By Marie Rama, Bryan Miller

It’s one thing to cook a recipe. It’s quite another thing to plan a whole meal or a whole week’s worth of meals! Menu planning may sound intimidating to the cook-in-training, but it’s actually fun and a great way to experiment with new recipes and techniques. There’s no right or wrong way to plan a menu. Some people like to scan cookbooks or cooking websites for ideas, make a list of meals for the week, and then make their complete shopping list. Others may plan meals based on that week’s sales at the supermarket. However you do it, planning ahead will save you time, money, and frustration, and it will minimize the chances that you’ll give up and get take-out. After all, you already planned dinner.

But how do you know what to make? Just because chicken is on sale at the grocery store doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do with it. And what do you serve with it?

For most families, a simple meal with a main course (a meat or vegetarian dish), accompanied by soup or a salad, some form of starch (bread, rice, pasta, or some other grain), another vegetable, and a simple dessert (or not), is plenty. Here are some examples:

  • Roast chicken, yellow rice, green beans with butter, and strawberries with whipped cream

  • Salmon fillets, macaroni and cheese, green salad, and homemade vanilla pudding

  • Ratatouille, pasta salad, and a loaf of crusty bread

  • A vegetable stir-fry, brown rice, and a big green salad with Asian-style dressing

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and (if you browse cooking websites the way many people do) the Internet — which is to say, they’re unlimited.