So meal planning might be something that’s been on your New Year’s Resolution list for several months already. You know that it saves money in the long run, keeps you and your entire household more organized, and is essential for savvy grocery shopping and for keeping busy weeknights sane. But what happens when you sit down with pen and paper to actually go through with it? Are you overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with a week’s worth of recipes and dinners so much that you sit frozen, unable to plan at all? So often in life, when we look at a large task as just that, the sheer size of it all paralyzes us. But menu planning does not have to be like this. If you’ve read about my “Meal Planning 101” tips already, you know that I don’t think it is an arduous task at all once you break up the steps. But actually coming up with dinner ideas needn’t be, either.

menu planner
The key is to keep things simple, and stick with what you know. If you love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, you have a lot more wiggle room to plan for new recipes and ideas that get you excited. But if you don’t necessarily love cooking, or if you’re pressed for time on weeknights, don’t try to reinvent the wheel or overachieve! No one is looking! As long as you provide your family with a healthy meal that you’ve planned and shopped for, you’ve already accomplished lots and are on your way towards saving money others would waste on too much take-out food.

If the idea of coming up with lots of varied dinner ideas sounds overwhelming, you need to stick to a basic template from which to rely on while meal planning. Most meals are generally composed of a protein, starch, and at least one (try for more!) vegetables. This is a rather traditional approach to filling your plate, but there are obviously lots of other ways to make a plate of dinner, such as a large salad or a hearty sandwich. Below is a basic catalog of proteins, starches, vegetables, as well as different preparations you can experiment with. All you have to do is mix and match from the lists, and there is dinner! Then, repeat, repeat, repeat until your weekly meal planning is done! Play around with my lists, make your own, or add to them and soon you’ll realize that meal planning is as simple as 1-2-3!

• Grilled or sautéed chicken
• Steak
• Pork chops
• Shrimp
• Salmon, halibut, swordfish
• Sausage
• Scallops
• Bacon
• Eggs
• Pork tenderloin
• Ground meats (beef, mix, turkey)
• Whole roasted chicken or turkey
• Tuna
• Tempeh

Starches and Grains:
• Brown rice
• White rice
• Couscous
• Egg noodles
• Pasta
• Baked potatoes
• Roasted potatoes
• Yams or sweet potatoes
• Wild rice
• Quinoa
• Farro
• Lentils
• Breads such as baguette, ciabatta, Italian
• Macaroni and cheese
• Mashed potatoes
• Scalloped potatoes

• Salads
• Slaws
• Leafy greens (kale, collard greens, escarole, etc)
• Corn
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Peas
• Spinach
• Peppers
• Mushrooms
• Carrots
• Asian veg (bok choy, Napa cabbage, snow peas)
• Green beans
• Cucumbers
• Avocados
• Asparagus
• Zucchini and other squashes
• Eggplant


Traditional protein, starch, veg plate
Cold pasta salads
Layered bowls
Wraps and burritos
Kebabs and grilled platters
Quiches and casseroles
Lasagnas and pasta tosses
Stir frys
Chilis and stews
Slow cooker meals