Being able to cook is an important life skill. I was fortunate to learn how to cook from my mother who specialized in home economics in high school. Expand your repertoire by trying to prepare a variety of meals.

Consider dietary guidelines (vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy free, etc.). This way, you can include everyone in the dining experience.

The ability to read and follow directions is key to trying new recipes. Consult the following for recipes: family, friends, cookbooks, internet sites, and TV cooking shows. After preparing basic dishes, you can branch out internationally.

Thirty-day Meal Planning

Varying meal preparation makes life interesting and provides delicious diversity. The following list outlines thirty days of delicious lunches and dinners. See the “Sides” section below for suggested accompaniments to these meals.

Hamburgers and hot dogs

Consider vegetarian options or alternate meats such as turkey or chicken.


Toss preferred sauce with pasta and serve with grated cheese. Sauces include marinara, pesto, primavera, clam sauce, meat sauce, Carbonara, or Alfredo.


Pizza dough can be made easily at home. Prepared or homemade pizza sauce plus mozzarella cheese and other preferred toppings, especially vegetables, make pizza more nutritious.

Deli night

Deli meats, cheese, chicken, tuna, or shrimp salad. Vary dressings and bread.

Breakfast for dinner

French toast, eggs, pancakes, waffles, breakfast meat, home fries, and toast.


Spiced ground beef, turkey, chicken or pork accompanied by toppings, taco sauce, and salsa. Refried beans can substitute for spiced meat or be a side.


Prepare a chili with ground or stew beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken. Consider varying the beans and adding kernel corn, olives, pimentos, or chopped peppers.


Grill or broil steak. Serve with hot or cold sides.

Braised chicken

A gently simmered chicken dish. Consider Chicken Cacciatore, chicken in Alfredo sauce, or Chicken Paprikash.

Chinese stir fry

Meat or tofu and vegetables such as Chicken Lo Mein, beef with broccoli, or stir fried vegetables with tofu.


Create a mix-and-match quiche with or without crust. Cheeses can be varied such as Swiss, Gruyere, cheddar or fontina, or a combination. Sautéed vegetables can be used. Consider a custard-only quiche in a greased pie plate and serve with salad and crusty bread.

Grilled cheese

Vary or combine cheeses and bread and serve with tomato soup.


Middle Eastern Falafel served with sesame tahini sauce, lettuce, tomato, and pita bread.

Meat or vegetable dumplings

Serve dumplings with soy-ginger dipping sauce and steamed vegetables.


Consider beef, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, or Cornish hens.


Create an Italian lasagna with marinara or meat sauce and meatballs, sausage, or a meatless option like spinach.


Japanese-style shrimp or chicken with vegetables and rice accompanied by soy-ginger dipping sauce.


Beef stew or goulash with a red sauce or brown gravy. Goulash is popular in Austria, Hungary, and northern Italy.


A variety of soups can be made with various meats and vegetables. Puree with cream to make cream of chicken or cream of mushroom. Chicken soup, a favorite, can be prepared in American, Asian, Mexican, or Italian styles.

Arroz con pollo

Spanish-style braised or baked chicken with rice and a hint of saffron.


Empanadas or pasties are turnovers usually made with beef and seasoning.

Sloppy Joes

A seasoned ground beef mixture served on buns.

Pot roast

Stovetop, slow cooker, or baked pot roast goes well with potato pancakes, mashed potatoes, red cabbage, other vegetables, and gravy.


Try fried or broiled flounder, shrimp, or crab cakes. Serve these with salad, rice, and vegetables


A Swiss style hot dipping sauce is usually made of warm cheese and can be served with bread, vegetables, fruits, or cooked meat.

Swedish meatballs

Meatballs simmered in a cream gravy and often served with buttered noodles, lingonberries, red cabbage, or steamed carrots.


An Indian dish of dough stuffed with vegetables and curry and deep fried.

Black beans and rice

A Cuban dish that combines nutritious beans and rice that complement each other.

Beef Stroganoff

A slowly simmered Russian dish of beef in a savory gravy.

Stuffed cabbage or peppers

Ground beef, rice, and seasoning are wrapped in cabbage leaves or hollowed out peppers and served with a tomato-based sauce.


Being able to prepare food at home is an important life skill. Experiment and please your taste buds and those of your family and friends. Bon appétit!


A variety of side dishes can add flavor and excitement to meals.

Cold: Cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, and tossed green salad; pickled beets, deviled eggs

Hot: Baked beans, French fries, potato pancakes, pasta, noodles, mashed potatoes, gravy, assorted vegetables

Copyright 2020, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Keith Mason, PhD, based in New Jersey, has been a home cook since childhood. He specializes in curriculum, foreign language education, Romance linguistics, phonetics, and musicals in the curriculum. He is available as a content writer, curriculum consultant, and online educator.