How to Figure Out What the Heck to Have for Dinner


Today I’m interviewing Kate Schultz, co-host of the Dinner Sisters podcast for her tips on how to figure out what the heck to have for dinner. Kate is a home cook through and through with no professional chef experience or training. So she can definitely relate to that feeling of having no idea of what to make for dinner. And of being turned off by a complicated recipe. I’m excited to get her insights on how to make cooking less stressful and more delicious.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Kate welcome. It’s so good to have you. Let’s dive right in. Tell me why is dinner so important? Like, why is it something that we should try and figure out?

So my sister and I do the podcast together and we talk about dinner. It’s fundamentally about feeding ourselves and feeding our families. So we do have a practical bend to it, just this idea of getting nourishment in your body at the end of a long day. But also we think it can be something fun to do. And like you said, in your intro, it’s a creative act, it’s movement. It’s some way to relax, connect with people. And we have just found over time that finding good recipes to cook, just kind of adds a nice end note to your day.

Love it. So to that end, you have a podcast where each week you and your sister cook three recipes, right? From different food blogs. And then you share your results with everybody.
And that’s a lot of cooking, you know? So what have you learned about how to make cooking dinner easier, less time consuming and still delicious? You got any kitchen hacks to share?

Oh my gosh, I have so many kitchen hacks to share. But I will say, yes, it is a lot of cooking. And what’s funny about it is people say, oh, you must be cooking every night. And the fact of the matter is I cook those three recipes. Typically those are the dinners I cook per week. The rest are leftovers, or maybe some takeout.

So I think that’s actually one of our hacks is if you can get yourself to three recipes, three dinners a night, it’s actually a lot of cooking. And then you’ll find that, oh, I’m actually going out to dinner at such a place or, oh, you know what, we just want to have leftovers that night. So cooking three dinners a week as kind of a baseline is actually one of our biggest kitchen hacks.

Other than that, one of our favorite hacks is actually from Andrea Nguyen. She is a Vietnamese American cookbook author and James Beard award winner and hers is to cook rice ahead of time. And I had not thought of this before. But she cooks rice for the week. So I do that all the time now. And it is such a time saver. You just reheat it with a little bit of water. Or some folks put the rice you want on a plate, put an ice cube on there. Cover it with plastic wrap and then nuke it depends upon your microwave, right? But you’ll know when it’s hot. So the ice cube gets melted and the rice gets kind of re-steamed, and it tastes almost as good as fresh.

And day old rice or whatever is good for things like fried rice, right?

Oh yeah. You do fried rice. You can make little rice balls and kind of hide some ham and cheese in there and kind of form them with your hands. And then you’ve got a little delicious stack. Rice pudding, which I will eat for dinner, is awesome. And, ’cause you should, raisins are high in fiber.

So I think rice to keep throughout the week is one of those pieces that we have been really relying on for the past three years we’ve been doing our podcasts. One of our staples, I think.

Right. Okay. That’s cool. So you really, you don’t have to gear up for seven meals every week.

No, don’t do that. That’s  banana pants. No one wants to do that. No. Yeah. Three meals a week and find recipes that you can rely on. Like we don’t think that there are necessarily bad cooks out there. There are just poorly written recipes. There are a ton of recipes online that are not good recipes. They’ll tell you the wrong thing. They have the wrong steps. They’re missing an ingredient or they’re just not delicious.

And so find blogs or sources. I mean,  New York Times cooking for obvious reasons everyone loves because the recipes work. Smitten Kitchen, everyone loves her because the recipes work. If you go on Allrecipes, I mean, good luck. I hope it works out. Unless you’ve got a lot of experience and I’ve been doing this for three years now. So I kind of know what a good and a not great recipe looks like. It can get a little dicey in there.

So what are some of your go-to resources or strategies when that inevitable ‘What are we going to have for dinner feeling’ strikes?

So I’m not a meal planner, but I do tend to shop for my groceries thinking about the meals that I want to make that week. And then that way I’ve kind of at least have three recipes that I want to make. Then if I really don’t want to do any of those recipes, I have found like keeping the rice in the fridge is a great trick because of that. I think kind of having a roster of recipes that you know always work is a great way to kind of get work your way through that what the heck to have for dinner feeling. Because you’re like, oh, I always like making chicken quesadillas.

Or we’ve got a great recipe that we found for barbecue chicken pizza on a naan bread. And so you just have the naan in your your freezer, throw them in the oven with some shredded chicken, cheese and barbecue sauce. To have these simple recipes to go oh, I can just make this thing. I know I always like it. It’s easy to make and I can go back to that thing. By the way that recipe is amazing, it under promises and over delivers. So recipes like that, where you can just know, oh, I’ve got naan in the freezer. Cool. I’ll make that. You know, lots of recipes that use a rotisserie chicken are great ones to have in your back pocket.

You know, I talked to my mother-in-law about this because she was a working mom. She had five boys. And I asked her, how in the heck did you do this? And she’s in her nineties. Her husband was not helping with the meal prep or the childcare or what have you.  And I asked her, Cora, how did you do it? And she was like, well, I tell you what I did. I had stuffed peppers on Mondays and we had ziti on Tuesdays.
And I can’t remember what the other days were, but basically, you know it’s what you were saying. She had her go-to recipes that you could almost make in your sleep that are always a crowd pleaser and you don’t necessarily have to overthink it. And it sounds like you’re saying, if you want to add something new or experiment, you only have to do that once or twice a week.

A hundred percent. And I think some people love a schedule, make a schedule. If you love to know night to night what you’re going to make, I will rebel against that. I’m always like what if I don’t feel like that on Tuesday? But you also don’t have to go into a big recipe search every night, right? If you have a list of like in your head, or even written down somewhere, 10 to 15 recipes that you always know work and our pantry friendly.

There are a ton of them out there and we’ve got those on our website too. Then you just say, oh, I always have a can of tuna. I always have some white beans. I have some parsley, olive oil and a little bit of green onion. Now I’ve got a white bean set and tuna salad.I always have those ingredients in the house.

Betsy likes to talk about keeping a pantry of cuisines that you like and not necessarily every type of spice in the world. But if you tend towards the ziti and stuffed peppers are very Rhode Island Italian to me. So if you cook that way and those are the foods you love, keep those items in your pantry. Always make sure that you’ve got olive oil and oregano. And maybe don’t worry about having the Japanese sesame oil if you never make that food. Maybe that’s what you go out to eat.

I personally right now have a lot more like Lebanese things in my pantry right now. I’ve got zaatar in there, I’ve got cumin, I’ve got lots of herbs and spices. I may have some flatbreads in the freezer. I kind of cycle through. I’m rather fickle. And it depends on what we’re cooking for the podcast. But you know, I have a friend who really loves to make Japanese and Asian foods. She has a ton of those things. She has pickled plums in her fridge at all times because that’s what she loves to make.

So then have those things, and those are your go-to recipes. Because you don’t have to worry about expanding to be everything for everybody including yourself. Just have some, have some favorites and keep your pantry stocked with those things. So you can make them when you want to.

Awesome. And it also sounds like you want to think about what your base is. Like you have flatbread pizzas and you make a lot of rice. I always have tortillas because we can make burritos, we can make quesadillas, I guess my kids like Mexican.

Yeah. And for that reason, make sure you have a couple cans of black beans and a couple of cans of refried beans in your pantry. Then you can always make tacos. Those kinds of things, I think really make dinner a lot easier.

Right. So if you were talking to a friend who confessed that they just don’t feel like they have the time, or the skill, or the desire, or all three to make their own dinner most nights, what do you say to them?

Oh my gosh, I got this all the time because people feel guilty when they talk to me. They’re  like, ‘I don’t make dinner that much. How do you make dinner that much?’ First of all, I love to love to do this. Right? I wouldn’t be doing it. And it kind of dragged Betsy along the cooking with me and now she loves to do it too. So I enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t have to make dinner most nights. If you’re really into rice and beans, make yourself some rice and beans and that’s dinner. Now we fancy that up and called it a burrito bowl. There you go.

So I think kind of letting go of some of the guilt and letting dinner be what you want it to be is fine. And we all go through also periods and seasons of our life. I know I did this. We went on hiatus from our podcast. And I think I spent two weeks eating cereal for dinner. I was just over it. I was like, I can’t cook anymore. I’m sick of looking at recipes. I’m just sick of it.  And eventually I was like, but you knew what I saw as the arepa  recipe the other day. And then slowly but surely come back to cooking.

So I think it’s also about the seasons of life you’re in. If you’re going to grad school and you’re busy every night of the week. If you’ve got kids and their virtual schooling for the past 18 months and you’re just getting your head above water and all you can do is make is quesadillas, great.  Perfect. Good for you.

And then as far as the skill, I would just sometimes push back gently on people and say, sure, you can definitely learn how to know when a steak is done. You can learn better knife skills. And can learn how much time it takes to cook pasta on average. But also you need good recipes. And I think a lot of people are cooking from not great recipes in this age of the internet and the internet search. That first recipe that comes up for something may not be the best. And so I think finding some reliable sources. I used to be a teacher, I used to say this to my kids all the time. Like, where’d you get that source from? How do you know? And I think sometimes it’s applying that to recipes as well isn’t a bad idea.

You mentioned that you had cereal for dinner for two weeks. What are your other, like, I’m not cooking. I don’t want to deal. I just need calories. What else?

Oh gosh. I love the 10 o’clock sandwich, which is an oldie, but a goodie from my mother. So it is meant to be eaten at 10 o’clock after you get home from a bar. But it is just a quarter of an onion that you dice up fine. And then you sauté it really gently in some butter, just the onion gets nice and soft. And then you scramble three eggs. Toast, some bread. If I have white bread in the house, this is the best with white bread, but you can also do it with a crazy fiber bread that you’re eating because you’re 41.

And then just pour the eggs in with those real soft onions and just gently scramble those eggs and you just pile it on top of butter toast. It’s very comforting, just elevated one step above making scrambled eggs kind of dinner. And that to me is super comfort food. And I love to make that.

The other thing is fake egg drop soup. Which is just heating up a little bit Better than Bouillon. Maybe with a little garlic and ginger just smashed and just simmer that for a little bit. Then again, scramble an egg real quick. Pour it in there and you kind of set the egg and you’ve got kind of a brief facsimile of egg drop soup to make. I like an egg. If I don’t really want to cook, I go towards eggs. Cause they’re always in the fridge. Great source of protein, super economical, and delicious. I love a good egg.

Fantastic. Thank you for sharing those. I love them. And for folks who’d like to check out your podcast and get inspired to figure out what the heck they want to have for dinner, where can they find you?

Well, our podcast is everywhere. And so if you just go to your favorite podcast streamer, like we’re on apple podcasts and all those places. We’re Dinner Sisters podcast, you can find us there. We’re also on Instagram @thedinnersisterspodcast. And you can find us on Facebook and we’ve got a great Facebook group. If you’re interested about learning what the heck to have for dinner, we’d love to have you over there too.

Daily Tiny Assignment

Take a minute to jot down the recipes that you know and you love and you know that when you make them, everybody for the most part is happy. As Kate was pointing out, you really only need three recipes in a week, maybe less. And I’ve read that you really only need 10 recipes total to be able to make a variety of meals that never feels old, but without having to spend too much time looking up and researching new ones.

So just take out a piece of paper and jot down all the dinners that you know how to make. And you know that you like. That way the next time that you’re wondering what in the heck are we having for dinner tonight? Or you’re sitting down to plan your grocery shopping, which I’m going to talk about tomorrow. So I hope you’ll come back. You can look at your list of dinners that you know, and they’ll be able to pick one or two and know exactly what you need to put on your grocery list.

So I hope that you will come back tomorrow, when we are talking about how cooking doesn’t start in the kitchen, it actually starts in the grocery store. And I’m sharing two strategies for making your grocery shopping an easy and reliable part of your cooking strategy.


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