You’ve tried meal planning before. It goes fine for a few weeks, but just when you start feeling successful at it, life gets busy. Old habits of dining out, fast food, and cereal for dinner take over. Dinner time becomes a source of stress and your food budget gets out of control.
Let’s just go ahead and accept it. Life gets busy. Instead of being caught off-guard by the busyness, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a plan for when it happens? During these busy, stressful times I use my Favorite Dinner Ideas list to plan family meals. This method allows me to create a menu plan for the entire week in 15 minutes or less.
Really! It isn’t impossible! This simple strategy begins with creating your own Favorite Dinner Ideas list. Here’s how you do it.
The Favorite Dinner Ideas List
To start, print this free, blank Favorite Dinner Ideas sheet to organize your dinner ideas. There are 10 categories plus a few blank spaces to add your own.
List the dinners your family eats on a regular basis. As you list them, place them in the appropriate category such as Chicken, Pasta, Mexican, Beef, etc. There is also a category labeled “other” for dinners that may not fit nicely into any of the other categories. Brainstorm as many dinner ideas as you can with a goal of having 5-10 under each category. Get the whole family involved and ask what their favorite dinners are, too.
Here are the categories for dinner ideas and a few examples to get you started.
- Pasta – If pasta is the main ingredient, list the dinner here.
Pasta Dinner Ideas: Linguini, Spaghetti, Lasagna, Mac & Cheese
- Mexican – Think beyond tacos and include anything you would order in a typical Mexican restaurant.
Mexican Dinner Ideas: Tacos, Easy Beef Enchiladas, Burritos, Taco Salad, Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Crockpot Meals – List your family favorite meals cooked in a slow cooker.
Crockpot Dinner Ideas: Beef Stroganoff, Coca-Cola Pulled Pork, New England Clam Chowder
- Chicken – If you eat a lot of chicken like we do, this may be the longest section on your Favorite Dinner Ideas sheet!
Chicken Dinner Ideas: Grilled Breasts, Baked Chicken and Rice, Chicken Pot Pie, Honey Curry Chicken
- Beef – List all kinds of beef dinners including ground beef, steak, cubed beef and roast.
Beef Dinner Ideas: Burgers, Steak, Hamburger Rice Casserole, Chili, Meatloaf, Cabbage and Beef Stir Fry
- Pork – All types of pork meals go here including pork chops, loins, roasts, and more.
Pork Dinner Ideas: Grilled Pork Chops, Pulled Pork, Pork Loin, Roast, Sausage and Kale Soup
- Seafood – Shrimp, shellfish, tuna…there are lots of dinner possibilities here!
Seafood Dinner Ideas: Baked Tilapia, Teriyaki Salmon, Shrimp Skewers
- Sandwiches – Include deli sandwiches (like turkey, ham, pastrami) and hot sandwiches (like meatball subs).
Sandwich Dinner Ideas: Grilled Cheese, Sloppy Joes, French Dip, Philly Cheesesteaks
- Soups & Stews – All day slow cooked stews or canned soups or anything in between goes here.
Soup & Stew Dinner Ideas: New England Clam Chowder, Tortellini Soup, Instant Loaded Potato Soup
- Other – If it doesn’t fit in any of the other categories, list it here.
Other Dinner Ideas: Pancakes or Waffles, Leftovers, Quiche, Dining Out
Consider your list of Favorite Dinner Ideas an ongoing list. The idea is to have 5-10 dinners in each category, but this method will still work well with only 2-3 dinners in each section. Keep adding new dinners to your Favorite Dinner Ideas list as you discover new family favorites.
Remember, you’ll be consulting this list during your crazy weeks. Your list of Favorite Dinner Ideas should be simple, go-to dinners you can make with ingredients you normally keep on hand. Try new recipes and plan more time consuming meals when your family is having a less-busy week.
You did it! You’ve created a Favorite Dinner Ideas List and you are ready for anything!
Using Your Favorite Dinner Ideas List
To use your Favorite Dinner Ideas List, start by printing out a Weekly Meal Plan Sheet. Print out several of these so they are easily available when things get busy. Preparing early will save you time and money later.
Choose one dinner from different categories on your Favorite Dinner Ideas List to fill in your Weekly Meal Plan. For example: Monday you could serve a Chicken dinner, Tuesday is Mexican night, make a Pasta dish on Wednesday, Soup on Thursday, and cook something in the Crockpot on Friday. Selecting dinners from different categories will give you a nice variety without any effort. See how easy this method is? You’re Favorite Dinner Ideas List does all the work for you!
As you list dinners, create your grocery list on the right side of the Weekly Meal Plan Sheet. Quickly check to see if you have some of the ingredients on hand so you’re not purchasing items you already have.
Congratulations! You’re done! The next time life gets a little crazy, you’ll be able to plan your family meals with ease. There are plenty of things in life we cannot control. Dinner…we’ve got this!
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