When it comes time to make dinner, you'll be prepared with a list of dinner ideas that your family loves! These lists of dinner ideas are now your biggest trick for easy meal planning.

Pasta and meatballs on a plate, from Shelf Cooking

Did you know there are serious benefits that come from eating home-cooked meals? This may sound a little far-fetched, but it's true! Research suggests that families who eat home-cooked meals together regularly are healthier and happier. We also firmly believe it’s important to cook for your family rather than eating out or preparing processed meals.

*Note: When you click the links in this post, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Now we don't claim to be master chefs, by any means. But we do have a few tricks up our sleeves when it comes to making home-cooked meals a reality in our homes. We're about to share them with you so you can help your family reap the benefits of a humble home-cooked meal!


We made a pretty big claim when we said you and your family will be healthier and happier if you make dinner at home. Let's break these benefits down a little bit!

  • You Have Total Control of What You Make – You can choose to use less processed foods and less sugar in your meals, which automatically benefits your health.
  • It Saves Money – If you meal plan around what you already have in your pantry, you'll save boatloads of money in the long run. This allows you to be able to save for more fun family experiences… like a day out on the boat!
  • Determine Your Portion Size – This is an important life skill for children and adults! Appropriate portion sizes help lead to healthy choices down the road.
  • Family Time – There's nothing better than sitting around the table with your family and connecting, laughing, and eating together. Make dinner time a special time to grow closer and create new memories.

That all sounds pretty great, right? Alright, next, let's go over…


Woman writing dinner ideas on meal planning sheet, from Shelf Cooking

So how the heck do we do it!?!? Life as a parent is stressful and busy. So sometimes it's just easier to run through the drive-through after a long day of work, cleaning the house, running errands, and being a chauffeur.

We want to cook meals that our family gets excited about. But we also want to keep them growing healthy and strong. Not only that… We don't want to spend all day in the kitchen! We need a variety of easy, low-prep meals that we can cook using the items we have in our fridge and pantry.

Pro Tip: Keep a list of dinner ideas on your fridge or in your meal planning folder that you can easily refer to! This helps you rotate through a variety of meals to use the ingredients you already have on hand.


We highly suggest organizing your favorite recipes into a meal planning binder or recipe notebook so you have them all in one place. Lucky for you, we have a whole post dedicated to helping you set up your very own recipe binder and get your recipes organized to make meal planning easy for you! This tip makes your life easier because you don't have to remember all your family's favorite dinner ideas when you sit down to plan.


Dinner ideas printables on a counter from Shelf Cooking

Want some fun and easy meal planning cheat sheets? Create lists by the main ingredient, how the dinners are prepared, etc. Organize your meal planning list in a way that makes sense for YOU!

Here are a few popular ways to plan out your meals, plus some coordinating printable lists to help make your life easier. Each of these lists has six categories with 10 dinner ideas each to help inspire you! As you meal plan, pick an idea from each category for each day of the week… Add in a leftovers night, and your whole week is covered. You're welcome! πŸ˜‰

Grab your Dinner Idea Lists


This is probably the simplest way to organize your list of dinner ideas and is our go-to! Here are the top six categories:

If you plan with your main ingredient in mind, it's quick and easy to make a meal planning inventory. Then you'll know exactly what ingredients you have to work with and can easily add to your shopping list.


This type of list will save your life if your schedule varies from day to day. Some nights you need to plan for an easy one-pot dinner. On other nights you may need a super easy slow cooker meal because you're gone all day.

Here are six main categories:

  • One-Pan Wonders
  • Slow Cooker Meals
  • Sheet Pan Dinners
  • Freezer Meals
  • Oven-Baked Dinners
  • Almost No-Prep Meals

Simply plan out your week according to how much time each category takes to prep and place it on the appropriate day!


meatloaf on a plate with mashed potatoes, from Shelf Cooking

If you love to try new foods and are a fan of all the flavors, this can be an exciting way to add some inspiration to your dinner time routine.

Here are the top 6 categories:

  • Mexican Food
  • Italian Night
  • Asian and Mid-Eastern
  • American Classics
  • Island Flavors
  • Comfort Foods

Mmmmmmm-hmmmm. This type of organization means you'll have some really creative, unique dishes worked into your week! You might also need to be a little more creative when it comes to repurposing these dinner ideas.


A super popular way to meal plan is to choose some fun themed dinner nights. The ideas here are endless!

Here are our top 6 categories:

  • Meatless Mondays
  • Taco Tuesdays
  • Waffle Wednesdays
  • Thrifty Thursdays
  • Friday Favorites
  • Slowdown Sundays

We left out Saturdays so you can use Saturday as your leftover night and call it “Smorgasboard Saturday” – how clever is that!? Remember, you are not limited to these themes. You can create your own! See below.


A really easy, fool-proof way to meal plan is to just plan a specific meal type for each day of the week. This often helps you to repurpose meal ideas and use them in a different way.

Here are our top 6 categories:

  • Crockpot Dinner Ideas
  • Wraps and Sandwiches
  • Soups or Salads
  • Casserole Dishes
  • Breakfast for Dinner
  • Grilled Dinner Ideas

Another fantastic and simple way to organize your dinner ideas to make meal planning easy!


Printable to create your own favorite dinner ideas from Shelf Cooking

Making your own list is so easy – just think of your favorite dinner ideas and get them all written down in one place. We've included a blank printable to help you do just that! Customize this to fit your family and use it as a tool to make meal planning easy and dinner time a breeze.

If you need some ideas to get you started, don't forget to check out our detailed printable lists with hundreds of awesome dinner ideas. We also highly suggest checking out allrecipes.com or FavorEats for recipes. Be sure to read the reviews to make sure you choose a good one!

Grab your Dinner Idea Lists


This is ShelfCooking.com, so you better believe we haven't forgotten about our beloved leftovers! Make sure you plan a leftovers night into your week. Need some tips to help you become a pro at making leftovers something you are excited about?

You’ll find tons of great suggestions on how to repurpose leftovers above. And we don't just repurpose our leftover meals! We're all about using up those leftover sauces, juices, and sides, so don't miss out on our How to Use Leftovers category!

Alright, well there you have it! Print out those dinner ideas printables and you'll have over 300 dinner ideas just ready and waiting to be made! What are your favorite meals to make for your family? Share them with us in the comments below!

Looking for more greatness?

  • Don't forget about all the different substitutions you can make in a recipe to use what you've got so you don't have to make a quick trip to the store!
  • Use all of our meal prep ideas to make the most of your time in the kitchen!
  • Here are 35 cooking hacks that will rock. your. world.

Happy cooking!