How to Answer the Eternal Question: What’s for Dinner?

I was chatting with a client last week about the dreaded words “meal planning” and it reminded me. . . the busier you are, the more important it is to have a plan in place for meals to help you achieve your goals.

Here’s the reality:

If you don’t have healthy food to eat at home and a plan to prepare it each day, you WILL make less healthy choices.

Here’s what often happens with meals when you get busy:

  • You grocery shop less frequently so there is less fresh produce in the fridge and fewer healthy options to make for dinner
  • You or your partner stops by the store to pick up a few things for dinner on your way home from work (multiple times each week)
  • Someone asks “What’s for dinner?” followed by a daily conversation as you figure it out (which takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes per day)
  • Or, you may decide to just eat out or grab something from the drive-through since someone else will prepare food that they’ve shopped for and serve it to you (this is easy. . . but likely not quicker, cheaper, or healthier than what you would make at home)

So, what’s the solution?

Here is the ultra-simple ultra-low-tech method I use (and encourage my clients to use) to answer the eternal question: “What’s for Dinner?” in 5 Steps:

Step 1: Grab your supplies. You’ll need your grocery list, an index card, and a pen.Meal Planning

Step 2: Survey what you have. Look in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Are there fresh veggies you need to use up?

Step 3: Gather input from your family members. If there are picky eaters, let them give you input and get their favorite foods on your weekly menu. When kids and spouses give their recommendations, it not only makes meal planning easier, it also helps them feel involved and more likely to eat what you make.

Step 4: Make the meal plan. Simply write down what you’re going to have for dinner this week. This is simple, DO NOT make this complicated. I use 3 x 5″ index cards. It’s ultra-low-tech and extremely effective. Start with what you have in the fridge that you need to use up. Add whatever ingredients you’ll need to make meals for the week that you don’t have at home to your grocery list. Take your list shopping to the store and/or farmer’s market.

Step 5. Follow the meal plan. If anyone asks you “What’s for dinner?”, kindly refer them to the index card on the fridge (or wherever you put it in the kitchen). Repeat next week.

This system is simple. And, it works like a charm. Everyday.

There are no spreadsheets or fancy-schmancy meal planning software. All you need is an index card, a grocery list, and a pen.


Seriously, if you’re not doing any meal planning right now, try this system for 3 to 4 dinners to start. Gradually increase week after week until you’re planning 5 to 7 of your meals for the week.

Let me know how it works for you by leaving a comment below!

Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

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