How To Know What’s For Dinner Every Night Without A Meal-Plan

What’s for dinner?

The question that every mom hates to hear. Unless she was feeling particularly motivated and created, shopped for, didn’t forget anything and the implemented a full meal-plan with recipes found on Pinterest. Why does dinner have to happen every night, anyway?

I’ve done that. It was nice that we had dinners planned, and they were mostly good. It was SO much effort though. So many ingredients. So many moving parts. Realistically it was just really hard to maintain.

I’d end up buying all the ingredients and then after work just feel super overwhelmed by following the recipe and getting it made. Then of course cleaning it up. So then I’d opt to pick up a pizza many nights, and I wouldn’t use the food we bought and it would go to waste.

Or I’d go to make the meal I had planned and realize I had forgotten something in the recipe… and then same thing.

I’d run to get it, or since I was already out. Or just pick up something on the way home and hope I was not too tired the next day to make it.

I have also done the aisle to aisle grocery shopping.  Just buying anything and everything that looks good and hope that when dinner time rolls around I can piece together something good.

Finally,  found a system that works for us. It's super simple system can work for any family. No matter your size, no matter your work schedule or dietary needs and restrictions.

I will explain how we use this master grocery list and what it really looks like for us on a daily basis.

Basically, what I have learned over the years of grocery shopping for four kids and a husband is that we all really like a handful of things – these are our basic staples.

Chicken, ground beef, steak, eggs.

We like several fruits and vegetables and choose to shop seasonally.  Local grocers/farmer stands when that is an option is my preference. For so many reasons – supporting local small business, seasonal quality, sustainable foods, etc.

We have a handful of side dishes we like such as rice, breads, pastas, potatoes.

Then add in some basic seasonings. Totally honest, Mrs. Dash is mostly all we use, so many options! We like to use these to switch things up flavor wise.

These are the things that we regularly and always have on hand. With these staples I am always able to cook something up for dinner quick and easy, even if I’m tired.

I have mastered these basic ingredients for our family and here is a good idea of the kinds of things I make with these staple items..

  •  Burrito bowls – protein, veggies, over rice or beans. There are so many different seasonings and combinations of ingredients to make these not the exact same thing every nights. Since we buy produce in season sometimes its with peppers, sometimes tomatoes or avocadoes.
  •  Wraps – protein, veggies with rice, beans or cheese. These are the same as the burrito bowls, so much versatility!!
  •  Asian bento bowls – protein, veggies, rice or quinoa. Same thing.. different sauce or seasoning with seasonal veggies or pineapple and it’s like you’re having something different every night!
  •  Skillets – diced potato/sweet potato with a ham or steak protein and veggie like peppers or fruit salad. Not to sound like I am on repeat.. but I am because again, change up the seasoning you use and it’s different.
  •  Grilled anything – a grill is great for switching up your meals as well. For whatever reason chicken and steak are just better on the grill! Same with many vegetables and it is so easy to make kabobs and cook up some rice as a side and call it good.

That’s it. It’s really easy, it’s nothing fancy. But I feel good about putting a well balanced, healthy home cooked dinner on the table for my family.

You know what your family likes and can easily make a list of your basics and little things like tortillas, rice, beans chips for nachos or whatever you think would be something your family would like to eat. I personally wish the rest of my family liked tacos more because I would definitely buy taco shells and make some sort of taco once or twice a week!

I portion out the meat and freeze it in portion size bags so I can pull it out in the morning and it’s ready by dinner.

Then I  pre-cut veggies and put them in mason jars so that those are already prepared for the week and literally all I have to do is cook it up and serve it whatever way we decide for the night.

It’s not always the most exciting or creative dinners, BUT let's be real. I am not trying to win presentation or creativity points on #Chopped.

The nice thing about this simple system we have is that it is SO easy to add things to it when we want to get a little more exciting with our dinners. And it’s fun for us to go all out and cook a different and out of the box meal. Or we feel treated when we get to go out to eat – my kids love when they get McDonalds and even though I always regret a Taco Bell run, it’s still nice to have that once in a while.

So in addition to the basics that we have on hand for dinners – you’re probably wondering what we eat the rest of the day.. it’s still super simple.

Breakfast is usually cereal (if you’re looking for nutrition advice… I am not your girl haha). We also have pancakes, waffles, egg, and sometimes muffins on hand for when they are wanting something different.

Lunches are sandwiches usually – pb&j or deli turkey that my kids really like. Fruit, yogurt, granola bars, and all the other normal kid stuff that’s easy to pack into lunchboxes.

Easy peasy, and little to no waste. We eat what be buy now, and I am not frantically searching for the recipe I pinned and crossing my fingers that I have everything for it!


Even if you have little time, energy or day to day support