Wondering what to make for dinner again? Need a hand planning your meals? Well, stay out of the drive-through because we've got hundreds of dinner recipes and ideas your family will love! Get ready 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 agree!

*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 delicious home-cooked meal!


There are so many reasons that meals made from scratch are beneficial. Take out and convenience foods are just fine from time to time, but here are some reasons homemade meals are the best:

  • Take total control over nutrition. Use fewer processed foods and less sugar, and you'll end up with healthier meals.
  • Save 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!
  • Enjoy Realistic Portion Sizes – This is an important life skill for children and adults! Appropriate portion sizes help lead to healthy choices down the road.
  • Get More 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? We kinda agree! Plus, you'll appreciate those moments spent together with your growing kids in the kitchen — especially as they pitch in and learn to cook.


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

So how the heck do you do it!?!? After all, life is stressful and busy. Kids are picky. 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.

It's important to cook meals our family gets excited about, but you also want to keep them growing healthy and strong. Not only that… You don't want to spend all day in the kitchen! This calls for a variety of easy, low-prep meals using the items you already have in your fridge and pantry.

Pro Tip: Keep a list of dinner ideas on your fridge or in your meal planning folder 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 ten 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! 😉

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:

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 six categories:

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 six categories:

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 six categories:

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!