09/23/2013 03:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

8 Basic Recipes That Make Meal Planning Easy


We all know that it's easy to find a recipe on the Internet these days. There are millions of sites and pages posting glossy, beautiful photos of recipes that you'll probably never have the time to make.

While I also post recipes on my blog, I realize that recipes on their own don't really help people cook more in their weekly life. What people really need is a plan to make cooking easier.

I've made, and helped people make, hundreds of meal plans over the years and I find that I keep coming back to a few awesome recipes. These recipes tend to be very flexible. In fact, most of them are barely recipes at all. They are more like guidelines.

1) Roast Chicken
This can seem like an intimidating thing to make because some people will write for pages and pages about how to perfectly make a roast chicken. That's all fine and good, but the truth is that if you buy a good quality chicken, rub it with some oil and season it with salt and pepper and roast it until it registers 165° F, it's going to be awesome. It's that simple. Use the leftovers in a million different chicken dishes.

2) Asian Noodle Dish
Call it ramen if you want, but basically cooking noodles in a stock and adding whatever veggies you have around is going to result in a delicious meal. It's a great way to use leftover veggies or meat because you can put almost anything in the bowl with noodles and stock. Garnishes are key, so go heavy on the sriracha and fresh cilantro.

3) Spring Rolls
If I have an assortment of strange ingredients in my fridge (rice, noodles, veggies, meats), I'll frequently just have a spring roll dinner. You can roll different things in the thin papers and serve them as-is with a spicy dipping sauce or lightly fry them for some texture.

4) Fried Rice
The Asian theme is strong in my meal plans because many recipes are very flexible. I can toss together a fried rice dish in under 20 minutes if I have some leftover rice (maybe from Chinese takeout) and a few eggs. Then all you need is some oil, veggies, and garlic and you're all set.

5) Taco Night
Sometimes people think that taco night means that everyone eats the same tacos, but I'll frequently just lay out a bunch of leftovers with some cheese and toppings like tomatoes, lettuce, and red onions. Then I'll heat up whatever leftovers I have and people can make their own tacos.

6) Pasta Salad
Do me a favor. The next time you have some leftovers, just google the leftover you have and "pasta salad" tacked onto the end. It probably exists. Any sort of meat or veggie can go in a pasta salad. Any kind of sauce can probably work as well. You can also use a little or a lot of an ingredient and if you make a really good pasta salad it can be a meal on its own.

7) Pizza
I love making pizza from scratch. It's calming for me to knead the down and everything. Not everyone has that in them. You can absolutely use store-bought dough or other things like tortillas or English muffins as the base for your pizza. Then pile on veggies or meat and cheese and you're all set.

8) Grilled Cheese
Here's how you make a good grilled cheese: Pick a sturdy bread and a gooey delicious cheese. Then pick 2-3 other flavors that can be damn near anything. Slap all those things together and cook it until it's golden brown. Thank me later.

Weekly Meal Plans!
This is just a primer for meal planning. If you want to dive deeper and get more help, I send out weekly meal plans plus shopping lists to my readers.

Leave a comment with your meal planning questions or tips!