Tired of Deciding What to Make for Dinner? Simplify with These Stress-Free Planning Strategies

Melanya Melanya Kushla

Humans are creatures of habit. We all have routines and tend to eat a similar selection of meals on rotation, even if it isn’t planned. For someone who is 40 years old, that’s about 14,610 dinners! Yet, after a long day, deciding what to make for dinner can feel like an insurmountable barrier. Sometimes, this leads us to abandon cooking entirely and order takeout. So, why is it so hard to decide what to make for dinner?

Decision Fatigue
We make around 35,000 decisions every single day. No wonder we’re exhausted at the end of the day! According to research, making numerous decisions can negatively affect our ability to regulate behavior and make future decisions. After a long day of making decisions, we are simply at capacity, also known as “decision fatigue.” This can increase the chances of us reaching for quick, ultra-processed foods.

Eliminate the Extra Decision Making
Reducing the burden of deciding what to make for dinner takes some planning, but it can on whatever shape works best for you. Making a meal plan isn’t realistic for everyone, as it doesn’t account for how we’ll feel on any given day or the emotional component of eating. 

Eating is as much an emotional experience as it is physical; it’s sustenance and a pleasure stimulus. You can plan your meals for the week, but you’ve probably experienced not wanting to eat what you planned. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean you’ve failed at meal planning. You may just need a different approach—one that allows flexibility to honor your capacity on any given day.

Try these alternative methods for meal planning that eliminates the extra effort of deciding what to make for dinner:

  1. Make a List of Meals You Enjoy
    Simply having a list to choose from that’s concrete and out of our heads makes it easier to decide. The biggest hurdle is recalling all our options every evening. Write them down. Make a menu for yourself—something you can look at and select from. For added fun, number each one and roll some dice to make the choice at random!
  2. Keep Easy, Anti-Inflammatory Foods on Hand
    Batch cooking grains at the beginning of the week can reduce the cooking time and energy for weeknight dinners since one part of the meal is already cooked. Keep minimally processed “shortcuts” on hand, such as frozen steamer bags of vegetables, low-sodium herb, and spice blends, or eggs, for a quick and easy source of protein. Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods, like leafy greens, berries, and fatty fish, can support your anticancer lifestyle.
  3. Plan Flexibly with a Formula
    Follow a formula for building a balanced meal based on food groups instead of deciding on each specific food beforehand. A balanced meal consists of three primary components in a ratio: half (½) non-starchy vegetables, one quarter (¼) lean protein, and one quarter (¼) whole grains/starches. Choose 2 or 3 from each category to keep on hand as “staple” ingredients so you always have options, but not too many. This approach supports maintaining a balanced diet.

Through these strategies, we eliminate the “infinity” of dinner options while giving ourselves the flexibility to choose. The key is to provide options without feeling overwhelmed by possibilities. Developing a balanced eating pattern is a journey, and small changes in our daily habits can make a big difference in our health and quality of life.

If you’re looking for extra inspiration or want to try something new, check out the Anticancer Lifestyle Program recipe library. It features easy, healthy, and delicious recipes from all different flavor profiles for you to explore or adapt to your personal preferences.

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