What to cook for dinner… one of the most nagging questions of the day. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing about making dinner – simply figuring out what to cook. I’m one of those weird people who loves to plan out my meals, loves to go grocery shopping and then loves cooking the food. When I don’t take the time to plan, I find that I spend too much money at the grocery store and I end up wasting a lot of food throughout the week. But, when I make a plan and stick to it, I’m less stressed, I stay on budget and I find that I can actually cook (almost) every day of the week. So I decided to share what I make for dinner and how I plan it out – perhaps it will help someone figure out what to make for their dinner! And taking it a step further, if anyone is up for the challenge, I’ve laid out a plan for how to cook from scratch for a whole month! It can seem daunting, but it’s totally possible.
I’ve found that when looking at meal planning week over week, it’s easier to think about food categories rather than dishes. When you think about dishes, you end up having the same things every week. Now, there are some things that I don’t mind eating every week, but for the sake of demonstration, I won’t go there. Generally speaking, I think of my meals in the following categories: Pasta, Chicken, Something Different, Mexican, Grill, and a “Sunday Meal” – something that takes longer than the weekday options. These categories aren’t exclusive – there is grilling in the chicken category and chicken in the Mexican category – so try to not get caught up on the fact that it’s not a perfect science.
Monday – Pasta
Tuesday – Chicken
Wednesday – Leftovers
Thursday – Something Different
Friday – Mexican
Saturday – Grill
Sunday – “Sunday Meal”
So thinking of dishes in terms of these categories, below are 31 dinner ideas (with recipes for most – check back, I plan to make, photograph and post the missing recipes in the next few weeks). Aside from the Sunday Meals, they can all be done in less than an hour (and some in 30 minutes) – although depending on how many times you are interrupted by kids (if applicable), I can’t guarantee those times precisely. I can also only speak to how long they take me to make. All of these meals are from scratch. Aside from beans and tomatoes, there are very few cans. Aside from plain pasta, there are no boxes. I try to “eat clean” so these recipes reflect real ingredients. To cook like this, some things take a little longer, but some things don’t. I think people just assume that cooking from a box is quicker and cheaper, but in a lot of cases it’s not. And it is certainly not healthier. These are not “low-fat” or “low-calorie” – but they are “low-chemical,” something to me that is much more important. I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to what constitutes a “meal”. For me, it’s a meat, a starch and a vegetable. In some of these the veggies are cooked into the main course, and some they’re on the side. I also don’t discriminate against any food type – we eat red meat, pork, seafood and chicken (and try to mix it up between them all). We eat wheat and a little cheese on just about everything – so unfortunately, this plan does not cater to gluten or lactose free folks. Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, here you go…
Simple Sausage Marinara with Garden Salad (30 min)
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce (30 min)
Pasta with Meatballs and Marinara (45 min)
Sausage and Peppers Spaghetti with Garlic Bread (45 min)
Shrimp Scampi over Parmesan Orzo with Broccoli with Lemon (35-40 min)
Lemon Pepper Chicken with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts (30 min)
Chicken and Yellow Rice (45 – 60 min)
Garlic Dill Chicken with Dill Oven Potatoes and Roasted Cauliflower (30 min)
Dijon Maple Chicken with Roasted Butternut Squash and Broccoli with Lemon (40 min)
Baked Salmon (30 min)
Sloppy Joe’s with Roasted Sweet Potatoes (30 min)
Cube Steak with Rice and Gravy and Maple Carrots (45 min)
Shepherd’s Pie with Drop Biscuits (60 min)
Buttermilk Pancakes with Oven Baked Bacon (30 min)
Buttermilk French Toast with Sausage Patties(30 min)
Biscuits and Gravy (if you don’t make your sausage, 30 min)
Tacos with Spanish Rice and Refried Beans (30 min)
Mexican Lasagna (45 min if your shredded chicken is already prepared)
Chicken, Corn and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Guacamole Rice (30 min if your shredded chicken is already prepared)
Mexican Shrimp with Cilantro Lime Rice (30 min)
Rosemary Pork Chops with Mushroom and Herb Orzo and Roasted Cauliflower (30 min)
Cheeseburgers and Oven Potatoes (30 min)
Steak, Baked Potatoes, Sautéed Mushrooms and Garden Salad (30 min active time, 90 mins to bake potatoes)
Maple Dijon Pork Tenderloin with Baked Sweet Potatoes and Grilled Zucchini (30 min active time, 90 mins to bake sweet potatoes)
Lemon and Herb Grilled Salmon (45 min)
Pot Roast with Carrots, Mashed Potatoes & Cornbread
Chicken Pot Pie with Salad
Pork Tenderloin Marsala with Dijon Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus (I would half this recipe for a “normal” meal)
Meatloaf with Dijon Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli
Shrimp and Grits
Below is a 4 week meal plan (based on the categories and dishes above), complete with main courses and sides, as well as the accompanying weekly grocery list. In general, these dishes will feed a family of 4 to 5 easily (maybe more if they are small kids). You’ll notice that I’ve reserved Wednesday as a “leftover” day. Between the big Sunday meal and the Monday and Tuesday options, I find there is usually always leftovers. I take leftovers to work most days for lunch, and there is still typically enough for one night for my family as a meal. On the nights that I’m not cooking, sometimes I’ll do (easy) prep for a following night to help myself out later. I added breakfast for dinner a couple of nights too, because 1) it’s easy 2) it’s cheap and 3) it’s fun. Did I mention it’s easy?
I calculated an estimate of the prices for each item (based on purchasing items not on sale from Publix) which gets this to an average weekly cost of $118. However, if you stock up at places like Costco, or when things go BOGO at Publix, you can get the cost down. One of the major savings with Costco over a regular grocery store is chicken. At my Publix , chicken breast is typically $4.49-$4.99/lb, but at Costco it is $2.99/lb. There is a lot of chicken in this meal plan so if you try this, I suggest you try to find it cheaper. Other items I would get at Costco for this “month” would be: cherry tomatoes, flour tortillas, black beans, canned tomatoes, onions, frozen shrimp, ground beef, baby carrots, mushrooms, lemons, and parmesan cheese.
4 Week Meal Plan (here is the full calendar and grocery list with notes)
Keeping a stocked kitchen helps make cooking from scratch easy. Below are the things that I always have on hand. I buy some of these things in bulk to reduce the cost. When you’re not using boxed sides, you have to have many of these spices and condiments to create the flavor.
When people ask how I have time to cook every night, this is how. I make a plan, I only go grocery shopping one time a week, I keep my pantry stocked and I try to give myself a break now and then with leftovers and breakfast for dinner. Sure, we eat frozen pizza every now and then, but mostly, this is what’s cooking in the Stembridge house. If anyone does try to do this (or any part of this), I’d love to hear how it went! And as always, hope you enjoy!