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Need an idea for dinner? Make it up and have fun with it

We’ve all had that moment – “What are we having for dinner tonight/ this week?” It’s a tough decision that needs to be made.

I’ve gotten into cooking meals within the last couple years kind of by accident and necessity.

In early 2021, my mother went into an assisted living facility, leaving my dad on his own for the first time since they got married.

I’d still go out to the house to keep him company and play with the dog. Each Monday, I’d fix dinner.

It started simple enough by fixing easy stuff but then I moved into trying different

spices and seasonings on the food. Eventually, I went with random ideas that popped in my head.

My mom came home right before Christmas 2021, but I still kept fixing dinner for my parents.

I tell you that story so I can tell you a lot of the meals I make are just experimenting in the kitchen.

For example, one night I came up with having a Cheetos-covered chicken breast for dinner.

It didn’t turn out 100% like I wanted, but it was something I wrote down on a piece of paper and did.

That might be something you want to do.

Get a piece of paper and write down what protein you want to use. From there, just think of things your family likes to eat or something you might think they’ll like.

For example, I wanted to a chicken dinner and started there. From the chicken, I moved on to how I’d cook it, which I did in the oven.

I then wrote down what I wanted to have with the chicken. In this case, I wrote down corn, green beans, peas and broccoli. Then came the starch, which ended up being rice.

I tossed it all in cream of mushroom soup and threw it in the oven.

It ended up tasting pretty darn good.

Dinner ideas can come from anywhere, including frozen dinners. You can take inspiration from that and make a fresh one, making it your own.

Then comes being in the grocery store and not knowing what on earth you’re going to make.

That’s where you get comfortable doing things on the fly.

While grocery shopping at Food Lion one Saturday evening, I was thinking and trying to figure something out to make Monday night.

As I told my dad, “I’m making this [stuff] up as I go,” while walking around.

What came about was a sweet and sour beef.

I started by picking up a package of stew beef and then hitting up the Asian section picking up a bottle sweet soy sauce. Still unsure what I was doing, I also got a bottle of sweet and sour sauce.

Then came the colored peppers, onion, and snap peas in the produce section, a can of pineapple, and a box of rice… dinner was set for Monday.

Here’s a note, if you wanted to try this: I marinated the beef in the sweet soy sauce while frying the veggies. When they were done to my preference, I took them out of the frying pan and set them aside. I then fried the beef and when it was done, I added the veggies back in and dumped the bottle of sweet and sour sauce, and pineapple, in the frying pan and let everything simmer and let that all marry while the rice was prepared.

When it comes to making dinners, some dishes like this “sweet and sour beef,” come as you’re walking around the grocery store make it up as you go around the store.

There have been times I’ve gone to the grocery store thinking I was going to make something one way and then turn around and changed it because I saw something that sparked a new idea.

That’s the fun part of cooking – just going on what you feel in the moment.

Now, I don’t always cook. No, I eat a lot of frozen dinners after I get off my second job. That has led me to make a couple dishes, as did an Applebees commercial.

I look at those frozen dinners and think, “Hmm… that looks easy. Let me try that!”

A few months ago, I did a beefy noodles dish inspired by a frozen dinner. I “improved” on it by adding onions and mushrooms.

Recently, I took inspiration from Marie Callender Chicken Pesto frozen dinner and made the same dish as my own by following what was in the frozen dinner, changing the pasta and adding some parmesan cheese.

The Applebee’s commercial was for their Bourbon Street Mushroom Swiss burger. Instead of a burger, I turned it into a meatloaf. I looked at their website for what was in the burger and used them to make the meatloaf.

The slow cooker can be a great friend as well when cooking.

I like Italian-inspired meals, which I get naturally since I have that Italian blood running through me.

I’ve done a pork roast in the slow cooker with peppers and onions simmering in spaghetti sauce all day. I recently did chicken breasts with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese simmering in spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker all day.

In the past, mom would do a roast beef in the slow cooker the same way, minus the veggies.

Cooking can be scary but it doesn’t have to be.

Open your mind and let the ideas flow. It could come to you while you’re at work, in a dream, or even while sitting in church.

Cooking is a chance to have fun. There’s the fun of trying to make something totally random like an Asian-inspired chicken dish, the fun of sitting around a kitchen table with your family and friends, and the fun of cleaning up afterwards.