Have You Got “What’s for Dinner” Trouble? This Will Help.

Drop the overwhelm of meal planning. You’ll learn how to plan meals like a pro with these tips from someone who’s been there. Eventually, you’ll even like it.

“What’s for dinner?”

Why do kids (and spouses) have to ask this annoying question? Everyday. Sometimes multiple times a day!

So what if I don’t know the answer – even if it is 6:00.

Healthy one-pot meal

This healthy chicken stew is perfect for one of those weeks when you’ve got to get more than one meal from a recipe. It also freezes well.

I remember racing from work to kid activity to kid activity to home responsibility to kid activity. And it got worse as my kids got older! Dinner was always my burden. As the primary cook, grocery shopper, meal prepper, meal planner and carer of nutrition, getting dinner on the table was sometimes the task I most dreaded.

But I nearly always managed.

Today, my girls are thoughtful, appreciative adults. But I admit, even without the demands of a busy family, I sometimes stand in the kitchen at 6:00 and ask myself, “What’s for dinner?”

Most of the time, I’m a good planner and a good back-up planner, so my husband and I still enjoy a nutritious, delicious meal (without having to resort to a bowl of cereal) nearly every evening.

Once You’re In the Groove, You’ll Love Meal Planning

You might stumble a few times before getting into the groove, but you’ll probably convert to a meal-planning devotee after a few weeks. Imagine (nearly) always having an answer when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”

And other benefits:

  • Confidence that you’re feeding yourself and your family well. You can stop worrying about everyone’s health.
  • A few extra dollars for fun things because once you know how to plan meals, you’ start saving money.
  • Less wasted food. Great for the environment!
  • You’re empowered because you’ve taken charge of your meals instead of allowing them to happen according to outside influences.
  • More time for other interests and responsibilities. While meal planning takes time upfront, you’ll be able to reuse old menu ideas once you have more experience.
shrimp meal bowl with dog overlooking

A bunch of leftovers and some 90-second microwaveable quinoa make a fabulous nourish bowl. Why does Benny always give me that look!

How to Plan Meals:

10 Tips to Make You a Meal-Planning Pro – without the worry or perfectionist mindset
  1. Accept that you won’t please everyone. Not everyone at every meal. This is hard for me because food is my love language. I treat myself and those I love to a tasty, wholesome meal I hope they will enjoy. That’s how I say “I love you.” Undoubtedly, however, someone complains you’re purposefully omitting her favorite foods or that the much cooler parents of her friends let them eat whatever they want. I get it. It’s hard to listen to disappointment and criticism, but we truly cannot please everyone all the time. Instead, give everyone a say in the menu. Ask everyone to submit their favorite foods or favorite meals, and do your best to work them in. If you have picky eaters, pair less favorable foods with their favorites. Even if you don’t please everyone all the time, you’re doing right by everyone.
  2. Your calendar rules. Look ahead. Know what days you have more or less time for food prep and hands-on cooking. If you’ll be busy until late in the day, don’t plan a meal requiring a lot of time. Likewise, when you do have extra time, enjoy preparing that more detailed dish you and your family love. When time is short, rely on your slow cooker, soup and sandwiches, leftovers or something from your freezer. You can also pick up a handy rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or reheat one you bought earlier in the week. Do not pick recipes until you have carefully thought through your needs for the upcoming week.
  3. Keep a recipe file. Start a collection of favorite recipes and ones you’d like to try. Use whatever method you prefer: good old-fashioned notebook, computer file, or a handy app like Evernote.
  4. Take shortcuts. You can learn how to plan meals like a pro and serve amazing dinners without having to scratch cook everything. Here are some of my favorite convenience foods:
  5. Start with what you have. Before picking your recipes, see what you have on hand. As much as I’d rather pick whatever satisfies my craving at the moment, I’m determined to waste as little food as possible. Are limpy carrots hiding in the back of my fridge? Not unlikely! What should I do with all those sweet potatoes from last week’s CSA loot? While picking your recipes, select some with common ingredients. If you buy celery for your pot roast, for example, think about what else you can do with it during the week. Add diced celery to a stir-fry? Spread peanut butter on stalks for your kids’ snacks. Planning ahead is how you can save a few dollars for other fun things.
  6. Write it out. Again, use the method you prefer: notebook, dry erase board, word document, sticky notes on your fridge. You choose. And by the way, writing full meals on sticky notes and posting them on the fridge turns out to be pretty handy. You can simply mix them up and repeat for a week later in the month. If you’re new to meal planning – and even if you’re not – make it easy on yourself. Before adding new recipes to your weekly plan, fill in a couple meals with your family favorites. If you get stuck for ideas, embrace theme nights such as these:
    • Sheet pan dinners
    • Soup and sandwich night
    • Taco night
    • Fish night
    • Breakfast for dinner
    • Pasta night
    • Create your own grain bowl or nourish bowl
    • Vegetarian night
  7. Write out your grocery list too. Use a 2-step process to assure you pick up each item you need and save yourself the waste of having more than necessary. First, identify each ingredient you’ll need. Then cross off everything you already have.
  8. Aim to have one thing done when you start. This is my favorite tip because it allows me to get a bigger meal on the table in less time. I don’t want to cook 3 or 4 different foods, but I might want to eat 3 or 4 different foods for dinner. Because I plan ahead, I’ll have leftover brown rice from an earlier meal to serve with my orange salmon. Or I might prepare extra salad tonight, so I can eat it again tomorrow or the next day. I’ll add something – say feta cheese, chickpeas, red onion or marinated artichoke hearts – the second night, so it doesn’t feel like the same ole same ole.
  9. Have a backup plan. Even the best planners get stuck in traffic, have to tend to a sick relative, forget to defrost a rock-solid chicken, or just don’t feel energetic enough to follow through on plan A. Go right to plan B: Prepare something quick that’s on hand. Do you have frozen leftovers? Can you scramble some eggs to serve with grits and canned fruit? Your life will be easier and healthier if you create a list of at least 3 go-to meals when plan A falls apart. Go ahead, put plan B in writing today!
  10. Repeat. Once you know how to plan meals – at least a little bit – you’ll have favorite menus to reuse. Each time you create a weekly meal plan, you learn how to make the entire process work better for you and your family. Repeat what works, and either fix or dump what doesn’t.

Give it a try! Use these steps to learn how to plan meals, so you can enjoy your time in the kitchen and love the heck out of your food.

And stick around. When you join this community, you’ll discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time — and drop the guilt when you don’t.

Ready to get started? Download the super simple strategy to keep from falling off the healthy eating wagon and receive my e-newsletters.

Filed Under: ,


Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

Leave a Reply


  1. Cathy Heyward on October 3, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Hello Jill! Wow I feel like this article was written just for me. It brings back memories of so many of our sessions. I think the one thing you taught me, that I embraced the most, was the importance of meal planning in eating healthy. I LOVE it! As you know I struggle with the big C – consistency; so meal planning really helps me to stay on course. And you know my favorite saying – “there’s an app for that” :-)) Of course there are tons of them, but I find “Copy Me That” to be my favorite. I can file recipes, plan meals, and make grocery lists. And of course I learned that eating healthy is a lifelong endeavor, there is always something new to learn. So, I love the tips on doing theme nights, and how not to take take it personal when others aren’t pleased, and I have added the microwaveable whole grains and healthier pizza to my grocery list. Thanks and keep up the good work you do!

    • Jill Weisenberger on October 3, 2020 at 5:16 pm

      Lovely to hear how you’re doing. The big message: the little things you do every day are much more critical than the things you do now and then. Small changes = big results.

Leave a Comment

Welcome to my Blog

Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.

Jill Weisenberger

I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.

And I believe willpower is way overrated.

Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.

Jill's Books

Connect With Jill

Dietspotlight Top Pro 2017-18