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Meal Planning Ideas

Even the most seasoned home cooks get stuck in a rut once in a while. This post will help you come up with some simple new dinner ideas that your family will love.

Asian glazed salmon over snap peas

After a while, even the most crowd-pleasing family dinners can start to get a little stale.

If you're in the market for some new dinner ideas, there are a ton of obvious places to look: cookbooks, magazines, Pinterest, blogs, and food websites to name a few.

But I've found that having a zillion recipes at my disposal doesn't always make it easy to figure out what to serve for dinner — especially when dealing with dietary restrictions, picky kids, busy schedules, and particular tastes.

If you're in need of some dinner inspiration, here are some simple things that you can do to break out of your dinner rut and make meal-time exciting again.

Meal Planning Ideas:

1) Play dinner roulette.

Sometimes I fall into a habit of always serving potatoes with chicken or pasta with meatballs or cauliflower with ham. To mix things up, find three jars or containers and label them:

  • Protein
  • Starch
  • Vegetable

Make a list of the foods in each category that your family likes, cut them out, and put them into the corresponding jars. When you're stuck in a dinner rut, have someone pull out a slip from each category.

The foods themselves might be familiar, but the change-up in routine will keep you from getting bored.

2) Check out your pantry 

I'm willing to bet your pantry is probably chock-full of recipes if you take the time to look.

For years I never really paid attention to packaging recipes, until one time when I was desperately scrounging for ideas and came across a recipe on a can of Bush's garbanzo beans. It ended up being delicious, and is now a regular in our soup rotation.

Think about it — if a company is only choosing ONE recipe to showcase their product, they're going to make sure it's a really good one, right?

In addition to checking out the items I already have, I'll also turn over boxes right in the grocery store to see if inspiration strikes.

If you find yourself wandering the aisles wondering what to make for dinner, try looking at packages of products you like to eat or cook with, such as broth, couscous/rice, sauces, pasta, canned salmon/tuna, beans, tomatoes, or frozen vegetables. The recipes are usually pretty simple, straightforward and family dinner friendly.

3) Re-create favorite restaurant meals you love.

Some of my favorite things to make — Italian chopped salad, fish tacos, and greek chicken wraps — came from replicating what we've enjoyed eating at restaurants.

A lot of popular "restaurant foods," like crab cakes and chicken parmesan, are actually really easy to make at home, not to mention a lot less expensive.

When you're stuck in a rut, just think about some of your favorite restaurant meals and then take a stab at making them yourself. 

4) Ask friends what they're having for dinner.

I love finding out what other families regularly have for dinner, or any meal for that matter.

Even if you don't discover anything new, it could just be a simple way to jog your memory about a dish you haven't made in a while.

I frequently ask people what they're cooking for dinner, or what their favorite "go to" dishes are. I always get great ideas, and sometimes people even share their recipes. You never know what you'll discover just by asking a simple question!

5) Peruse the "pre-made meal" section of your grocery store.

You know that glass-enclosed case where you can buy pre-cooked dinners to go? Even if you don't buy anything there, it's full of inspiration.

Orzo salads, salmon burgers, lemon-pepper grilled chicken, roasted asparagus, balsamic green beans, turkey cutlets with gravy, sweet potato puree, quinoa salad, steak and broccoli stir-fry...those are just a few of the things I saw at the grocery store the other day.

Even though I don't typically buy those meals, I like to look at what's offered because it can give me ideas for recipes to make at home.

If anyone has any other tips to add, please share them in the comments!

Also, check out my post on 25 family dinner ideas for busy weeknights.

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Diane Negron

Wednesday 18th of May 2016

Great ideas! I actually thought there'd be an "Eat out on the porch" suggestion or something, lol.


Thursday 30th of April 2015

Love this.... Go to Fresh Market once a week to pick up their great chicken to go with sides. Love your ideas.



Thursday 30th of April 2015

We have a Fresh Market right by us, and I've never tried their chicken...I'll have to get some next time I go!


Thursday 30th of April 2015

I love the idea of recreating favorite restaurant meals! Why didn't I think of that?

Denise Thomas

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

Sometimes on weekends we'll do a version of the TV show "Chopped". The kids LOVE it! I bring them to the grocery store, and they choose ingredients for my husband to cook. It's hilarious! We have given him some craaazy stuff to work with. Everyone has to promise to eat the results though!


Wednesday 29th of April 2015

That's so fun! My girls love watching Chopped...I bet they'd have a blast creating a "mystery basket." I'll have to keep that in mind next time we have a weekend night at home.

Marina @ Parental Journey

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

I love the idea of dinner roulette!


Wednesday 29th of April 2015

Thanks Marina! We're actually doing it tonight. :)

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