What's for Dinner?

That age old question “what’s for dinner” is asked by everyone… over, and over, and over… and then over again. And, now that it’s impossible sit down in a restaurant and pick your craving from a menu the question is more monotonous than ever. Whether in your head if you live alone, by every child in the family if you’re a parent, or by any other chef and now non-chefs stuck at home.

So, just because “what’s for dinner?” might just be the winner for most asked daily question doesn’t mean that the answer needs to also be repetitive. Let’s get creative with solutions that may already be lurking within the fridge and pantry.

whats for dinner

What's for Dinner

Have a Plan

For those who are great planners, the answer could be posted on a chalkboard visible to all who pass through the kitchen. For good planners, maybe a labeled casserole is sitting in the fridge ready for the oven. For the rest of us, the answer may only come at the end of a long day and even longer treasure hunt scrambling through the fridge, freezer and cupboards!

Following is a table with some tips and suggestions, which are especially directed towards the latter group of scramblers. But we like to think that everyone, even those enviable great planners, can use some help at least once and awhile. So, before we present the table of dinner possibilities, here’s a quick list of suggestions that may help to eliminate a constant need for scrambling.

  • Inventory what you’ve got before hitting the grocery.
  • Choose recipes for the week prior to making a list and grocery shopping.
  • Consider recipes with overlapping ingredients when making a menu plan.
    For instance, buying a bundle of cilantro for just one meal will usually waste half a bundle… so plan two meals that use these ingredients.
  • Make sure that after each shopping trip the new groceries are placed behind older groceries.
    Moving older items to the front and center of attention will ensure that they get the first looks when quickly deciding what to serve for dinner.
  • Consider a dinner in an edible bowl. An unusual bowl can add a whole new character to a dinner plate, in fact it can even transform leftovers beyond recognition.
  • Flaunt What You've Got

    Casseroles might only require a microwave to enjoy again, but it’s the random bits and pieces of leftovers that require a little bit of ingenuity and/or creativity to imagine something new and interesting from previous dinners. Make leftovers new again by introducing a simple twist. Adding a few new items, even if they are also bits and pieces, can create a different dish that could possibly become a family favorite!

    Leftover(s) Dinner Idea How to Pull it Off
    Eggs Frittata Mix eggs with whatever else looks good in the fridge, no recipe required, and then pour the mixture into a pie plate and bake. It’s not breakfast, it’s a fancy (crustless) pie for dinner!
    Turkey  Hot Turkey Sandwich Leftover turkey can turn into most anything, but the quickest hot meal involves a jar of gravy and a few slices of old bread (the gravy soaks in and makes drying bread moist again). These breakfast ideas with thanksgiving leftovers might also work for dinner.
    Ham  Hearty Mac & Cheese It’s pretty hard to mess up when using leftover ham. It fries and bakes and remains tender, pretty much regardless of what you put it through. Add some chunks to a favorite Mac & cheese recipe or add a slice to elevate a basic grilled cheese sandwich. Check out these Easter leftover recipes for further reference.
    Beef Steak Salad Leftover steak or prime rib mixes well with eggs, potatoes, lettuce or most anything else. The trick here is to be sure to heat the steak gently in a pan, as most other reheating methods can leave it too tough to chew.
    Seafood Seafood Pasta Seafood mixes well with pasta. Just add the already cooked seafood into a sauce that’s already warmed up on the stove and leave it for only a few more minutes so that the seafood will warm, but not cook any further. A second cooking for most seafood will make it chewy and less desirable, so be sure to add it in only at the very end of cooking.
    Pork Twice Cooked Pork Cooked pork roasts can become the base for a delicious stir-fry. Brown the bits in a pan with a little oil so that the crispy edges become even more delicious while the insides remain tender. Add any desired veggies and maybe a teriyaki sauce for a quick leftover meal than seems brand new (twice cooked pork).
    Tortillas Quesadillas It’s truly amazing what all can go between the folded edges of a tortilla. Quesadillas can turn most any leftovers into a brand new creation. Place a tortilla on the grille and fill half with leftovers before folding and browning. Try putting thinly sliced pears, prosciutto, fontina cheese and baby arugula in the middle of a tortilla… the result is a delicious gourmet Italian quesadilla! If the pears are old and soft, all the more delicious when used in this way!
    Taco shells Tacos Ground meat and cheese are not the only taco fillings in town… gently warm seafood or other proteins and then fill a taco shell with whatever veggies are on hand for a fish taco, shrimp taco, etc., etc.
    Random Vegetable(s) Stir Fry Throw random veggies in a wok and then finish them off with a little teriyaki sauce. Panda Express now sells their teriyaki sauce in jars, it’s thick and rich so a small amount will go a long way if added at the end of cooking. Keep the opened jar refrigerated for several weeks to spruce up future fridge emptying stir-fries. Add a fried egg on top for added presentation points and enjoyment.
    Pasta sauce  Pizza Check the fridge for any open jars of pasta sauce.
    This stuff often gets pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten until it’s too late and full of mold. It can actually be added into most any dish to add a little extra zip or used to base a completely different sauce. It can also be used as a pizza sauce, it’s just a little runnier so use a sturdy crust when doing this, like day old Italian or French bread.
    Beans   Bean bowl Fresh toppings like grated cheese, guacamole or sour cream can make many leftovers seem fresh and new. If you’ve got refried beans, use them as a base to add some meats and cheese. If you’ve got chickpeas, whip up a hummus and use it as a base for some roasted veggies to rest upon.
    Lettuce A big salad Beans, proteins, veggies, fruits… it’s amazing what all tastes great on top of a platter of lettuce – plus it’s fresh, colorful and good for the body.
    Chicken and veggies  Pot Pie These little gems are actually pretty easy to throw together if ready-made crusts and canned cream of chicken soups are on hand to keep the leftover ingredients held together.
    Heavy cream and Parmesan   Alfredo sauce Make a quick Alfredo sauce and then add most any leftover proteins and veggies, along with any leftover pasta for a comforting dish. It’s best to make this sauce fresh because it tends to separate easily upon re-heating.
    Rice and a protein(s) Fried Rice Leftover rice is actually the real ingredient for fried rice, as fresh rice is too sticky to do the trick. Most any proteins and veggies mix well with plain old rice.

    What's for Dinner?

    Additional Information

    To find the shelf life of leftovers, see our leftover page.

    For many more shopping tips, see our grocery post for enlightening ways to better bring home what is actually needed.

    Don’t forget to use up any aging produce that may be lurking around the kitchen before they must hit the compost.

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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