What’s for Dinner? 5 Questions to Help You Figure It Out

Isn’t that always the question? Every day? And a challenge for the cook, too. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard, but it’s got to be answered one way or the other if people want to eat. I ask myself that question about five times a week. The other two nights, I’m either traveling or we’re eating out. But five nights a week is still a lot of nights to find the answer to the question of what’s for dinner.

So I will share with you my process for deciding. Consider it a food triage system.

1. First question: What’s fresh? Did I just go food-shopping and get fresh fish? Are there salad greens or veggies that are still good and need to be eaten? What expiration dates are closing in on food in the fridge that needs to be dealt with? That’s where I start to build my dinner. Those ingredients determine the meal, unless there is nothing fresh…then I ask the next question:

2. What’s in the pantry? I always make sure to have lots of whole wheat pasta and brown rice and jars of tomato sauce and cans o’ beans. My latest favorite grain is farro because it’s quicker than brown rice and less processed than pasta—it goes well in soups, salads, and also just by itself with butter or cheese. Add some veggies and voilà! You’ve got dinner. But in case that isn’t enough to inspire you, the third question is this:

3. What’s in the freezer? Do I have some organic hamburger or sausage to cook up? Do I really want to use the frozen from-the-garden tomato sauce or pesto? (jewels of the freezer). Are there frozen organic piecrusts for a quiche; is there broth for a soup (with the farro)? I always have lots of frozen meats and vegetables handy, which helps either as the base of the dinner or to fill out the sides.

4. What do I feel like eating? If I’m in the need of comfort, then it might be burgers, fries, or mac and cheese. If I’m feeling especially healthy, I might do a veggie stir-fry with brown rice and a few cashews on top.  For some reason, spaghetti is always what we want when we get home from traveling. Do I want to spend time cooking, or just whip something up quick? Which leads to the final question I usually ask:

5. What’s easy? Sometimes, when I am working out at the gym and the Food Network is playing on one of the giant TVs (which seems counterproductive to watch while working out, honestly), I can’t believe all the elaborate machinations people on TV go through to cook stuff. Holy cow, it’s all too much work! At the end of the day, I just want to eat (and feed my family) something that is organic, healthy, and yummy. The easier the better! I find that good-quality organic food doesn’t need much to make it taste good. And having a few favorite recipes to go to every week make it easy to cook—and even easier to answer the question “what’s for dinner” every night!

By the way, all the recipes on my blog are tried-and-true family favorites. Feel free to try them!

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6 Responses to What’s for Dinner? 5 Questions to Help You Figure It Out

  1. krissy January 26, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Good strategy but you might want to avoid the cans o beans due to the BPA in the can liners. It was a hard habit for me to break but now I make my beans from scratch, it requires some soaking but in the long run its well worth it.

  2. maria rodale January 26, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Eden brands don’t have BPA liners…but you are right. I’ve got to get in the habit of soaking my own beans. Thanks!

  3. Nasreen Kabir January 26, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    I soak & cook beans then freeze them in amount i would use for a meal.

  4. Linda January 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    I bring my beans to a boil & soak for an hour. Drain, add more water, then I cook them in the pressure cooker in 15-20 minutes! Always cook double & freeze half.

  5. Patty January 28, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Maria,
    YOU should have a cooking spot on a show!! Your healthy ideas and recipes that are “no fuss” are what we should be watching!! I just LOVE your blog it is always helpful and uplifting!! Thanks :0)

  6. Barbara January 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    I buy organic dried beans and can my own. Saves money and I know what is in them. Soak them, then bring to a boil and simmer half an hour. Put into pint jars and add boiling water to 1″ from top and process 1 1/4 hours. Then I already have them handy when I get home and have less than an hour to throw something together. I love the convenience of canned beans, do not add salt, and always have a large variety ready to use.

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