Meal Planning 101: Creating a Dinner Repertoire

meal planning, how to create a dinner idea list

I've been meal planning consistently for almost a year and a half now meaning that I've gotten the hang of it but I'm still not an expert. I actually hate meal planning and grocery shopping (they're my least favorite chores), but I hate not having a plan for dinner even more. Knocking out my planning and shopping in one sitting is a pain but it also means that I don't have to worry about dinner the rest of the time. Trust me, the trade-off is worth it. 

My latest jam has been meal planning for the entire month at a time. Everyone I tell about this either thinks I'm crazy, thinks it sounds like a cool idea, or thinks a little bit of both. Instead of jumping head first into how I meal plan for a month, I'm going to start with meal planning basics and end with the monthly plan. 

If you've never meal planned before, I beg of you- don't try and meal plan for an entire month your first go at it. Trust me, you'll hate it and never meal plan again in your life. When I started, planning 4-5 days was overwhelming enough. It's a process, don't jump in too quick or it won't work. Let's get started with the basics.


Think about what you're already eating. 
Grab a piece of paper and pen and jot down 4-5 meals that you are already eating on a consistent basis. If this for you means chinese takeout, mexican takeout, and Dominoes, then go ahead and brainstorm 4-5 simple ideas of dinners you could make at home. 

Some ideas from my list: 
-Spaghetti and meatballs
-Macaroni and cheese 
-Breakfast for dinner ("brinner")
-Frozen pizza 

This is the beginning of your dinner repertoire or your "dinner idea" list. Once you have 4-5 ideas written down, go onto the next step. 

Think about what you would like to eat 
Now brainstorm 4-5 things that you would like to have in your dinner menu rotation. These may be dishes your Mom made, dishes you've heard of that sound good, or even a theme of food you would like to eat more of (i.e. Mexican). These ideas should also be simple. Do not add lobster tail to this list. 

We added a couple of dishes: 
-Enchiladas (something my Mom makes frequently)
-Tater tot casserole (another one of my Mom's dishes)
-Chinese (we both love it but haven't cooked it at home much)

You will add these to the dinner repertoire list you created above. Ideally, this list will have about 5 go-to meals when you start out (if you don't have this many when you begin, don't worry!)

Each time you make a new meal, you will add it to your dinner repertoire if you feel like you would want to eat it again. In order to make it onto our dinner list, the meal has to be delicious, simple, contain common ingredients, and something we would want to eat again. 

Do NOT go Pinterest crazy 
When I first started meal planning I felt like I had no ideas so I would hop on Pinterest to try and find dinner ideas for each night that week. Don't do this.  Too many new recipes all at once will almost guaranteed overwhelm you and make you feel defeated before you even start. I started limiting myself to one new recipe a week, and then drawing from my list of staple dishes (that you brainstormed above) for the rest of the dinners.

Creating your own repertoire of dinner ideas is the essential foundation to meal planning. This list has made meal planning so much easier, and is what ultimately allowed me to feel confident in planning meals for the entire month. Do NOT skip this step. 

dinner idea list
(This is my dinner repertoire list. They are all simple and delicious recipes that we LOVE. Note that next to each dinner I put where it's from whether it's a cookbook or Pinterest. This list is right next to me every time I plan a menu).

Ready for the next step? Head on over to Meal Planning 202: Planning Your First Weekly Menu

Do you have a list of dinner ideas that are tried and true? If you do, what are some of the meals on it? If you don't, do you think creating a repertoire could help you start to meal plan? 

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  1. I'm still working on my meal planning! However, you are such an inspiration! It feels good to know you've developed a routine that works!

  2. This is super helpful! I just started making our list of "favorites" and it currently has three dishes listed. But it's a start! Also, totally stealing chicken pot pie. That sounds so good! :)

  3. Yes! A favorites list is exactly what this is! It's seriously been the best thing I've ever done in my meal planning, and it is SO helpful once you get a good number of dishes on it! And chicken pot pie is one of our favorites! If you want, I have a SUPER easy and delicious recipe that we have for it and I can email it to you. Let me know! :)

  4. Sheryl I have! But I feel like it's constantly evolving and I'm sure it will look different once we have kids etc. It's a process, you'll find something that works for you! :)

  5. Did you say easy? ;) Send it my way if you don't mind!

  6. I wish I could meal plan, but I find it so boooooring! We usually decide what to eat the day of. P.S. I read all your posts, so now I can read your new ones. haha

  7. I think it's soooo boring too but it stresses me out to have to decide day of! Are you good at deciding day of what to eat? Maybe if I was better at that I wouldn't meal plan haha. And yay! I'm glad you read all the old posts and can move on! :) That cracks me up- I guess everyone is OCD in some way :)

  8. Hahaha THAT is literally my #1 frequently asked question when I tell people about our meal planning lol. We allow ourselves to switch it up but we usually don't not like what's on the schedule- we just love food too much lol.


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