to go to her house for supper and we decided a fancy name dressed it right up. Who wouldn't enjoy a meal of "Pan Fried Hamburger Steak with Stuffed Baked Potatoes and Fresh Steamed Broccoli?" Dianne also suggested a stir fry with LEFTOVER veggies and meat. Another brilliant idea. (Smart group of friends, I have eh?) I've never thought to use leftovers in a stir fry and planned leftovers would be perfect.
"Bake a big ham and then plan meals around that. Ham and mashed potatoes, ham and scrambled eggs, ham and cabbage, ham and bean soup, ham sandwiches." Thanks, again, Dianne! "Bagged lettuce and whatever add ons you like. Leftover chicken or beef, boiled eggs, canned beans and the veggies you like. Make it a main dish salad." One last idea from Dianne!
Another easy dinner, that we personally love in my family, is make-it-yourself sub sandwiches with veggies and dip. My entire family loves assembling what they want in their sandwiches and I love watching those mouths open wide and those vegetable crudites disappear. This meal isn't quite as fast as Dianne's sandwich idea although you could simplify it by purchasing prepared raw vegetables. It is, however, a family favorite around here. Carma was late to the conversation but she responded with a resounding, "Eat Out!" We all know that eating out is always an option but for most of us it is an option we cannot enjoy frequently. Her final answer however was, "spaghetti or meaty mac, go-to meals that the kids love." She explained that Meaty Mac is her own version of macaroni and cheese with ground beef.
USE AN ONLINE MEAL PLAN
Recently, I looked into the following four meal plans and found myself intrigued. They're each a bit different.
Easy Dinner Ideas with Free Weekly Menus, Recipes and a Printable Grocery List
Make Dinner Easy is written by a mom who shares free weekly menus, recipes and even a printable grocery list. I've used her menus for a few weeks now but I do tweak them to fit in my own recipes. Read more here.
eMeals Meal Planning Program for Busy Moms & Frugal Cooks
The EMeals Meal Planning Program is not free but it does provide more menu choices than the other menu plans I have discovered. You can pick one that suits your personal cooking situation. Read more here.
The Canadian Living Dinner Club
Canadian Living's shares a five-night weekly menu that includes some of their best recipes for fast and easy weeknight dinners, plus weekly food tips that you can sign up for. Learn more here.
COLLECT SOME EASY RECIPE IDEAS
Quick Budget-Friendly Recipes from Martha Stewart
Your taste buds and wallet will achieve perfect harmony with our selection of quick meals, including stovetop mac and cheese, braised pork chops, meatballs, and roasted chicken tacos. Find Martha's recipes here.
Ten 10-Minute Meals By Simple Bites
The meal ideas I'm sharing today are for those kinds of days. They're quicker then takeout and tasty to boot, so everyone can be excited about dinner and you'll find yourself lounging outside, or on the couch, in no time. Learn more here.
USE AN EASY DINNER COOKBOOK
These cookbooks are focused on making dinner easy.
Consulting a cookbook that has EASY and FAST menu ideas is another option. Check out these three by well-loved celebrity authors:
The Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family. Learn more here.
Weeknights with Giada: Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner. Learn more here.
Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast. Find it on Amazon here.
They are all beautiful, hardcover books packed with inspiration.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO FOR DINNER?
Wow, that helped and now I'm feeling motivated to put together a week's worth of menus. How about you? What are you going to do for dinner? Have I managed to inspire you or at least to give you a direction to start in? Will you be creating a menu plan? Will you be cooking something fast and easy for supper tonight or will you be resorting to a t.v. dinner? What do YOU do when you don't know what to do for dinner?
in the kitchen!
When you want to plan a special dinner, you might consider...
A Traditional Easter Dinner Menu
Complete Make-Ahead Summer Dinner Menu and Recipes
The Best-Ever Summer Salad Recipe Collection
A Fall Dinner Plan With Make-Ahead Recipes