It’s Week 3 of the Real Simple Take Back Dinnertime Challenge. I’m partnering with Real Simple on their challenge because family dinner is an important ritual that helps families connect, communicate and stay healthy — both physically and emotionally.


There are many obstacles to making sure that family dinner happens regularly. A hectic family schedule is certainly the biggest obstacle that most of need to overcome, and it’s frequently a difficult one to overcome.

Another obstacle, and one that’s easier to tackle, is the problem of being uninspired. You’ve probably been there. You take out chicken breasts from the freezer to defrost in the morning, and somewhere around 5 p.m. you stare at them with a total lack of inspiration. Chicken, again? Blah.

Real Simple's managing editor Kristin van Ogtrop and food director Allie Lewis Clapp have some tips to help you find easy ways to get inspired for dinner.

I particularly like their idea to hand family members cookbooks that you would like to cook from and have them mark a few pages with recipes they’d like you to try. I have a variation on that idea.

A few years ago, I asked my husband for a cookbook as a gift. I told him to go to the bookstore and browse through the cookbooks to find one that he would like me to cook from. He chose “Morton’s Steak Bible;” it’s become a favorite cookbook, not just for steaks (which we cook less frequently nowadays) but also for meat-free recipes like soups (great black bean soup recipe). The cookbook was a great inspiration for me when I started cooking more frequently because I knew my husband had picked it.

Another source for inspiration is favorite websites.

  •’s ingredient search has helped me find new recipes for everyday foods – like those frequently uninspirational chicken breasts. I happen to have chicken breasts in the freezer that I’ll defrost for tomorrow night. I also have an eggplant from my neighbor’s garden. I put both of those ingredients in the search and came up with Mediterranean Chicken with Eggplant. I just found inspiration for tomorrow night’s dinner.
  • Another fabulous site for inspiration is Foodgawker. This site lets you search for recipes by photo first. In fact, I introduced a few friends this weekend to the Foodgawker app when we were at the pool, and we all spent about a half hour on our phones gaining inspiration.
Where do you find inspiration for creating new dishes?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Finding inspiration for your family dinners
This week’s Real Simple Take Back Dinnertime Challenge focuses on finding inspiration to help keep dinner interesting.