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Do you find yourself scrolling through cooking blogs and flipping through cookbooks, at a loss for what to cook for dinner? Maybe you’re tired of what’s currently in your rotation, or maybe you want to impress your guests with a special dish.
Whatever the case, dinner is an important meal that helps us unwind from the day, connect with each other, and treat ourselves to something nourishing and delicious. As such, it shouldn’t be taken lightly!
Here, we’ve put together ideas for dinner that fit a wide range of lifestyles, schedules, occasions, and preferences. Read on to discover recipes that work for you and the way you live your life and that will make dinnertime meaningful, simple, and enjoyable.
Classes in Cooking
- Quick and Healthy Dinner for (Really) Busy People
- Fast, Cheap, and Healthy: The Secret to Getting Dinner on the Table in 15 Minutes or Less
- Think Like a Chef: A Beginner’s Guide to Cooking with Confidence
- Creative Cooking: Simple Sauces to Elevate Every Meal
- How to Cook Productively—A Meal Planning System for Beginners
Chicken is an incredibly versatile ingredient and, if meat is part of your diet, should definitely be on regular rotation in your kitchen. From quick and easy recipes to elaborate special occasion meals, chicken never fails to impress.
To get the most out of chicken, consider buying it whole—it’s a much more cost-effective option. You can then split it to last you two to four meals, depending on the number of mouths you’re feeding. These meals don’t all have to be the same, either. Here are some options for how to cook chicken:
Chicken Dinners in the Oven
Roasting a whole chicken or baking parts of it in the oven results in a crispy outside and a tender juicy inside. For a delicious holiday meal, try stuffing the cavity of a whole chicken with flavor enhancers like celery, onion, garlic, herbs, spices, or even fruit like lemon, apples, and oranges.
For an easy weeknight dinner, bake chicken thighs or drumsticks on a sheet pan along with vegetables like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, broccoli, or red peppers. Alternatively, bake chicken thighs or drumsticks on their own in a deeper baking dish to let the natural juices do their work, then serve with mashed potatoes or rice and steamed veggies. You can even turn the chicken drippings into gravy!
Chicken Breast on the Skillet
Cooking chicken breasts on the stovetop is both easy and fast. The high heat of the frying pan sears the outside, while letting the inside reach just the right temperature to be fully cooked but remain soft and juicy.
How about seasoning whole chicken breasts and pan-frying them with garlic and butter? Serve them with rice and vegetables for an easy and healthy dinner (and you can slice up the leftover chicken breasts for your lunch salad the next day).
Or what about chopping up the chicken breasts and cooking them into a stir fry or a curry? The chicken will absorb the flavors of whatever is cooking alongside it in your frying pan, creating a rich, filling meal that’s bursting with flavor.
If you’re planning on buying a whole chicken, you already know what to do with the thighs, drumsticks, and breasts. But what about the rest of it?
Poaching involves simmering the chicken—including the skin and bones—in lightly salted water for up to an hour. It sounds simple, but don’t be fooled—it still creates chicken that’s juicy and full of natural flavor. The meat falls off the bone and is easy to shred, making it perfect for recipes like chicken tacos, fajitas, and quesadillas.
The best part is, once you’ve taken out the chicken, you’re left with a rich and delicious broth that you can then use to make soups and sauces.
Ground beef is another staple in a meat lover’s kitchen. It’s affordable, versatile, and quick to cook. Plus, it’s the star ingredient in cuisines all across the globe, so there’s no shortage of recipe ideas.
The most cost-efficient way to buy ground beef is to buy it in a value pack, then portion it out into freezer bags before freezing.
Here are just a few ideas for what to make with ground beef:
Ground Beef on the Skillet
There’s nothing quicker than cooking ground beef in a frying pan to make a stir fry or a meat sauce. You can stick to just a few spices, or level it up with some chopped vegetables, beans, or tomato sauce. Serve it over rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes for a delicious and comforting meal.
If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, why not shape the ground beef into meatballs before frying it? There are countless ways to make them, but classic Italian or Swedish meatballs should definitely be added to your rotation.
If you’re feeling fancy, try shaping the ground beef into patties and frying them in a mushroom gravy for a delicious Salisbury steak.
Ground Beef in a Casserole
Ground beef casserole dishes involve cooking the beef twice, once to brown it in a frying pan and a second time in the oven. However, it’s not as time-consuming as it sounds—the first step only takes 5-10 minutes and the second step is entirely hands-off—and is completely worth it.
Layer the browned ground beef with other hearty ingredients and bake everything in a deep dish to let the flavors meld together. Throw in a rich sauce or some shredded cheese into the mix and you’ll have people lining up for seconds.
Classic ground beef casserole dishes:
- Shepherd’s pie
- Deconstructed stuffed pepper casserole
- Beef stroganoff casserole
- Or get creative and make up your own casserole dish!
Ground Beef on a Bun
Ah yes, this wouldn’t be a round-up of ground beef recipe ideas if it didn’t include a burger of some kind. Shape ground beef into patties and fry them up in a pan or grill them on the barbecue. You can get the family involved, too, by asking them to assemble their own burgers and add their own toppings.
Whether your diet is completely vegetarian or you like to take a break from meat some days of the week, there are plenty of vegetarian dinner options out there.
The main thing to consider with these meals is your source of protein. Although there are many plant-based sources of protein, not all of them are complete proteins. In order to nourish your body with all essential amino acids, be sure to choose sources of complete proteins like eggs, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, or buckwheat. Alternatively, you can get all essential amino acids by eating combinations like rice and beans, lentil soup and whole wheat bread, or pita bread and hummus.
Meatless Monday Dinner Ideas
If you’re just dipping your toes in the world of plant-based eating, consider giving up meat just one day of the week and implementing Meatless Mondays. A great place to start is by cooking meals you and your family already know and love that either don’t require meat at all or can be modified to omit it.
How about making a simple vegetarian pizza, mac and cheese, mushroom risotto, or a creamy pasta dish? You can also make meatless versions of your favorite recipes like lasagna, chili, or black bean burgers. These dishes are so full of flavor, you won’t even miss the meat!
Tofu Dinner Ideas
Tofu is a great choice of protein and can be the star ingredient in many vegetarian dishes. The key to achieving the right texture is to drain out as much water from the tofu as possible. The easiest way to do this is with a tofu press or by placing something flat and heavy on top of it.
Once the water has been drained, let the tofu marinade in flavors like sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger. You can then fry it, bake it, or crumble it up in place of ground meat.
Tofu dishes to try:
- Crispy tofu stir fry
- Baked tofu in peanut sauce
- Sheet pan baked tofu and veggies
- Breaded fried tofu
- Grilled tofu kebabs
- Tofu curry
Other Meat Substitutes
If you’re not a huge fan of tofu, there are plenty of other meat substitutes to try. Tempeh, for one, is a cousin of tofu. It’s also made from soybeans but follows a different process that involves fermentation. It’s a great source of complete proteins and is easy to pan-fry, bake, or crumble up in place of ground beef.
You can also consider adding more legumes to your meals. Chickpeas make wonderful falafels that you can have in sliders, wraps, or even on their own alongside rice and veggies. Black beans can be used to make veggie burgers and lentils help make rich comforting soups.
Finally, if you’ve never had jackfruit before, be sure to try it in your tacos, fajitas, or Sloppy Joes. It’s great at absorbing flavors and has a texture similar to meat. You’ll likely think you’re eating chicken or pulled pork!
Nothing brings the family together like mealtime. Having dinner together as a family is an important time for connection and meaningful conversations. For young children, this opportunity to see everyone together at one table is crucial for their development.
If you’ve got a large family, it can often be challenging to figure out what to make for dinner. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be too complex or time-consuming. No matter how many people you’re feeding, here are some simple ideas that will work for just about any occasion:
Easy Dinner Ideas for Kids
Kids love foods that are colorful, fun to eat (bonus points if they can be eaten with their hands), and just the right amount of messy. Great options include spaghetti with meatballs, pizza bites, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets. You can also try making kid-friendly versions of your favorite casseroles by baking them into little pies.
No matter what you choose to cook for dinner, kids will be much more likely to eat it if they are involved in the process and understand how it’s made. Even young children can help out in the kitchen, so be sure to let them in on the fun!
Sunday Dinner Ideas
Sunday dinner is all about relaxing and catching up with family and friends, so choose recipes that require little hands-on time like roasts and casseroles. You can set a chicken, beef, or pork roast in the oven and relax for a few hours while it cooks.
When it comes to feeding a large group of people, it helps to have lots of simple dishes rather than a few that require a lot of effort and time. You can make most of these in advance, too, so you don’t have to spend all day in the kitchen.
To fill your table, you can make:
- Butternut squash or mushroom soup
- Fresh garden salad
- Roasted veggies or mashed potatoes
- Dinner rolls or biscuits
How to Elevate Simple Meals
At their core, many recipes are very similar in nature. You have your source of protein, your grains, and your vegetables. If your family is getting a little tired of the same old combinations, try switching things up with a new sauce.
Choose between a red sauce, white sauce, cheese sauce, jerk sauce, gravy, and many others to instantly elevate your meal and surprise your family with familiar ingredients dressed in exciting new flavors.
Try a New Sauce or Salad Dressing
Creative Cooking: Simple Sauces to Elevate Every Meal
If you live alone, figuring out what to eat for dinner can be just as challenging as figuring out what to prepare for a large family. It’s tempting to make something simple (a bowl of cereal, anyone?) but you’ve got to remember to nourish your body. At the same time, nourishing meals tend to take more time. You could batch cook, but don’t want to eat the same thing every day of the week. What are you to do?
It turns out, eating alone is actually quite beneficial for us, and if you try some of the ideas below, preparing dinner for one can be quick and easy, too. These meals can be made to yield just one or two portions so you can have lots of fun and variety with your dinners.
Try a One-Pot Meal
One-pot dinners should be your go-to if you live alone or on the nights when you’re cooking just for yourself. Everything is made in the same pot, meaning there’s fewer dishes to wash. You can even skip washing a plate and eat the meal straight out of the pot—hey, no one is there to judge!
Anything can be made in a single pot or pan, but some popular choices include risotto, rice pilaf, chicken stir fry, lentil stew, one-pot pasta, and hearty soups with seasonal vegetables.
Make a Sheet Pan Dinner
Take the one-pot idea to your oven and make a delicious roasted sheet pan dinner. Simply choose your protein—chicken, fish, or tofu work well. Then dice up vegetables like sweet potato, butternut squash, zucchini, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, or asparagus. Season and roast everything on one sheet pan.
If you’ve got tortillas on hand, you can even make the roasted protein and veggies into a wrap for a little variety.
Make a Personal Pizza
The best thing about making a personal pizza is that you don’t have to fight with anyone over toppings—it’s all up to you, so make it as simple or as fancy as you’d like. To make things even easier, use pita bread or flatbread in place of pizza dough—it’s less hands-on and takes much less time to bake.
As far as toppings go, you can stick to a classic pizza sauce and cheese combination or add some meat, mushrooms, red peppers, spinach, or olives. Take it up a notch and treat yourself to a gourmet pizza at home by using white sauce or pesto as the base, and adding toppings like prosciutto, artichokes, figs, walnuts, or honey.
Let’s be honest, some weeknights, we’re just much too busy or tired to make an elaborate meal. Luckily, there are still lots of healthy and delicious ways to help us “cheat” our way through dinner. Here are some ideas:
Use Just a Few Ingredients
On the night before grocery day, when the fridge leaves much to be desired, you likely have nothing but a few staples left in the kitchen. Luckily, you can still make dinner with as little as two ingredients.
For example, try making a Spanish potato omelette, a simple rice and beans dish, or bake a few pieces of salmon in the oven and serve with some rice or quinoa.
Dinner can come together in a matter of minutes if you take the time to plan out your meals and batch cook staple ingredients ahead of time. One of the most common meal planning mistakes people make is thinking that batch cooking means you’ll end up eating the same thing a few nights in a row. In reality, batch cooking gives you more freedom and flexibility to enjoy a different meal every night without putting in the time to cook it.
When making your plan for the next few days, think about what kind of protein you’d like to have each day. Then see if you can prepare side dishes like rice or roasted vegetables ahead of time. Take time to make one or two sauces, as well. On busy weeknights, all you have to do is cook your protein, then mix-and-match side dishes and sauces you’ve already made!
Try a No-Cook Dinner
Turning on your stove or oven is the last thing you want to do when making dinner on a hot summer day. Enter no-cook dinners! They come together incredibly quickly because there’s no cooking involved—simply assemble fresh raw ingredients and enjoy. If you’d like meat in your dinner, opt for cold cuts, canned or raw fish, or use leftover meat from the night before.
The minimal time and effort makes them perfect not only for summer, but also busy weeknights at any point in the year.
Here are a few tried and true favorites:
No matter your diet or preferences, it’s important to make room for comfort food at the dinner table every now and then. Comfort food comes in many forms and varies from person to person, but its key ingredients are the feelings of nostalgia, warmth, home, and relationships with loved ones. Your comfort food may be totally unique from everyone else’s, but here are a few common options:
Italian Dinner Ideas
Italians are particularly passionate about food, which, for them, is always tied to family gatherings, spending quality time together, and making memories. No wonder we often think of classic Italian dishes as comfort food.
Next time you crave the tantalizing aroma of a home cooked Italian meal, try making dishes like:
Instant Pot Dinners
There’s something about the way flavors are melded together in an Instant Pot that makes it perfect for cooking comfort foods. The result is always something thick, warm, hearty, and delicious.
A few ideas to try are:
Healthy Comfort Food
Comfort food is often associated with meals that are high in carbs, fat, and overall calories. But the truth is, comfort food can be healthy, too. You can satisfy your cravings and take care of your emotional health, all while nourishing your body with vitamin and mineral rich ingredients.
To make comfort food healthy, load up on vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, while limiting refined carbohydrates and processed oils. Sweet potato or eggplant, for example, make a wonderful substitution for pasta in lasagna recipes, while brown rice makes an excellent side dish to chili, stew, or curry.
So there you have it! Next time you’re wondering what to make for dinner, remember to choose something that fits your lifestyle and schedule, nourishes your body, and helps you take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Dinner Doesn’t Have to Take Long
Quick and Healthy Dinner for (Really) Busy People