What’s a Dinner Prompt?

Imagine that the game Pictionary is played this way: One player has a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, and 60 seconds to draw a picture – any picture. The other players have to guess what the picture represents. There are no limits on what the picture can be, no assistance, no list; nothing. The player with the pad and pencil has to decide what to draw and then draw it.

If you’re that player, you’ll probably spend at least 30 of the 60 seconds trying to come up with an idea, right? Despite the millions of images stored in your head, the pressure to invent one on the spot – one you can draw, one others could recognize – would make the game infinitely harder.

Dinner can be that way, overwhelming because of the infinite possibilities – dozens of cookbooks, hundreds (thousands) of websites, endless TV shows. Facing the “What’s for Dinner?” challenge every night can send even the most dedicated home cook straight to the frozen pizza aisle or drive-thru line.

One way to make dinner manageable is to develop a routine – taco Tuesday, meatless Monday, etc. But if the routine becomes a rut then you’ll find yourself back at square one.

For years I’ve written weekly dinner menus for my family. In 2013 I started publishing them on my writing blog, jenny’s lark, usually tagging a menu plan onto the end of a weekly essay. At the beginning, the menu plan helped eliminate some of our family stress because it took the overwhelming guesswork out of nightly dinner. In preparing the plans I’ve spent a fair amount of time browsing the gamut of cooking and recipe sites, from Epicurious and Food Network to indie personal blogs.

As my children grew older and as our tastes in food evolved, what I more often needed was inspiration for nightly cooking. Hence dinner prompts, ideas that start with flavors or moods and lead to something specific.

Like a writing prompt, intended to get the words flowing, dinner prompts are meant to be idea generators, themes that focus your food thinking. Each prompt is a little different. Some include words to get you in the frame of mind. Some provide suggested foods & flavors. All of them have recipe links that I’ve tried and liked, along with ideas for searching other cooking sites.

Have a suggestion or a prompt to share? Drop a comment.

Happy cooking.

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