What to Make for Dinner

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With this easy-to-follow guide, you’ll know exactly what to make for dinner every night, even if you don’t have a ton of time or home-cooked meals stress you out!

Melissa Griffiths chopping vegetables.
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The secret to getting dinner on the table!

Listen, I get it. It’s not a walk in the park to get dinner on the table every night. There are certainly evenings where calling in pizza delivery or popping a frozen-box meal into the oven are the only option. Life’s crazy, days are long, and kids aren’t always the easiest, we’ll say, to feed.

I’m right there with you! With five little mouths of my own to feed, plus two adults, mealtime can feel like a hectic, uphill battle many days of the week. Or maybe you’re just trying to make it through the next hour until the end of the day, and by 5 p.m., it finally hits you there’s one more meal to crank out before you can hit the hay. Toddler mamas, you’re most likely in the thick of this “one hour at a time” season, and I know it well.

The secret to taking the crazy out of dinner: make a master list of meals!

Much more flexible than full meal planning, let me explain.

What if I told you I have the fix to mealtime planning chaos? It’s not a fairy godmother or a miracle, and it requires a bit of foresight and planning, but this system has absolutely transformed how I approach family meal prep. The easy answer? Make a master list! And here’s how.

1. Pick a Plan Type

Pick a main dinner plan (see options below!) and then pick 7 (or more) sub-categories, one for each day of the week.

  • MOST COMMON: Dinner Plan 1: By Cuisine Type – Examples of different categories: Comfort food night, Italian night, meatless dinners, soup, breakfast for dinner, Mexican, pizza night, grill, ethnic, or slow cooker. This is the dinner plan that I personally do.
  • Dinner Plan 2 : Meat-Based – Chicken, hamburger, seafood, red meat, or pork.
  • Dinner Plan 3: Grain-Based – Rice, pasta, bread, corn, potatoes, beans, or lentils.
filled out calendar.

2. Make a Master List

Write all 7 of those genres on a piece of paper, and write down all the meals that you can think of that fit into each category. Pick recipes and meals that you know that you like and have made before.

The goal: Make a list of recipes that you already make! This is a giant mental dump list of things you can make, not new recipes.

Example- Category: Soup

Example- Category: Mexican/Tex-Mex

Example- Category: Breakfast for Dinner

Example- Category: Italian

Example- Category: Ethnic

Example- Category: Pizza Night

photos of perfectly simple dinners, a five photo collage

Example- Category: Comfort Food

Example- Category: Super Easy

Example- Category: Slow Cooker Dinners

Example- Category: Meatless Dinners

Example- Category: Instant Pot Dinner

NOTES: The possibilities are endless! The goal is to write down things that you know how to make and are comfortable making, and that aren’t new to you.

New recipes can have their own spot; make it its own day of the week, and make a category list of new recipes you would like to try.

This list-making process will streamline your meal planning so much, so don’t skip it. This is what makes it easy, too! Don’t feel like you have to only choose seven categories to make lists for either, you might want to have 9 to 10 master lists to draw from. It’s up to you!

This is your master list. Don’t lose it! I recommend saving it on your computer under a very easy title so you can look it up. I also print out a copy and tape it to the inside of my cabinet, and keep a second copy in my planner (where I make my shopping list) for easy reference.

prepped food for dinner

3. Use Your New List!

At the start of a a new week or when you need to, check out your list, pick a few meals you know how to make, make a grocery list, and dinner is done! Half of the effort of making dinner is PLANNING what to make. You just made that easier on yourself by taking all of the “thinking” part out of the planning! Just look at your list.

Want to take your meal planning to the next level?

Use your list to plan a MONTH at a time! Here’s how!

With this easy-to-follow guide, you’ll know exactly what to make for dinner every night, even if you don’t have a ton of time or home-cooked meals stress you out!

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